Africans Thrown Overboard from a Slave Ship, Brazil, ca. 1830s

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This record was last updated on 13 May 2012

Image Reference

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This woodcut was originally published in The Liberator, the American abolitionist newspaper, 7 January 1832 (vol. 11, p. 2) and appeared in several later issues in that year. It accompanied a brief article on Brazil which describes how sickly captive Africans were thrown overboard alive in the port of Rio so that slave captains, knowing they could not be sold, would avoid paying import duties on them. This woodcut was later published in various 19th century abolitionist works, without identifying the Liberator as the original source and without any explanation of the illustration. One of these works is The Slave's Friend (New York: Anti-slavery Office, 1836), an abolitionist pamphlet designed for children. The image shown here is from the copy in the Library Company of Philadelphia (see also Library of Congress photo, LC-USZ62-30833); however, the image is not found in all copies of this book (for example, it is absent in the Library of Congress and the University of Virginia Library copies). This image is sometimes reproduced in modern publications on the slave trade, but is never properly identified (see Jerome Handler and Annis Steiner, "Identifying Pictorial Images of Atlantic Slavery: Three Case Studies," Slavery and Abolition 27 [2006], 54-56). Modern works on the slave trade sometimes erroneously and misleadingly use this image to illustrate the famous Zong incident. In 1781, the British slaving vessel, Zong, jettisoned 132 or 133 captive Africans, men, women, and children, into the Caribbean sea, provoking a famous court case in which the vessel’s owners attempted to claim insurance compensation for lost property; the incident helped galvanize British public opinion against the slave trade.