The Slave Ships were emblems of human exploitation in the form of slave trade. Between 17th and 18th century, the Slave Ships were large sea vessels or modified cargo ships that were used to transport newly bought African slaves who were hapless men, women and children to the Americas. The primary route followed by the Slave Ships were from north western and western coast of Africa to the coasts of South America and the South East coast of modern day USA. Many Slave Ships transported slaves to the Caribbean Islands as well. Many African slaves died enroute. The voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas was called "The Middle Passage".
In the Slave Ships, the African slaves were treated as saleable commodities and were subjected to barbaric tortures. Most of the slaves were tied with iron prongs. The African slaves were transported in such inhumane conditions that only 15% survived while travelling in the Slave Ships. Current estimation shows that approximately 20 million Africans were transported through these Slave Ships. The ordeal of these people did not end after transportation. The slaves were forced to work as labors in plantations(cocoa, cotton, coffee and sugar), rice fields, construction industry, timber factories or shipping docks . Many were employed in gold, coal, and silver mine. Women or children slaves were recruited as servants at the villas of wealthy Europeans or sold to brothels. African American and African scholars have described the slave trade as ‘Maafa’. The term Maafa literally means "The Great Holocaust" in Swahili.
There were two system in which the slave traders ‘packed’ their cargo.
Lack of proper hygiene and poor sanitation:
The captains of these notorious Slave Ships did not took any care for the enslaved inmates. Common buckets were provided for the slaves' excrements. Often the buckets were kept distant from the slaves. While trying to reach it, the slaves often tumbled on others. Male slaves were mostly deprived of regular washing. Women slaves were allowed for brief washing on deck after they satiated sexual urges of the crew. The slave quarters in the basement of the Slave Ships were hot and humid. The floors of these torture cells mostly remained covered with layers of fecal filth. The slaves were guarded with loaded guns to prevent slave rebellion.
Slaves were mostly under-fed. Quantity of food was less for the slaves and the crew. Most slaves died on the cargo due to starvation. The Dutch trader were generous to feed their slaves three square meal a day. The French traders fed oats stew made from dried vegetable or turtle meat. The British slave traders fed the slaves twice a day in small fat tubes.
In 1807, Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed jointly in the United States of America and the United Kingdom. The anti-slavery law became effective from 1st January, 1808. In 1815, Spain, Portugal, Council of Vienna, and the Netherlands abolished their slave trade practices. During this period, the number of Slave Ships became smaller and were mostly used for smuggling goods or as blockade runner. Some of the Slave Ships changed their role as pirate vessels.