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Post Was the Transatlantic Slave Trade a Holocaust?
Created by John Eipper on 04/26/17 12:28 PM

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Was the Transatlantic Slave Trade a Holocaust? (Timothy Ashby, -Spain, 04/26/17 12:28 pm)

John E asked earlier today (April 26th):  "Is it appropriate to speak of the transatlantic slave trade as a Holocaust? Or how about a lower-case holocaust?" He further offered, "I would say yes, as it refers to the systematic and intentional destruction of a people."

The transatlantic slave trade was not a "systematic and intentional destruction of a people." There was never an intent to destroy Africans as a people. Slaves were an economic commodity, a form of capital, and actually were more valuable than white indentured servants during the colonial period. Slaves died during the middle passage due to the horrifying conditions aboard the ships, which was largely due to ignorance of disease. Captains of slave ships received bonuses for delivering as many live Africans to the New World slave markets as possible.

Although white indentured servants could achieve freedom and own property after their period of servitude, their lives were largely nasty, brutish and short. During the 17th century, indentured servants suffered an appalling death rate. 50% of all white servants in the Chesapeake colonies of Virginia and Maryland died within five years of their arrival. In many respects, the status of white servants differed little from that of slavery--they could be bought, sold, or leased and they could also be punished by whipping. (I have a 1740s account of my ancestor Captain Thomas Ashby ordering the whipping of a man and a woman, his indentured servants, who ran away.)

JE comments:  The children of dead indentured servants could also be held accountable for their parents' debts. This according to my latest read, Nancy Isenberg's White Trash (2016), which despite its trashy title, is a provocative history of social class in the United States.  In fact, there was less incentive to keep an indentured servant alive than a slave, given that a slave held permanent commercial value to the owner.  Masters could, and often did, work their indentured servants to death.

Was African slavery a "systematic and intentional destruction"?  Enslavement doesn't incentivize death, but it is undoubtedly a type of destruction.

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