Slavery - The Zong Massacre
We all know that slavery in itself is an atrocity. It comes in many forms from sexual slavery to indentured servitude and debt slavery and is still happening today among many races and places as far as South Asia including India and beyond.
For centuries Before Christ (BC) richer civilizations able to take over with guns and expensive weaponry, have imposed their imperialism and tyranny on others based on a feeling of superiority and supremacy to other ethnicities, races, classes and/or castes that they see as less than human.
Here in the United States, the type of slavery most near to our hearts, minds, heritage and experience is the bitter injustice of African enslavement.
Although abolished sooner (1830s vs. 1860s), the system of slave holding in Britain was similar to that in America.
Historically, one of the most notorious references to British slavery is the Zong massacre for its utter inhumanity.
The Zong was a British slave ship of the late 1700s. Slaves were not treated like human beings but like any other cargo whether it be sacks of food or equipment on this and all slave ships.
The slaves were packed together tightly, lying face up or prostrate with 4 inches or less between bodies. (This is one of the reasons that in present times, the popular game of Planking is considered by many individuals to be an very insensitive one. Historians and informed people of African heritage are sentimental and sensitive to the plight of their ancestors and would rather not partake in or observe a game where people lay in the uncomfortable prostrate position for sport.)
Slave ship plan
The popular modern day 'game' of planking
Planking - cool game or insensitive reference to a bitter and appalling history?
.......The journey on the slave ship was long and illness, disease and death was imminent for many slaves and shipcrew alike.
Since slaves were given none of the unalienable rights that human beings should be granted, they were treated like property in every sense of the word.
On the Zong ship, it was found that the ship was overloaded with cargo and above weight capacity for the journey. Yet, mystery surrounds the case. Some sources say this while others say that the claim was that the ship was cramped and running low on supplies such as water, The decision made by the overseers was to begin dumping cargo. Just typing these words breaks my heart but this cargo included the slaves. The crew led by Captain Collingwood decided to throw these human beings overboard the ship and into the sea where they drowned. Over one hundred slaves were killed in this manner on the Zong ship.
Hollywood films such as Amistad have borrowed on the heartwrenching magnitude of these true historic references for audience goers to see the plight of the slaves at this time in History.
An edited clip from this movie Amistad is below. It does illustrate a depiction of the cramped and deplorable conditions for the slaves.
The specific scene of slaves being thrown overboard is so chilling and disturbing, not appropriate for all audiences. (Sadly, even these events of going overboard and drowning by sea still resonate today as similar tactics are being used in human trafficking violations in countries such as Somalia except that these people are looking for a better life and risking their lives for dangerous travel by sea to neighboring countries [i.e.- Yemen]. A whole other article can be written about this however.)
Specific to the Zong massacre, since these slaves that were killed were considered property with no human rights, no justice was received for their murder. In the court system of the time, killing these slaves was not considered murder.
Edited scene from Amistad movie
The case did go to court but only because the proprietors of the Zong ship were trying to fraudulently collect insurance money as compensation for their lost "property"..
A replica of Zong ship
They had killed all these slaves themselves especially the ones that were sickly. A healthy slave was of much more value to them. If a sick slave died after reaching ashore, the slavemasters would not have received compensation but their logic was that if they lost sick slaves to death during the nautical journey, they would be covered by insurance.
The Zong Massacre was first called the Zong Affair. It was only later in history that it was changed to recognize that this was indeed a mass killing and crime against humanity.
The 1783 court case, known as Grayson vs. Gilbert did end in a verdict that the slave ship owners could not claim insurance.1
What do you think about planking?
1. Zong Massacre. Online retrieved 11/6/2011. http://yourarchives.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php?title=Zong_Massacre_(case_of_Grayson_v_Gilbert_1783)
2. The Zong Massacre. Online retrieved 11/6/201. http://abolition.nypl.org/images/abolition/6/128
3. The Zong Case Study. Online retrieved 11/6/2011. http://www.understandingslavery.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=373:zong-case-study&catid=126:case-studies&Itemid=236