On this day in history (1783), the Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in London stated that a massacre of African slaves “was the same as if Horses had been thrown over board” during hearing arguments in the case of the Zong slave ship.
The crew of the Zong had thrown at least 142 captive Africans into the sea, but the question before the court was not who had committed this atrocity but rather whether the lost “cargo” was covered by insurance. The trial laid bare the horror and inhumanity of the Atlantic slave trade and galvanized the nascent movement to abolish it.
The Zong left Accra in August of 1781, carrying 442 enslaved Africans and bound for the colonial plantations of Jamaica. As was common in the slave trade, the Zong was grossly overcrowded, carrying more than double the amount of people a ship its size could safely transport. Running low on water and having lengthened their journey due to a navigation error, the crew voted to jettison some of its human “cargo” in order to ensure the safe delivery of the rest, a loss for which the shipping company could be compensated under British law. Over the course of several days, the crew threw at least 122 Africans overboard. Several other enslaved (about 10 in number) threw themselves overboard, and the ship’s captain Luke Collingwood would later describe it as an “Act of Defiance”. The Zong arrived in Black River, Jamaica with 208 enslaved people on board.
“Although those who were responsible for the Zong massacre were never brought to justice, the event itself, having been surrounded by publicity, increased the profile of abolitionists such as Granville Sharp and Olaudah Equiano.” They in turn inspired the actions of William Wilberforce who led the successful campaign to have Parliament abolish slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833.
You can read further on the Zong massacre here.
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Created by Okey Obiabunmo