Arrival in the Americas

Scene of slave auction, with Africans and a slave trader

Diorama of a scene from a slave auction from the former Transatlantic Slavery gallery at Merseyside Maritime Museum

On reaching the Americas the crew of slave ships prepared the Africans for sale. They washed, shaved and rubbed them with palm oil to disguise sores and wounds caused by conditions on board. The captains usually sold their captives directly to planters or specialised wholesalers by auction. Families who had managed to stay together were now often broken up. Bonds formed during the voyage were also broken.

Immediately owners and their overseers sought to obliterate the identities of their newly acquired slaves, to break their wills and sever any bonds with the past. They forced Africans to adapt to new working and living conditions, to learn a new language and adopt new customs. They called this process 'seasoning' and it could last two or three years.

For Africans, weakened by the trauma of the voyage, the brutality of this process was overwhelming. Many died or committed suicide. Others resisted and were punished. The rest found ways of appearing to conform which still preserved their dignity.

Buying slaves at auction

Listen to audio clips or read transcripts of two very different accounts of slave auctions by former slave Olaudah Equiano and plantation owner Thomas Thistlewood.