1796 African Slavery Diary

Mungo Park (11 September 1771 – 1806) was a Scottish explorer who kept a diary of his daily experiences of his exploration of West Adrica. He was in search of the source of the Niger River and wrote a very interesting little book titled “Travels in the Interior of Africa.” It was published in 1901 and I have an original copy. There is also a Kindle copy available on Amazon for 99 cents.

What makes this book so intersting to me is, it is his diary and not a novel. There are parts that just blow me away. I can’r imagine the balls it took to do what he did, but then we should all respect what most of Western Civilisation accomplished over the past millenia.

What follows is taken from Chapter 2 of his book. It explains what he learned about slavery at the time. The fact that he estimated 75% of all Blacks were slaves in Africa is not widely known.

Read it for yourself and come to your own conclusion.

Mungo Park (11 September 1771 – 1806) was a Scottish explorer of West Africa. He was the first Westerner known to have travelled to the central portion of the Niger River, and his account of his travels is still in print. (WIKI)

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“In the account which I have thus given of the natives, the reader must bear in mind that my observations apply chiefly to persons of free condition, who constitute, I suppose, not more than one-fourth part of the inhabitants at large. 

The other three-fourths are in a state of hopeless and hereditary slavery, and are employed in cultivating the land, in the care of cattle, and in servile offices of all kinds, much in the same manner as the slaves in the West Indies.

I was told, however, that the Mandingo master can neither deprive his slave of life, nor sell him to a stranger, without first calling a palaver on his conduct, or in other words, bringing him to a public trial.  But this degree of protection is extended only to the native or domestic slave.

Captives taken in war, and those unfortunate victims who are condemned to slavery for crimes or insolvency—and, in short, all those unhappy people who are brought down from the interior countries for sale—have no security whatever, but may be treated and disposed of in all respects as the owner thinks proper.

It sometimes happens, indeed, when no ships are on the coast, that a humane and considerate master incorporates his purchased slaves among his domestics; and their offspring at least, if not the parents, become entitled to all the privileges of the native class slaves.

The earliest European establishment on this celebrated river was a factory of the Portuguese, and to this must be ascribed the introduction of the numerous words of that language which are still in use among the negroes.

The Dutch, French, and English afterwards successively possessed themselves of settlements on the coast; but the trade of the Gambia became, and continued for many years, a sort of monopoly in the hands of the English.  In the travels of Francis Moore is preserved an account of the Royal African Company’s establishments in this river in the year 1730; at which the James’s factory alone consisted of a governor, deputy-governor, and two other principal officers; eight factors, thirteen writers, twenty inferior attendants and tradesmen; a company of soldiers, and thirty-two negro servants; besides sloops, shallops, and boats, with their crews; and there were no less than eight subordinate factories in other parts of the river.

The trade with Europe, by being afterwards laid open, was almost annihilated.  The share which the subjects of England at this time hold in it supports not more than two or three annual ships; and I am informed that the gross value of British exports is under £20,000.  The French and Danes still maintain a small share, and the Americans have lately sent a few vessels to the Gambia by way of experiment. 

The commodities exported to the Gambia from Europe consist chiefly of firearms and ammunition, iron-ware, spirituous liquors, tobacco, cotton caps, a small quantity of broadcloth, and a few articles of the manufacture of Manchester; a small assortment of India goods, with some glass beads, amber, and other trifles, for which are taken in exchange slaves, gold dust, ivory, beeswax, and hides.  Slaves are the chief article, but the whole number which at this time are annually exported from the Gambia by all nations is supposed to be under one thousand.

Most of these unfortunate victims are brought to the coast in periodical caravans; many of them from very remote inland countries, for the language which they speak is not understood by the inhabitants of the maritime districts.  In a subsequent part of my work I shall give the best information I have been able to collect concerning the manner in which they are obtained.

On their arrival at the coast, if no immediate opportunity offers of selling them to advantage, they are distributed among the neighbouring villages, until a slave ship arrives, or until they can be sold to black traders, who sometimes purchase on speculation. In the meanwhile, the poor wretches are kept constantly fettered, two and two of them being chained together, and employed in the labours of the field, and, I am sorry to add, are very scantily fed, as well as harshly treated.

The price of a slave varies according to the number of purchasers from Europe, and the arrival of caravans from the interior; but in general I reckon that a young and healthy male, from sixteen to twenty-five years of age, may be estimated on the spot from £18 to £20 sterling.

The negro slave-merchants, as I have observed in the former chapter, are called slatees, who, besides slaves, and the merchandise which they bring for sale to the whites, supply the inhabitants of the maritime districts with native iron, sweet-smelling gums and frankincense, and a commodity called shea-toulou , which, literally translated, signifies tree-butter .

In payment of these articles, the maritime states supply the interior countries with salt, a scarce and valuable commodity, as I frequently and painfully experienced in the course of my journey.  Considerable quantities of this article, however, are also supplied to the inland natives by the Moors, who obtain it from the salt pits in the Great Desert, and receive in return corn, cotton cloth, and slaves.  

In their early intercourse with Europeans the article that attracted most notice was iron.  Its utility, in forming the instruments of war and husbandry, make it preferable to all others, and iron soon became the measure by which the value of all other commodities was ascertained. Thus, a certain quantity of goods, of whatever denomination, appearing to be equal in value to a bar of iron, constituted, in the traders’ phraseology, a bar of that particular merchandise. 

Twenty leaves of tobacco, for instance, were considered as a bar of tobacco; and a gallon of spirits (or rather half spirits and half water) as a bar of rum, a bar of one commodity being reckoned equal in value to a bar of another commodity. 

As, however, it must unavoidably happen that, according to the plenty or scarcity of goods at market in proportion to the demand, the relative value would be subject to continual fluctuation, greater precision has been found necessary; and at this time the current value of a single bar of any kind is fixed by the whites at two shillings sterling.

Thus, a slave whose price is £15, is said to be worth 150 bars. 

In transactions of this nature it is obvious that the white trader has infinitely the advantage over the African, whom, therefore, it is difficult to satisfy, for conscious of his own ignorance, he naturally becomes exceedingly suspicious and wavering; and, indeed, so very unsettled and jealous are the negroes in their dealings with the whites, that a bargain is never considered by the European as concluded until the purchase money is paid and the party has taken leave.

Having now brought together such general observations on the country and its inhabitants as occurred to me during my residence in the vicinity of the Gambia, I shall detain the reader no longer with introductory matter, but proceed, in the next chapter, to a regular detail of the incidents which happened, and the reflections which arose in my mind, in the course of my painful and perilous journey, from its commencement until my return to the Gambia.”

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Mungo Park was murdered on his second trip to West Africa in 1806.

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