Bonnie wrapped her arms around my shoulders. I had not realized I was shaking. After several moments, we moved on to the next scene, a row of boys, chained together, sitting in a narrow, isolated alcove. Their mouths hung open. Tears pooled in their eyes. Shining drops lingered on their cheeks.
In the eighteenth century, approximately 25 percent of captives on slave ships were children, but by the nineteenth century, 40 percent were children. Children were easier to capture, control, fit into tight spaces, and overwhelm, and when they died, they were easier to discard.
Slave merchants and ship’s officers, among the prime beneficiaries of the slave trade, had their pick of the women, girls, and boys. For the pleasure and convenience of the captain and other men of rank on board, the women were held in quarters immediately below those of the ship’s officers. The crew members—many of whom had been recruited from poorhouses, jails, or insane asylums—also ravaged captives, especially boys. So this, I thought, was why the boys were sequestered away. These terrified children; they cried for their homeland, for their mothers. Our boys, not yet men.
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