Primary Source Analyses: Atlantic Slave Trade
The author of this primary source is Rufus W. Clark. This is shown by the fact that this piece is quoted from his book The African Slave Trade. The author was actually a witness as he narrates how he saw a huge number of slaves amounting to five hundred and sixty two packed and wedged in a small place. He also witnessed how the slaves were branded like ‘sheep’ as he puts it. The author further narrates how the slaves saw them and perceived they were friends and started clapping their hands showing faces of joy as they thought their liberation was due (Clark 27). The author was indeed there as it is clearly shown how he even saw the place the slaves were packed. This is supported by the fact among many others that he even saw the measurements of the low cells. He further narrates how they (slaves) sat and explains they were so congested that they sat on each other’s legs.
The piece was written later by author who luckily happened to witness all what happens with slavery. He even notes in an occasion where all slaves perished as a result of taking ‘salt water’ in Bahia (Clark 29). The author’s race enabled him to freely witness the ordeal the slaves were passing through since slavery was high based on racial background. He fortunately came from a race not targeted to slavery where the victims here were Africans. Unlike the poor slaves, the author was viewed as economically stable and even thought of him as a liberator
The author of this primary source is a reliable source since he witnessed all what he has expressed in writing. He paints the picture on how the slaves perceived something of sympathy and kindness in their look. He narrates, ‘they immediately began to shout and clap their hands’. The author has also written other books displaying his vast knowledge in writing. Among the books he has written are Romanism in America, conscience and the law among many others.
The purpose of this document is primarily to educate the audience on how slaves had to go through tough and unbearable ordeals.
This is shown by the explanation from the author on how he personally witnessed from the ‘parking’, poor air condition and also lack of water from by the slaves. He also paints the picture on how the slaves feared to be killed any time as they lamented if they were to be taken to the deck for water and fresh air they would probably be killed.
The intended audience may be historians or anyone interested in learning about the history, precisely slavery. The author notes that some of the slaves had learned Portuguese and he quotes that one was heard shouting,’viva!,viva!’.
From this source we can learn about the tough and unbearable things, most notably the mistreatment the slaves had to go through. This is shown when the author says, ‘when the poor creatures were ordered down again, several of them came and pressed their heads against our knees, with looks of the greatest anguish, at the prospect of returning to the horrid place of suffering below (Clark 27). It can also be learned that the lives of the slaves was not valued at all. This is shown by the fact that at some point they were given salt water and they all perished (a ship from Bahia). It can also be learned that the slaves at some point in time had interacted with the Portuguese since the author notes that some had caught few Portuguese words.
The unspoken assumption being made from the source is the issue of bias with regards to racial origin. This is because most probably were all Africans as the author puts, ‘she had taken in, on the coast of Africa’. The author also shows there may biasness against children whom he puts were on one side of the ship remote most from light and air. The oppression and limitation of the slave’s right to basic needs, say water and even clothing shows biasness was preference, notably towards the slaves.
Bias is not good and it may limit the primary source since one may not be able to thoroughly learn about the situation on the ground. One can also paint a negative picture regarding a particular situation due to biasness hence becoming unreliable source. Biasness can also make one hide the truth regarding a certain issue if he is against say, the oppressed.
A historian can overcome bias first through commitment to themselves that they are there to present a true or accurate story on the events that unfolded. Bias can also be dealt with by the historian first assessing the situation on the ground and taking ‘safety measures’ say using one of the people in a particular event to learn more about a scenario (Clark 30). By clearly showing the negative effects of biasness, historians can indeed play a big role in helping curb if not eliminate biasness. Historians can go further and examine the side effects of biasness and even at some point give recommendations on their finding. They can also examine the reasons behind biasness.
The reasons behind an occurrence, how it happened and most probably why it happened should be taken into consideration by historians. The context of accuracy should also be considered widely to give a reliable piece. Inclusiveness should be considered to ensure a wide coverage and also giving of every needed detail.
Clark, Rufus W. The African Slave Trade Boston: American tract society, [c1860], pp. 27-30