The Slave Deck on the Bark 'Wildfire,' 1860


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This record was last updated on 15 Oct 2012

Image Reference
E027

Source
Engraved from daguerreotype, published in Harper's Weekly (June 2, 1860), vol. 4, p. 344 ( Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-41678)

Comments
Emaciated survivors of the Middle Passage on top deck of the American slave ship Wildfire. Captured in April 1860 by the U.S. Navy within sight of Cuba (its presumed destination), the Wildfire had violated U.S. law against the slave trade. The 510 captive Africans on board (90 had perished during the Atlantic crossing of 36 days) were taken to Key West, Florida. A correspondent for Harper’s Weekly boarded the ship soon after it anchored and wrote a very detailed and vivid account of the captives and their physical condition. His account started with the observation that all of the Africans he saw on the deck were "in a state of entire nudity, in a sitting or squatting posture . . . . They sat very close together, mostly on either side . . . . About fifty of them were full-grown young men, and about four hundred were boys aged from ten to sixteen years"; when he descended into the cabin from the deck, he "saw sixty or seventy women and young girls, in nature's dress, some sitting on the floor and others on the lockers, and some sick ones lying in the berths" (Harper's Weekly, June 2, 1860; see also image HW007). During the Atlantic slave trade, most captive Africans were transported across the Atlantic in a state of complete nudity (see Jerome Handler, The Middle Passage and the Material Culture of Captive Africans, Slavery and Abolition, vol. 30 (2009), pp. 1-26.