Africans resisted their loss of freedom by individual acts of resistance and by organised revolts. Most of these revolts were unsuccessful and were punished with brutal ferocity. Some captives resisted by committing suicide, usually by jumping overboard.

Captains and crews were always fearful of revolt and this added to the atmosphere of violence and suspicion. They searched the holds daily for possible weapons and severely punished even minor acts of resistance.

Attempted insurrection aboard the Unity

Photo of the log book

The log of the Liverpool ship Unity

In the following extracts from the log book of the Liverpool ship Unity, owned by the Earle family, Captain Richard Norris recorded attempted uprisings on board. The log book is part of the collections in the Maritime Archives and Library.

6 June 1770

"The slaves made an insurrection which was soon quelled with the loss of two women."

23 June 1770

"Died a girl slave, No. 13. The slaves attempted an insurrection, lost a man of Capt Monypenny's purchase, who jumped over board and was drown'd. Employed securing the men in chains and gave the women concerned 24 lashes each."

26 June 1770

"The slaves this day proposed making an insurrection and a few of them got off their handcuffs but were detected in time."

27 June 1770

"The slaves attempted to force up the gratings in the Night with a design to murder the whites or drown themselves, but were prevented by the watch. In the morning they confessed their intention and the women as well as the men were determined if disappointed of cutting of the whites, to jump overboard but in case of being prevented by their irons were resolved as their last resource to burn the ship. Their obstinacy put me under the Necessity of shooting the Ring Leader."