Spirits of the Passage
Chat with Madeleine Burnside
16 December 2003 9PM Eastern Time
AfriGeneas Chat Center Dee Woodtor Lecture Hall
George Geder, Book Forum Manager, Moderating
Hello to all!
From the cover: In a watery grave off the coast of Florida lies the earliest slave ship ever recovered. The English owned - Henrietta Marie - plied the waters from Europe to Africa and the New World, sinking in the year 1700. She has waited three hundred years to reveal her story.
Taking the wreck of the ship as its dramatic heart, ëSpirits of the Passageí presents the first general-interest history of the early years of the slave trade.
Tonight, we have Madeleine Burnside, author of ëSpirits of the Passage - The TransAtlantic Slave Trade in the Seventeenth Centuryí. Iím here to tell you that this book belongs in every genealogistís library whose ancestry and research touches upon the ëpeculiar institutioní.
Ms. Burnside joined the MelFisher Maritime Heritage Society in 1991 as its executive director. Born in London, she holds a Ph.D. in the history of consciousness from the University of Santa Cruz, where her speciality was the history of art and science from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries. Burnside has spent twenty years in the museum field, receiving a postdoctoral fellowship at the Whitney Museum in New York City and an N.E.A fellowship in creative writing in 1980.
Please welcome Madeleine Burnside!
Thanks so much for inviting me.
At the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, there are displays of artifacts from two famous Spanish galleons, the Nuestra Senora De Atocha and the Santa Margarita. Later, there was another group of artifacts that included possible slave trade materials. Tell us what happened when you saw what appeared to be an extremely small pair of shackles.
When I went for the job interview, I was given the tour of the permanent collection, which mostly comprised 17th century Spanish artifacts, but there was one case that hinted at something else. I saw a large ship's bell with and inscription in English
Whan I asked what this case was about, I was told that Mel FIsher had also found a slave ship but no one knew much about it. I immediatley thought that this was something very worthwhile and I knew I wanted the job.
After I got the job, I went almost immediately to talk to our archaeologist, COrey Malcom, and to ask him about the ship. He told me that they had conserved the Spanish materials first
This was because they had concentrated on what was at the time, Mel's famous find, the Atocha. He then told me that he was planning to make sure the Society started on the slave ship objects immediately and he agreed with me that they were probably very important--little did we know!
It turned out we had the only excavated slave ship in the Americas and one of the very few world wide that has any shackles left. As we started to conserve the almost 100 pairs of shackles on board, it was clear that they were of all diffeerent sizes, to fit different people's stature
Eventually Corey came across three pairs that really seemed much too small
When we first looked at them we went into denial immediately--it didn't make sense. Everything we had read--even the most racist stuff--stated that there was no need to shackle women or childre. Basically they were just so unlikely to fight back
Then we thought about small men--pigmies might have been a possibility
There was also a huge trade that specialized in teenaged boys, but even for them, the shackles were too small
Basically, these are meant to be leg shackles, locking two people together so that it's hard to get around This implied six small people or six slight people who had to have wrist and leg shackles. It took me years--literally--to get a sense of these people.
Of course, everyone was much smaller but even so--we had the other shackles for comparison and they were much bigger. Finally I realised that what the shackles meant was less that there was someone who was carelessly restrained along with a bunch of other pople, but that there were some small people--I think of them as young girls--who just would not give up
They must have been such a problem that custom small shackles had to be made.
Terrible as the thought is, it is also testament to the human spirit. These people had no real hope of winning but they would not give up
It's a mistake to just look back and feel pity, I think. You have to grasp the enormous inner fortitude of the survivors. These shackles did it for me. Even thinking about them gives me chills
I'm not saying that pity is not part of it, just that folks like this would spit in our 21st century eyes if that was all we were able to figure out about them from artifacts like these. That was kind of a long answer, but I think about this alot Tough people, brave people. Great ancestors to have
Thë Spirits of the Passageí is so rich with information, I hardly know what questions to ask; I'll leave that to our audience. Did it turn out as you originally planned it or did it change as you proceeded deeper into your research?
Well, the book was based on our exhibition, which is touring nationally. There was so much research that we did for that and it just would not all fit in an exhibition, so the book was a must. There certianly were more facts that came to light in the course of writing it--we are still gathering information. I hope it never stops
How did Dr. Cornel West, of Princeton University and Rosemarie Robotham, editor-at-large of Essence magazine become involved in this project?
As far as Dr. West went, we were looking for an important scholar to contribute in some way. No one had heard of me or Rosemary and we thought that the subject was so important, we needed some help
Rosemary came on originally as an editor but really wound up doing much more. She combed the research materials so extra facts and really bolstered what I wrote Plus Rosemary did several sections by herself. A lot of the sidebars are hers, as is the introduction. I only met Rosemary once before we started working together and then we began to be on the phone almnost every day. The book would look very different if it were not for her huge efforts. We became great friends
Everyone who I show this book to comments on how wonderful it is (and they want buy it!). I think it should be REQUIRED READING IN AMERICAN HIGH SCHOOLS. Are there any efforts to get it into the school curriculums?
Not at this time. Feel free to lobby!
Careful what you wish for :)
Because of our late start, let me get out of the way for a moment, Madeleine, and let you have the floor to tell us what you will about The Henrietta Marie and the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the Seventeenth Century.
Well, the interesting thing about the Henrietta Marie is that it sank in 1700, really before the trade got going on the continental US that there were still choices at this point--people could have decided not to take part or to set the Africans free after 7 years, as they did with European indentured servants. But they didn't.
Some African countries did try to take a stand and refuse to sell even their enemies into slavery, but that did not work--the European instigated wars between the different nations and armed the ones who favored the trade
There were choices, but the window was closing. Fifty years later, the trade was an unstoppable machine
Another interesting thing is that it is clear from the trade goods that are left that the consortium who owned the HM did not really know what they were doing. It was all very hit or miss. Lots of pewter, trade beads, and so on were found on the wrecksite, indicating that the slaving part of the voyage was much less successful than the investors had hoped. But they would still have made considerable profits/ Later this was all systematized It's not until the end of the Industrial Revolution, when you get some idea of worker's rights and also of the real capability of machines that anyone really dares to say that this could end.
Let's open it up for questions from the audience.
Open for questions
Question, what ship logs, if any survived?
There are ship's logs--not from the HM of course, those went down with the chip--you can read them in the Public Records Office in London Much of our information about the ship came from tax documents, detailing cargoes and the sale of the Africans. These still exist in London and Jamaica Tue Dec 16 21:58:14 2003:M_Burnside: A couple of other ships mention seeing the HM, that's how we know where she was and when
In the book "History of the First Council Of Nice by Dean Dudley...It explains that early-on the Catholic Church forbade the enslavement of Christians...so that contributed to why the Europeans went elsewhere looking for people to enslave rather than other Europeans, because it was made illegal
However, when the King of the Congo, who had converted to Catholicism asked the Pope to end the trade early on, he got no answer Plus, when Queen Isabella of Spain told Columbus not to enslave any of her new subjects (American Indians) he blew her off--the stakes were too high. There are a lot of back and forth Spanish documents on this
Plus the whole thing was pretty subjective. During the mid-1600s the English sold Scots into slavery--not indentureship-- because they regarded them as heathens. This is a bit of history usually swept under the British rug and of course the English and the French Hugenots did not consider African Catholics as fellow Christians
Oh, I certainly agree...I was just mentioning that book because the First Council was held in 325 A.D.
It just all shows that the trade, transatlantic or not, was an endless subject of debate. I do not know much about 325 AD
A great deal of Spirits of the Passage focus on the English slave trade. Were the English more culpable and European and African nations less culpable? Of all nations which shipped the most to the Americas and where?
We really focused on the Brits because the ship came from London. There is so much more of the story to tell, but we had to stop somewhere
Everyone is equally culpable on some level. It's as much about the spirit of the times as anything. The Africans did not know what they were condemning their people to, the Europeans treated everyone including each other horribly, The early colonists had the same life expectancy as the Africans, and they knew it -- 8 years. Everyone seems pretty desperate Most Africans were sent to Brazil--many more than to here. As bad as anything is what the trade did to the population of Africa--i think Europeans are very much culpable in that. Just about everything right down to AIDS comes out of the decimation of African nations to my mind
I was intrigued by the number of Africans in Bristol. Were they all slave?
No they weren't. Many AFricans in early days were "left over" from slave ships and got dumped in English cities. Plus many AFricans came to ENgland in the 50s and 60s
Well...man's inhumanity to man will surely cause much more harm than good. Maybe humans will get it right before we self-destruct?!
I really wonder. Current politics do not seem to suggest that
Agreed, M_Burnside .
HM shipped to the Caribbean & S. America and not the contenetal U,S. ....right?
Yes, Art, to Jamaic and Barbados
We have exceeded the time
Thanks so much for having me in your chat room. I really enjoyed this.
Thanks to you !!!!
Thank you very much!
I hope that you will come back and share more with us.
Thank you, M_Burnside
My pleasure, this was great
THANX MUCH TO YOU!!!!!
Thank you. It was a very interesting discussion.
Hope you can come again
Any time, I would love to
Very interesting, thank you
Thanks George for a great interview and to Kathleen for setting this up
Please visit Afrigeneas.com soon!
Thanx muchly to George and Kathleen for helping us getting to know Dr Burnside!!!!!
Yes, much thanks to George for facilitating this chat discussion.
Will try and have transcript by Thursday Noon
Thank you and goodnight! :)