Capture of Slaves & Coffles in Africa

  • Transport of Slaves

    This engraving depicts Arab slavers leading a coffle during a rainstorm, while people were joined together by forked logs and chains. Hermann Wilhelm Leopold Ludwig Wissmann (1853–1905) was a German explorer and administrator in Africa, who traveled through the Congo River basin in the Central Interior. After, Wissmann served King Leopold II of Belgium and aided in the process of creating the Congo Free State.
  • Slave Coffle, Sierra Leone, 1793

    Color drawing, cropped from a page of a ship's log, showing coffle of slaves and guards armed with bows and arrows and spears; African village in the foreground. The first line of the caption reads: Representation of a Lott of Fullows [Fula, Fulani] bringing their slaves for sale to the Europeans . . . . This illustration is from the log of the Sandown, a slave ship that sailed from London to Sierra Leone in 1793. Accompanying this illustration, the ship's captain, Samuel Gamble, describes how slaves were brought to the coast, sometimes . . . upwards of one thousand miles out of the interior part of the country, by the Fulani to sell to Europeans. The Fulani captors make fast round the neck [of the captives] a long stick which is secur[e]d round the others awaist from one to another so that one man can steer fifty and stop them at his pleasure. At night their hands are tied behind their backs, which causes them to lay down with great difficulty. The Sandown eventually arrived in Jamaica where over 200 captives were sold. See also the excellent annotated publication of Gamble's log, which also includes a clearer b/w reproduction of this image, edited by Bruce L. Mouser, A Slaving Voyage to Africa and Jamaica: The Log of the Sandown, 1793-1794 (Indiana Univ. Press, 2002).
  • Captured Africans and their Captors, Northwestern Nigeria, 1860

    Caption, Sklavenjagd am Tubori-see [slave hunt at Tuburi lake]. Group of enslaved adults and children being led across river by their captors, some of whom are mounted on horses and armed; south of Bornu.
  • Enslaved Female, Eastern Sudan, 1871

    Head and face of unnamed captured East African woman; shows remnant of coffle rope around her neck. Married women among the Babuckur, according to Schweinfurth, pierce the rims of their ears and both their lips, and insert bits of grass stalk about an inch long in the holes . . . . The portrait . . . is that of a Babuckur slave bound by a leather rope ( vol. 2, pp. 258, 419). This image was reproduced in Thomas W. Knox, The Boy Travellers on the Congo (New York, 1888, p. 217), which is a condensation of H. M. Stanley's Through the Dark Continent (New York, 1878). The publishers of the Knox book took their images from several volumes of African travel exploration (p.2) but do not acknowledge their sources. This image does not seem to appear in any of Stanley's works, and was most likely taken from the earlier published volume by Schweinfurth. Although this image is occasionally reproduced in modern secondary works which cite Knox, the original source is not given; sometimes the individual is erroneously identified as a West African man.
  • Arab Slave Traders and Captured Africans, Sudan, 1870-71

    Caption, Slave -Traders from Kordofan; shows Arab slave traders and some of the enslaved in a coffle with guards. Schweinfurth (vol. 2, p. 410) writes: Probably the overland slave-trade along the roads of Kordofan had never been so flourishing as in the winter of 1870-71, when I found myself at its very fountain-head ; he describes slavers and slave-trading in detail.
  • The Slave Hunt

    This image depicts soldiers from the Sokoto caliphate raiding a village to capture slaves in the Central Savanna region. This picture accompanies an article on the American edition of Barth's Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa (Philadelphia, 1859). Heinrich Barth (1821–1865) was a German explorer and scholar of North Africa. He spoke Arabic, Fulani, Hausa and Kanuri, meaning he carefully documented the details of the cultures he visited. He traveled through the Western and Central Savana region between 1850 and 1855, which he published in a five five-volume account in both English and German. In 1853, Barth and Ali Babba bin Bello, the Sultan of Sokoto, negotiated an extensive trade agreement. Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization was an American political magazine based in New York City and published by Harper & Brothers from 1857 until 1916. It featured foreign and domestic news, fiction, essays on many subjects and humor, alongside illustrations. It covered the American Civil War extensively, including many illustrations of events from the war.
  • Mandingo Slave Traders and Coffle, Senegal, 1780s

    Caption, chaine d'esclaves venant de l'interieure (chain/coffle of slaves coming from the interior); shows six African men with two armed guards. Villeneuve lived in the Senegal region for about two years in the mid-to-late 1780s and made this drawing from his own observations. He provides a detailed description of the coffle and the movement of slaves from the interior to the coast: Every year the Mandingo traders, called slatèes or Sarakole [Sarakule, Sarracolet, etc.] Negroes, after having sold slaves in exchange for European goods, leave with necessary goods for the interior, toward Bambara country. The Mandingo slatèes often carry with them iron bolts of 15 to 18 inches long . . . . They cut pieces of a heavy wood, around 5 or 6 feet long, forked at one end so that the forked end can fit around the slave's neck. The two ends of the forked branch are drilled/pierced so as to permit the iron bolt, held at one end by a head, and fixed to the other end by a flexible iron blade [which passes] through a hole in the bolt . . . . When all the slaves are run through in this fashion and the traders want to start the march to the coast, they arrange the captives in a single file. One of the traders puts himself at the head of the line, loading on his shoulder the handle of the forked branch of the first black; each slave carries on his shoulder the handle of the forked branch of the person behind him . . . . During the entire route, the fork is never removed from the slaves' necks, and at the arrival point, as at the departure, the traders take great care to check if the iron bolts are in good working condition. It is thus that five or six armed traders, without fear, can succeed in conveying coffles of 50 slaves, and even more, from the interior to the European coastal factory. . . . (Villeneuve, vol. 4, pp. 39-43; our translation). Jean Baptiste Lèonard Durand, who had been governor of the isle of St. Louis, ca. 1785-86, wrote: The commerce is carried on by the Negro courtiers, who are known by the name of the Slatèes; these are free Negroes who possess considerable influence in the country, and whose principle employment consists in selling the slaves they procure from the centre of Africa (A voyage to Senegal . . .Translated from the French [London, 1806], pp. 44-45). The same illustration appears in color in the English translation of Villeneuve; see Frederic Shoberl (ed.), Africa; containing a description of the manners and customs, with some historical particulars of the Moors of the Zahara . . . (London, 1821), vol. 4, p. 47.
  • Enslaved Africans Sold to French, 1858

    Caption, A French Free Emigrant on his Way to the Barracoon of M. Regis. A drawing made by Lt. Henry Hand of the British Navy that accompanies a letter (Sept. 8, 1858) written to his commanding officer. Hand was stationed on the HMS Vesuvius, cruising the West African coast. One day, he took one of the vessel's small boats and proceeded into Loango for water. On shore, he observed how the 'French Free Emigrants' are conveyed to the Barracoons. The enclosed [drawing] was sketched from a 'voluntary laborer' on the way to M [onsieur] Regis' factory, and you will observe, sir, by the manner in which he is made fast to the end of a pole that there is little probability of his being permitted to change his mind without incurring considerable risk of breaking his neck. . . . what I witnessed was no rare occurrence, but on the contrary, these unfortunate slaves were thus daily conveyed in two or three to the Barraccoons of the French Government. Under contract to the French government, French captains purchased slaves from local African authorities, declared them free and then shipped them to the French Caribbean colonies as indentured laborers, usually for a six-year contract period; the British government denounced this practice as a ruse to continue the illegal slave trade. (For the historical context, see David Northrup, Freedom and Indentured Labor in the French Caribbean, 1848-1900, in David Eltis, ed., Coerced and Free Migrations: Global Perspectives [Stanford Univ. Press, 2002], pp. 204-28.)
  • Capture and Coffle of Enslaved Africans, Angola, 1786-87

    Caption, Noir au bois Mayombe. The author, a French Naval officer who was in the Angola region in 1786-87, gives a lengthy description of the slave trade in this area. The African slave traders, he writes, go far into the interior to acquire slaves, yet they speak the same language and only differ in their dialect or pronunciation. Slaves are brought to the coast in several ways: three or four will be conducted by around 20 traders. Five or six of these traders march in front . . . the others follow, and since the trail is very narrow . . . it is difficult to escape. . . . . for those who try to resist, they tightly tie their arms behind their backs with a rope . . . There are those who not only resist, but who are able to free themselves. For others who defend their freedom and fight the traders, the latter place a forked branch which opens exactly to the size of a neck so the head can't pass through it. The forked branch is pierced with two holes so that an iron pin comes across the neck of the slave . . ., so that the smallest movement is sufficient to stop him and even to strangle him . . . (pp. 48 -49; our translation). Slaves sold to the French were largely destined for Saint Domingue.
  • Wooden Yokes Used in Coffles, Senegal, ca. 1789

    Clarkson writes: In the plate . . . Fig 1, AA represents two separate pieces of wood, which in the Fig. 2, 3 are made fast to the necks of two Negroes by means of cords, which are composed of the roots of trees, and are in use in those countries. Many of the Negroes were accustomed to be driven before the Mundingoes, one by one, each with this instrument on his neck. It was found convenient for two reasons: First, because of the roads, which lay through the woods in these parts, were often so narrow, as not to admit three or four persons to walk abreast; Secondly, Because it was an insuperable obstacle to an escape, for the trees were so close to each other in the forests, as not to suffer any person to go between them, who had such an incumbrance on his neck. The second manner of conducting them is described in the same plate. Fig. 4 represents an instrument, which is of wood. Within the crutches of this instrument, which are at each end of it, are placed the necks of two Negroes in Fig. 5, which are confined in its extremities XX by means of certain cords, which are in use in that part of the world. Thus confined, two at a time, others of the Negroes, who were annually brought from Bambara to Galam are said to have travelled (p. 36). This description is based on Clarkson's communications with De Villeneuve, a Frenchman who visited the Senegal area in the mid-to-late 1780s; see image VILE-43; see also image LCP-17.
  • Wooden Yokes Used in Coffles, Senegal, ca. 1789

    Clarkson writes: The third way [of bringing slaves from the interior to the coast for sale to the French Senegal Company] is described in the plate No. 3. In Fig. 1, B represents a large log of wood, X a crutch at one end of it, and A a twisted cord to which it is fastened at the other. This log is made fast to a Negro's neck in Fig. 2 (see other image of yokes from Clarkson on this website). It is reported to be so heavy and unmanageable that it is extremely difficult for the person who wears it to walk, much less to escape or run away. In travelling it is said to be necessary to lift up the log, that is thus fastened to the neck of each, and to place the crutch of it on the shoulder of every preceding slave. . . . In this way then many of the Negro slaves from Bambara to Galam have been made to travel. . . . When it has been necessary to halt, the crutch has been taken from the shoulders of each, and the person, who has worn it, has remained . . . unable to walk or manage himself as before, and has become almost as secure, as if he had been chained to the spot in which he had been made to halt. When it has been thought necessary to proceed, the log has again been put on the neck of every preceding slave (pp. 36-37). This description is based on Clarkson's communications with De Villeneuve, a Frenchman who visited the Senegal area in the mid-to-late 1780s; see image VILE-43 on this website. See also image LCP-16
  • Captured Africans Taken to the Coast (either Nigeria, 1853 or Liberia/Sierra Leone, 1840)

    Caption, Slaves on their way to the coast. The author, an anti-slavery missionary, traveled to Nigeria in the early 1850s. In Aboh, a town/village, on the western bank of the Niger river, near the Niger delta and Bight of Benin, in Ibo land, her Ibo interpreter told her how difficult it was to completely stop the slave trade. He drew a vivid picture of the misery it was even then causing in the Iboe country itself--the desolating wars, the separation of parents and children, the ruined villages, the uncultivated fields . . . . he described the sufferings of himself and two hundred other boys on their way from the interior to the coast; told of many that had died from hunger and fatigue, of others that had been offered up as sacrifices by the king of Bonny, and of some among those poor lads who had committed suicide. He was taken aboard a slave ship, but ultimately liberated by the British Navy and taken to Sierra Leone (p. 66). This same image was published two years earlier in an apparently anonymously authored work, Africa Redeemed: or, the means of her relief illustrated by the growth and prospects of Liberia (London, 1851, facing p. 184). In Africa Redeemed, the image is captioned Gatumba drives the captive Deys from Millsburgh. The reference is to a chief Gatumba and his slave raiding activities in 1840 on the Deys, a people across the border from Liberia in neighboring Sierra Leone (see pp. 183-85). Millsburg [sic] is in western Liberia, not far from Monrovia.
  • Slave Coffle, Senegambia, early 19th cent.

    Caption:Negres de traite en voyage (Enslaved Negroes in Travel). This is supposed to depict a scene in the Senegal region showing enslaved Africans being taken to the coast for sale; note, the forked logs or tree branches around their necks, a common way in which slaves were linked in coffles.
  • Village of Liberated Africans, Gambia, 1835

    Caption: Liberated Africans, Gambia. Shows village of Melville, including circular wattle-and-daub houses, inhabited by Africans who had been liberated from slave ships by the British navy. The author briefly describes the houses, their furniture and utensils, gardens, and the dress and speech/language of the inhabitants. For the liberated Africans, he writes are composed of so many different tribes, ignorant of each other's language, that . . . they are obliged to learn a smattering of English to communicate with each other (pp. 75-76).
  • Enchained Captured Africans, Sierra Leone, 1805

    Captioned, Slaves: Shewing the method of chaining them, this illustration portrays two (young) men wearing loin cloths. They are linked to each other by a chain, each end of which is padlocked around the neck of each person; similarly, padlocked ankle manacles are on the right leg of one and the left leg of the other. The author, a surgeon aboard the Favourite, made the various sketches from which the accompanying engravings have been produced . . . the drawings and portraits were made on the spot (pp. iii-iv).
  • Iron Collar and Chains Used by Slave Traders, early 19th cent.

    This image appears in a booklet published by a French society against the slave trade. It shows the metal collar and chain used by slavers to attach enslaved captives to one another. The heading says that the explanatory note was provided by a blacksmith from Nantes, presumably the type of person who manufactured such an object (Nantes was France's major slaving port at the time of this publication). The description under the illustration explains that when Africans are captured in the interior, this chain can hold them until they are embarked on the slave ships, and goes into detail on how this apparatus works and is used by slavers as they bring people to the coast. See also JCB_01203-2.
  • Warua Slave-Driver and Slave

    This sketch shows a captive African woman, with a mask over her head walking in front of a Warua male, with a spear. The image is not described in the text, but it appears the mask is attached to some sort of line which winds around the waist of the slave driver and then attaches to the wrist of the captive female. Based on observations made in November, 1874, among the Warua, a group in Tanganyika. Verney Lovett Cameron (1844–1894) was the first European to cross equatorial Africa from sea to sea. His travel memoirs contain valuable suggestions for the opening up of the continent from north to south, including using the great lakes as a Cape to Cairo connection.
  • Slave-Gang

    Based on observations from July 1875, this image shows a coffle of men, women, and children with the adults linked by ropes or chains and carrying loads on their heads. Cameron described how he "had camped in a village when a slave caravan approached; the village inhabitants immediately bolted into the village and closed the entrances. The place I had chosen from my camp was near the path, and the whole of the caravan passed on in front, the mournful procession lasting for more than two hours. Women and children, foot-sore and overburdened, were urged on unremittingly by their barbarous masters; and even when they reached their camp, it was no haven of rest for the poor creatures. They were compelled to fetch water, cook, build huts, and collect firewood for those who owned them" (p. 357). Verney Lovett Cameron (1844–1894) was the first European to cross equatorial Africa from sea to sea in 1875. His travel memoirs contain valuable suggestions for the opening up of the continent from north to south, including using the Great Lakes region to connect Cape Coast to Cairo.
  • Slave Quarters, Sugar Plantation, Martinique, 1826

    Caption, Case de Negres (cabin/hut of blacks); thatched roofs are made from cane leaves (paille de canne). The author briefly describes life in the slave quarters when the enslaved are not at work; each household/family has its own dwelling, furnished according to the wealth of the inhabitants; also comments on the gardens, small livestock and poultry, and house construction etc. (pp. 25-26).
Advanced search