RoyalJames

Slave crew?

12 posts in this topic

The pirates’ view of slaves has been debated before and the answer is probably as usual, that it differed from person to person and time to time. We know that some ships had free Africans among their crew and we also know that some pirates had slaves when they settled down / retired at land. But what about slaves in the crew?

Do we know if any commercial ships had slave crews? My thought goes like this: if the commercial ships didn’t have slaves, the pirates probably didn’t either. Perhaps it was a too big risk to use slaves for such jobs?

Sailors weren’t paid very much anyway, but still had some sort of motivation of the payment. And pirate ships easily found new recruits.

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The pirates could get slaves off of slaver ships, not necessarily from their crew. Although I can't back this up with any sources, I would think that a few ships might have a slave or two working on board, but in a capacity of servant and not sailor.

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Well this may have nothting new but:


Well slave ships sailing near Africa must have had some free/ cooperative Africans like translators that knew local languages. They couldn't have have done business with the locals about slave and other trade in other case? Some cooperative Africans in the crew could also keep some contact between the crew and slaves if they knew both's languages. If I haven't mistaken this might have been the role of Black Ceasar (at least something like this was implied by this historian.) But let's someone who knows better confirm this translator idea.


And often "blacks" could serve as local temporary pilots even for merchantmen. At least he dubious/ possibly partly or largely fictional but possibly also largely factual account of merchant captain George Roberts mentions that he had "two Blacks on board the sloop [his vessel] both natives and fishermen of that island ; and one of them was my pilot..." (but the other it seems wasn't). Pirate Russell, who was certainly one of the most prejudiced pirates was offended when, after capture of Roberts, he asked for help from the merchant captain and Roberts suggested that the black pilot could guide him. Russel said accordingly the book, "What! do you think I will let a negro pilot me?"


I think John Julian of the "Whydah" had similar role as a pilot.


To me it seems that in general these two roles, translators and pilots, were the major reasons why there were free Africans and Afro-Americans on board the ships, both merchant and pirate. So not so much them in crews. But again my humble opinion.

Edited by Swashbuckler 1700

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I believe that slaves often were captured as prisoners by rival tribes or kings, and from them sold to the slave ships. And that not all Africans were considered potential slaves. As an example, Snelgrave who was a slave trader, describes a captain Segnor Joseph who he calls “a black gentleman”. Further, African guards were used on board the slave ships, referred to as “bombas”. I am unsure of their status, but they were clearly above the ordinary slaves.

My underlying question, however, is how we shall interpret statements like this:

Deposition of John Brown, late Commander of the brigantine John and Thomas of Road Island. Antigua, 12th March, 1718/19. On Nov. 5th last he was taken off the Bay of Carolina by a pirate ship, the Rising Sun, William Moudy Commander, mounted with 36 guns and having on board 130 men, white and black.

My theory is that “blacks” aboard pirate ships always have to mean free men. If commercial ships didn’t have slaves among their crews, pirates probably didn’t either.

But this is just a theory, feel free to attack it!

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Indeed. Thanks for the corrections.

Yes they spoke blacks and whites as men which would indicate that they were crewmen where "slaves" would rather refered them as cargo. Cargo of slaves wouldn't have been counted in to ship's total strength. Free men would make more sense. The ship seems to be fairly large [again massive pirate ship. 36 guns, even if a little exaggerated, is much and it is called as "ship" not as "brigantine" or "sloop" or the like which would mean three masted vessel.] and it needed men. 130 doesn't sound large for a ship of that size so it would make sense that all of the 130 mentioned men were actual crewmen as that large ship needed that many men.

And on the second thought there might have been also some mainly black crews as for example, One exaggerated Jamaican newspaper

article of 1725 reported bands of African and African-American pirates marauding the Caribbean and eating the hearts of the white men they captured. At least that has been reported in a few secondary sources (I wonder what the paper originally said. That quote was indirect one and it is from Scourge of the Seas: Buccaneers, Pirates & Privateers by A. Konstam).
Of course if we don't count things like the few most wealthier captains's possible servant slaves [you know like this] it doesn't seem now that ships generally had very often slaves on them in the crew (not cargo) but rather free or partially free black men.
Edited by Swashbuckler 1700

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I finally took the time watching "What's Wrong with Black Beard?" with Kevin Duffus the other day (as discussed in the following thread: http://pyracy.com/index.php/topic/19504-whats-wrong-with-black-beard-by-kevin-p-duffus/).

In one part of it he puts forward his theory that the Africans in Black Beard’s crew not were crew but slaves in the context of cargo.

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Define 'crew'. If you have slaves on board are you really going to do the pumping yourself? And define 'free/slave'. If you'll pardon the pun, I don't think the issue is all that black and white.

As for the interpretation of statements, when Blackbeard left Topsail Inlet he was described as having with him 40 white men and 60 black (or something like that), yet the evidence that those black men were slaves is compelling. In some cases such statements may well have meant free black men, but in others it's doubtful, I don't think there can be any blanket interpretation that could be applied to every instance. For another example, Bart Roberts' crew is described in a couple of places as consisting of so-many white me and so-many black, but we know that those black men didn't speak English, so they can't have been very well integrated into the company.

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Fox, you raised another question in my mind as well. Would people captured and forced to work against their will, such as a carpenter or surgeon, be considered a slave (regardless of race), crew, or captive? They are technically working on the boat, as presumably even slaves would have been given some sort of menial tasks unless they were chained up and just waiting to be sold.

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Don't make me look up the references! :unsure:

There was one guy who was forced into a pirate crew and was told, words to the effect of, "You're worse than a negro now"

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I believe surgeons and navigators on pirate ships are referred to as 'pressed' or 'forced' men in court documents. The difference is probably negligable from a 'freedom' POV, but they were there to do a particular thing, not to serve as laborers.

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Enslaved vs. pressed. An interesting debate for another time, eh? And Fox, I'm in no need of references, but it sure is interesting.

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Well, legally, you could sell slaves and the contracts for indentured servants at this time. You couldn't legally sell pressed or forced men. Perhaps it could be done in black market fashion, although I've never heard of any such thing. They did trade surgeons between ships in Roberts' fleet. I know of no money changing hands as a result, though.

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