Black History Month: An insight into Slavery in Old Calabar By Richard Duke
•”According to Rev Hope Waddell, slaves came from several sources, and scholars of African slavery agree that “there were numerous ways to enslave people”. In Old Calabar, as in other regions, individuals sold themselves into slavery to escape famine , to seek protection, or to improve their circumstances, since a well-placed slave might prosper more than an impoverished free man. Individuals could be enslaved for debts, and entire families could fall into slavery by that means.
•James Morley, a sailor on board slave ships at Old Calabar in the 1770’s, reported that he knew of persons who were sold because they committed adultery or theft.
•Among those sold for adultery was one of the wives of Duke Ephraim, though the woman, who spoke very good English, told Morley that she was innocent of the crimes, and since Ephraim treated her “with the greatest civility” when he brought her on board, Morley believed the charge to be false.
•It has been observed that although men might also be enslaved as punishment for crimes or taken as prisoners of war, but those enslaved in these ways were generally in a worse position than other slaves; their lives were considered forfeit and they might be subject to sacrifice or sale, unlike those enslaved by other means.
•Unlike in the America’s, slaves in Calabar could not buy their own freedom or redeem themselves. The slave could only improve his social standing by purchasing for themselves other slaves ( down the food chain) who would help to reduce the amount of hard work he had to do.
•In the event of serendipity where the slave master in Calabar happened to set a slave free; the slave was often seen as a disgrace and had to seek the protection of another slave master. The life of a slave was tough. However, where a slave maid gave birth to children for her master, according to Waddell “both she and the children became free”.
•The Two Princes of Old Calabar by Prof Randy Sparks
•Twenty Nine Years in the West Indies and Central Africa by Rev Hope Waddell.
•The Slave Kings of Old Calabar (unpublished) by Richard Duke
•Letters of the Old Calabar Slave Trade by Lovejoy and Richardson