Attitudes towards slavery

Condemnation of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade

Equiano comments on the tendency of the African slave trade to alter and harm both Africans and Europeans:

Such a tendency has the slave-trade to debauch men’s minds, and harden them to every feeling of humanity!…it is the fatality of this mistaken avarice, that it corrupts the milk of human kindness, and turns it into gall…Surely this traffic cannot be good, which spreads like a pestilence, and taints what it touches! Which violates that first natural right of mankind, equality and independency, and gives one man a dominion over his fellows which God could never intend! For it raises the owner to a state as far above man as it depresses the slave below it. (Equiano 111)

Equiano continues with an examination of the slave trade’s effect on black slaves.  He claims:

When you make men slaves, you deprive them of half their virtue, you set them, in your own conduct, an example of fraud, rapine, and cruelty, and compel them to live with you in a state of war; and yet you complain that they are not honest and faithful! You stupify them with stripes, and then think it necessary to keep them in a state of ignorance; and yet you assert that they are incapable of learning; that their minds are such a barren soil. (Equiano 111-112)


Difference between West African Slavery and TransAtlantic Slavery 

Some key passages in Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative (1789) that shed light on the ways in which slaves were procured for purposes of indigenous slavery include the following:  Commenting on battles he confirms:

The spoils of war were divided accordingly to the merit of the warriors.  Those prisoners which were not sold or redeemed we kept as slaves: but how different was their condition from that of the slaves in the West Indies!  With us they do no more work than other members of our community, even their master; their food, clothing and lodging were nearly the same as theirs (except that they were not permitted to eat with those who were freeborn), and there was scarce any other difference between them than a superior degree of importance which the head of the family possesses in our state, and that authority which, as such, he exercises over his household.  Some of these slaves have even slaves under them as their own property and for their own use. (Equiano 1789, 9)  

The number of slaves one could obtain was directly associated with “merit” and signified prestige.  Further, slaves are shown to be ‘outsiders’ or ‘alien’ to the societies in which they were enslaved.  

Opinion on Economic value of the Slave Trade

Equiano proposes a solution that deals with the economic void and the demand for an alternative source of revenue that will arise as a result of abolition:

As the inhuman traffic of slavery is now taken into the consideration of the British legislature, I doubt not, if a system of commerce was established in Africa, the demand for manufactures would most rapidly augment, as the native inhabitants would insensibly adopt the British fashions, manners, customs, &c. In proportion to the civilization, so will be the consumption of British manufactures…The wear and tear of a continent, nearly twice as large as Europe, and rich in vegetable and mineral productions, is much easier conceived than calculated… It is trading upon safe grounds. A commercial intercourse with Africa opens an inexhaustible source of wealth to the manufacturing interests of Great Britain…[therefore]… The abolition of slavery, so diabolical, will give a most rapid extension of manufactures…The manufacturers of this country must and will, in the nature and reason of things, have a full and constant employ, by supplying the African markets. (Equiano 233- 234)