The Story of Modou – Chapter 3 – Slaves for Sale!

The monster we were on finally reached the other side of the river bank exactly 8 weeks and 3 days after it had started. I knew this as I had scratched a line on the wooden pole in front of me with my chains with every day that passed. I heard the captain shout Land Ahoy, but I don’t know what that meant. I also heard him say that this good here ship Solomon had landed safely in the West Indies, or to be exact, Jamaica. The ship then sailed north to the south of North America. The crew at the sight of land started jumping up and down, and shouting and singing strange songs to celebrate. I felt so nervous as I didn’t know what was going to happen next, yet I felt a small sensation of relief Here, though we were brutally pushed off the ship and had to walk through the water to reach dry land. The coldness of the water eventually numbed the pain in my ankles, as I had got used to the horrifying wash. We were still whipped to keep us moving all the way. There was no chance of escape as the white men were clearly holding guns. As much as I wanted the pain to be over, dying now wouldn’t be the right thing to do. We were then pushed into huge cages about a mile in land. My sister and aunt were next door, and through the bars of wood I talked to them. We kept each other going. We were kept there for three days. Then the captain took us out of the cage one by one. I was first. They dragged me over to the captain who was standing by what was called a table. They first washed off the remaining dirt I had on me. I tried to struggle free but I soon learnt there was no point as they had total control over me. They then got an oily mixture and pasted it over my wound, all the little cuts I had got. It was extraordinarily painful and it hurt the most on the biggest cut I had which I could feel was on my lower back. I screeched out in agony, and I could see the shocked faces of those that were about to have the same treatment done to them. They were scared and sad, and jumped back when I screamed out loud.  The captain then inspected me, and told one of the men helping carry out this task to put some tree tar over my wound to cover it up. He said I needed to be in an almost perfect condition to fetch his high price at auction. Now, as the man put that tar on me, if you thought that the oil seemed bad enough, the tar was much, much worse. They then forced open my mouth with their hands and checked my teeth. They said they were good. I was then given a drink, but I refused, so my mouth was once again forced open and the vile liquid was pored down my throat. Two guards by my cage then dragged me back into the cage and took another person out. I just collapsed on the floor right in front of my sister and aunt. We were then taken to an auction the next day. We were all chained together and had to march into a nearby town. Here we were all kept in cages, in groups of say five to ten. I could no longer see my family. All day we were inspected from outside the cage by potential buyers, who were looking for a hard worker, and also a girl who could give them more. After midday it was time for the sale. A man was standing higher up than the crowd of rich white people. Two guards opened the door to my cage and took me out, and dragged me onto the stage. Then lots of white people came and looked at me, really close. I was so scared yet I just felt like killing them all, but all my strength had been drained. The man selling me said I was in prime condition and would be the perfect worker on their plantations. He then started to do this weird chant, and some of the men put their hand up when he said certain words. After a few minutes of this, well that’s how long it seemed anyway, the seller said sold to Alexander Bluebell for one hundred and seventy pounds. I didn’t know how much that was, but I knew it must have been a lot. I was then dragged off stage and tied to a pole nearby where I was told to wait. I saw everyone sold. Including my aunt. She was sold to George Hooper for seventy pounds. Then it was my sister’s time to be sold. I hoped and prayed for her to be sold to whoever bought me, because no matter how much I hated all these people, if we had to go through it, I wanted to be with my sister. She was like my best friend. The person who bought me put in a few offers, but it was not enough. She was sold to Roswell King, and he said he’d enjoy her lots. I felt disgusted at what he had said, but there as nothing I could do about it. After everyone had been sold, the person who had bought me went up to the seller and told him to do something. The next thing I knew I was being held down by one of the guards, while another use a blunter knife to scrape off the tar and remove the puss from the cut on my lower back. The pain was immense, and I just kept on screaming at the top of my voice. My new owner then came up to me and asked me if I was o.k. I said yes, as I had be learning English from what I was hearing all the time, as I was a great learner, but I wasn’t really o.k. He said, wow, you know a little English then do you, well I think I’ll call you James. So what’s your name then, he asked me. I said my name Modou but now James.  He said well you do know English then. Now you better forget your old name. You are not Modou anymore. You are now James. You understand me? I said yes. He then untied me from the post, and took off my feet chains. He said he thinks he could trust me, and that he was one of the nicest slave owners around. He said he would look after me and be nice, if I showed respect back. He seemed quite nice compared to the over white men, but I was still cautious, encase he was like them really.. Well I wasn’t exactly going to run away just yet was I?  He took me over to his carriage which had a cart behind it. He sat me down on it, and told me to stay there. He then got on to his seat far in front of me and got his driver to make the two animals that looked like skinny buffalos that I found out were horses, pull the cart. It was a long journey to my new home. It took at least a good few hours. When we arrived, I was given some clothes to wear. But I was told to stick out my leg. A hot iron was placed on it. It felt so hurtful, but I didn’t make to much noise. It wasn’t to bad, not as bad as the things that happened on the slave ship monster. I didn’t want to make a bad impression on my new owner.

My dad would want me to fight. But I’m not afraid any more. They can’t do any more damage than they already have. I just accept it. I can’t help it. I’m just that rare sort of person. I don’t really mind the branding now, they need to know who I belong to, and if it means being scarred for life, to save me from a more violent owner I’m happy. I would have rather it had been something else, less painful, but it’s over now isn’t it. I was then taken to all the other slaves and introduced. I didn’t understand half the things they were saying, but for the first few days, they helped me learn, and some new arrivals spoke Mandinka to me which helped me learn quite fast. They helped me build my house out of wood. I was quite proud of it. I was then taken to see Master Alexander. He said I had to start work in the sugar fields. I had to cut down the canes, and then give them to other workers so they could carry them back. In return I would get lots of food and water, a place to live and clothes. I was a bit disappointed as I wouldn’t get any money, but at least I would survive. My first day of work was really hard. I was in the fields for 16 hours, cutting down canes. It was hard work, but I managed it. Overseers watched us and threatened us with their whip if we were slacking, but it was a more relaxed atmosphere than I expected. This happened every day for a month, but us slaves are allowed Sundays off to rest and have fun. The first Sunday I had off, there was a big party. There was singing and dancing, and I was happy to join in. I asked one of the girls I liked to dance with me and she said yes. 6 weeks later we were getting married. We weren’t allowed a proper ceremony, so one of the older villagers did it for us. We had to jump over the broom to make us together. It was great and there was another big party afterwards. By this time I was pretty fluent in English, and I felt like this village of slaves was like a huge family, and our master was really nice. 9 months later Shelly gave birth to twins. A bay girl and a baby boy. We named my girl Amie and my boy Toby. Master was very lenient in work as we had to look after them. I am so happy. Now I see them all grown up at the age of 16, about to start their own family. Amie is expecting her first child soon. I can’t believe how fast this has all happened. Master likes me and thinks I am a good worker. I am now his driver. I get to see lots of places others can only dream of. I tell my children and grand children about them and about Africa as well. Me and shelly want the memories of our beautiful homeland passed on. Master told me to drive to a local plantation. He told me it was owned by Roswell King, and that they are brothers, and when one of them dies the other gets his plantation. Roswell was very sick and about to die. I told master that my sister was sold to him, and I asked if I could have a quick look to see if I could find her. When we got there, he said I could go for ten minutes to try to find her. I asked one of the elders if they knew what Sirrah’s new name was. He told me It was Sarah-may. I called out that name, and one girl stepped forward. I told it was Modou, her brother, and my new name was James. She said, is that really you? She ran up to me and gave me a hug. I took her to my master and introduced her. As I was now earning money by growing goods and selling them at markets when I drove to one, I asked if I could buy her freedom, so she could live with me. Sarah had been told she must pay 40 pounds for her freedom. I had 100. I gave it to her, and she managed to get her freedom and her husbands too. She was expecting children too, but her owner didn’t know that. My master said they could live with my family in my house if they wanted to, and they did. Sarah gave birth to a little girl who she named Jennifer. It was a happy ending all round. I never thought of running away. I knew it would all turn out fine in the end. As I am getting older, I have been given lighter work. A rebellion would ruin everyone’s lives and what would be the point. I am happy working on the plantation even if I am a slave. I don’t care. My life is great the way it is. Now my time has nearly come, and even though I still vividly remember what happened, the nightmares have almost stopped. So this is my life story, and may this be a message that although most slavery is dreadful, sometimes it can be something really good.

James, or Modou as he was known in Africa, died on the 4th of July, happy at home, laughing until the very end, surrounded by all his family and close friends in 1805 at the age of 53, and his legacy shall live on forever more.

The Story of Modou – Chapter 2 – The Slave Ship.

After many days of being locked up in that cage, some white men came out from the belly of the monster canoe. I was astonished at this amazing feat, of how they managed to escape the monster. This soon converted into terror when the white men unlocked each cage in turn, and one by one as we walked out they counted us and took us across in big canoes to the monster, we all wanted to escape, but we knew we would be shot dead if we dared rebel. My sister was clinging on to me and I was sore from where she had me digging her sharp nails in to me for the past week or so. We were made to paddle the boat along, and when we were side by side with the monster we were made to climb up its massive sides with guns pointed at us, so we didn’t try to escape. When we were on top, I looked up and saw long pole that touched the clouds in the bright blue sky. Hanging off there were long pieces of the finest white cloth ever seen by a Mandinka warrior. I saw the native men that captured us being given pieces of what seemed to be shiny pieces of metal, gold and silver in colour. They were given bags of this each by a tall white man in elaborate clothing. He was shouting at the white men who were pushing us into the belly of the monster.  As me and my sister reached the front of the queue, we were separated. I was pushed hard into the belly of the monster. She was taken away down another part of the ship. I guess they were separating me and women as well as children from each other. I felt so upset being separated from her. I knew we couldn’t survive without each other. I walked down lots of steep steps into the dark belly of the monster. My eyes were so used to the bright light of the mid-day sun I couldn’t see a thing. A man was waiting for us. He put chains around my wrists and ankles. And then he shoved me underneath one of the shelves and made sure I was in my own small space. It was the same length of me  by the width of 3 large coconuts laid side to side lengthways. When the whole ship filled up it got really hot. I thought I was going to die right then, but I didn’t. The men either side of me scared me, and there was barely any room to turn over. I kept thinking of what could have been, of my old life, and what may happen. Many days past in that stinking belly of a monster. We just lay there all day, rocking gently from side to side. The whit people came down to feed us twice a day. We were also give a large jug of water each once a day at breakfast, if you can even call it that. They were drunk and kept bumping in to the sides of the compartments. They gave us this kind of gruel which was made of what the white people called maize. As I am a good listener, I managed to learn a few words of their language, yet I dare not speak it loud. The other men captured would think I was betraying them or that I was just like the white man if I spoke their language. Everyone had to go to the toilet where they were, and it all piled up down at the bottom. It was disgusting, and for the first few days you could do absolutely nothing about it. It was really hot down there, and there little chance of getting any fresh air at all. After around five days, the white men came down and took the chains off us and in groups; they took us up on to the top of the monster. We were forced into a big group all huddled together. I looked out at the side and there was no bank. This was some river. It was so big the banks were absolutely no where to be seen. I later found out it was called the sea and I was shocked at how vast it was. The white men then got a bucket of water from the big river and chucked it at us. We all screeched out in agony, as the salty water got into all the cuts we had got so far. Then some other white people came up to us one by one and scrubbed us briefly with a really prickly brush. It made my body hurt even more. Then I noticed one of our people being taken up towards a drum and was made to play it. They then made us jump around in a kind of way that was like a tribal celebration dance, while white men walked around us, whipping us when they thought necessary and sometimes just for fun it seemed. The whip really hurt and it gave me a bruise the whole way around my ankles. They then took us down below deck and chained us back up. I noticed that our compartments had been cleared of the majority of dirt that had piled up. It was the best thing that had happened since we entered the monster, but that isn’t really saying much though. This routine happened two or three times a week when it was dry weather. After a couple of weeks, I noticed for the first time there were rats on board. All night they bit me. They just wouldn’t go away no matter how much I pushed them back. My skin had lots of swollen lumps the next morning which were very sore. I plucked up the courage a few nights later to talk to the person on my left. He was Mandinka. I asked the person on my right, but when I tapped him gently on the shoulder, he rolled over towards me dead. I told the other person by my side what had just happened, and he said that that had happened to the person next to him a few nights ago, and the body was removed later. I felt sick. Yet I shouted to the whole of the people in this part of the monster who was Mandinka, and there were many replies. We talked for much of the day and the night, planning our escape and how we take control of the monster and kill the white men. We decided we would do it a few weeks from now, so we could teach as many people as possible our language that the majority of the captured spoke. I did not have to teach any one Mandinka, although I wanted to. Back at home I taught my cousins lots of things like talking , climbing and fire making. The next day there was what was called a squall. The ship was shaken about lots and lots, and there was a loud sound a few times a minute which sounded by a drum which was thunder. There was also a flash every so often just before the thunder, called lightening. I was quite afraid because I couldn’t see any thing where I was. It lasted 4 night and 3 days. All that time being moved violently around, making it almost impossible to sleep and the chains rubbed even more against my skin.

I overheard the captain and the first mate speaking just above me. The captain’s name was Captain Phillips, and the first mate was called Luke Collingwood. I remembered every word they said and when I finally learnt English I understood it. This is what they said from what I remember now. They said we were heading for the west Indies in America to sell their cargo, which must have meant us people in the monster, and to buy some goods at small prices to sell back home at high prices to the better off or the higher class. Exports such as coal, cloth, glass, guns and other desirable items made in huge factories in England were traded for slaves in Africa. The slaves were then sold to American plantation owners in America,  while the money made by the people on the sips were used to buy goods such as sugar, rice, coffee, tobacco rum and cotton to sell back at high prices to wealthy people back in England. You could made anything up to 3000% profit and you could become very rich, very quickly.  The captain said he chose tight pack because he wanted lots of slaves to sell, and even though there was a higher risk of disease wiping out huge numbers, if they were chucked over board he could claim back lots of cash for them, off their insurance. So if he washed the cargo and cleaned their living compartments, he should be o.k. They were dealing in slaves because they could make more money than in any other job they could have got in England. They can afford to have a taste of such desirable items such as sugar. They could also get away from the wife for around 6 months, so they could get into lots of trouble and do almost anything, and the wife would be none the wiser. Apparently there were also many perks to the job such as belly warmers that they couldn’t get anywhere else without being kicked out by the wife. Their attitude their cargo is better than other slave ship people apparently. The cargo is savage because they don’t know any better. That is what they were taught, so you can’t expect them to change instantly. They need lots of time and help. I think they are a bit like us, the captain said, but a few hundred years behind, if you know what I mean. We just need to show them we are in charge, and they’ll learn soon enough. It’s not like we would want this done to us but it s all for a good cause. They will be taken to a nice home in America and looked after. They will be fed and given shelter. Their will be better off where they are going. We are saving them from a worse off fait in Africa, where they could be eaten by savage cannibals. I felt angry at what they said. They were going to sell us, their precious cargo, so they could become rich. It isn’t dangerous back home if you are careful. And how will we be better off? And what are the perks of the job? I hope that doesn’t involve my sister or my aunt. They think they are being kind, and they even said they wouldn’t want to be in our situation. I think they’re just in it for the money. The selfish, ugly idiots. Our routine of breakfast, boredom and frustration, pain and suffering, washing and dancing then dinner continued for many days. Each time we were washed the cuts newly made from the chains rubbing against me and from all of the rats stung more and more.  That day when we were in the fresh air which burnt my throat, we saw a dead body being brought up from below. It was kicked and punched, and not even given a second of respect before being chucked over the side into the sea, where a fin of a shark was waiting.

Then about 12 young girls and women started running around the deck, trying to avoid the white men that wanted to capture them. My sister was one of them. I called out to her, but it took lots of calls for her to hear me. She managed to come close for a few minutes so we could talk. We hugged and hugged, before she decided to tell me the awful things the white people had made her do, many of which were unsuitable for a lady of her age. She was then spotted and dragged back under deck. 3 women were left, chained together. They seized this opportunity while the white men were not facing them, to jump over the side of the monster into the bright blue river below between nets of green. The captain then came up to one of the white men that should have stopped them and started to punch and kick him til he was bleeding all over. He said her would give him a severe punishment if it happened again. From what I could gather he would be tied up and dragged underneath the ship, across the whole length without any clothes. I still do not understand the painful part of this, but it meant something to the beaten whit man, so he got up and continued with his work, whipping us. The next time they brought us up, which was about 6 days after that incident it was time. Everyone was in unbelievable agony, but that wouldn’t stop us trying. 6 weeks into the journey was the planned time for mutiny.  Now nearly all of the men and older boys in this part of the monster understood Mandinka well enough to carry out our plan. That day when we were taken up when the sun as shining high in the clouds which were touched by the huge poll beside me from the monster. Everyone played along with the washing and dancing. Then we all grabbed the five white men guarding us and kicked them to the floor, and took their knifes and whips. We then tried to kill as many people that were white as we could. It was actually working. There was just the captain, his first mate, and to others left. But all of a sudden, one of the white people with his last breath shot a very big gun at the big group of us. Shards of metal want everywhere, and many of us were shot down to the floor in dire pain. Many were killed, but me and a few others near the back of the crowd survived. We were immediately taken to the side of the ship by some of the guards that were below deck at the time of the incident. They started to whip our arms and legs, and hen drew blood with a knife. They stopped the bleeding as they didn’t want their precious cargo dead unnecessarily, before being taken back to our compartments. There was a distinct lack of people around now; which was sad yet good because it would be cleaner. I overheard the captain saying there had been a break out of small pox in the younger boys’ compartment, and they had chucked many of the ill overboard so it didn’t spread and to claim insurance for them, which would be more than their selling price at auction if they was ill. The man next to me was killed during the fight, and that made me really angry, but I knew there was nothing I could do as the white men had guns, and could therefore win. So I just kept quiet and just continued with our torture for the last few weeks.

The Story of Modou – Chapter 1 – Kidnap!

Hello. My name is Modou and this is the story of how I became a slave, what it was like on the slave ship and to be sold, to where I finally ended up on a plantation. I am now 42 years old, but at the time of my capture I was only 14. I was born in the year of 1752.  I came from Sifo village, one of the most powerful in our region of Africa. My father was the Headman of our Mandinka tribe. My mother died when I was 8. My father said a white man shot her with what the white people called a gun, and I should fear the white people but also learn how to fight them. Ever since my aunt was like a mother to me and my sister, and my father always took me hunting so I could learn how to become a man and be strong enough to fight should the white men return. I first saw a white man a few weeks before my capture. I went to do some trading with another village with my father and some other men from the tribe. All of a sudden I heard a large bang when we were almost there. In front of me I watched in horror whilst a white man shot a young girl who was running away from him. I felt so sad. The whit man was wearing the most unusual outfit I had ever seen. It consisted of long green trousers with lots of pockets, and one hanging around his waist that he pulled the gun out of. He also wore a green top and a beige coloured jacket which was slightly see through. My father shouted at me to run, but I could not. Then the white man turned around and saw me. I fear he would have shot me to if my father had not come along and pulled me out of the way. All we could do then was run and run and run until we were far away from those evil people. About two weeks later my father went out hunting without me as he said it was not safe for me to follow anymore. My aunt needed some firewood, so I took my little sister with me. We walked quite far from the village as I knew where the best trees were. As I started to cut off some branches, I heard a rustling sound. I looked around but there was nothing there, except my sister picking up sticks. I told her to come closer to me, to keep safe. I started to cut more and more branches off a couple of trees that were very close to each other. That’s when I heard some more strange sounds. It was like another language being spoken. I picked up as much of the wood as I could and so did my sister, then we ran as fast as we could. The next thing I know, two strangers, that were obviously native because of their dark complexion, had grabbed me and my sister by the ankles and we were hanging upside down. A third man appeared from nowhere and loosely tied some rope around my sister to keep her still. Then the third man came up to me. I noticed the colour of his skin – it was white. At this point I was so scared I could barely move, and I was only just still breathing. My heart was racing. I could hear it pounding under the sound of the third mans heavy boots as he slowly came up to me. As quick as a flash he put these metal things around my arms and feet. I was dropped on the floor, and somehow found the strength to try to struggle free. But it was all in vein. As much as I screamed and struggled, pulled and pushed I could not get them off. I knew I was stuck. The three men chucked my sister on top of me and surrounded us, and began laughing at us, and kicking us. A short time later they picked us off the ground and forced us to walk where they wanted to go. All the time the white man kept a sharp eye on us, with a gun pointed at my head. They led us to the most horrific site I had ever seen. Hundreds of people from surrounding tribes all tied up and marching forwards, with their heads secured in place by criss-crossing branches. As they went past, I saw all my friends that had gone to visit another tribe and hadn’t returned for several days, and when I thought it couldn’t get any worse I saw my aunt, all cut and crying. I will never be able to forget her face, and the look of despair and anger she showed. It will scar me forever. They led us up to the back and added us to the line of people. I was so scared. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I tried to comfort my sister as much as I could, but I could tell from the look in her eyes we were both as frightened as each other. We were forced to march a long, long way. All the way to the blue in the horizon. Each day it got closer and closer. But each day the marks where we had been whipped to keep us moving turned into cuts and started to bleed each time we were whipped. I hated it. Yet I knew in my heart the worst part was yet to come. After about 5 days we reached a wide river. On it was the scariest looking thing I had ever seen. It looked like a monster canoe with pieces of the finest cloth ever to be seen where I came from, hanging off it. We were pushed into small cage-like structures made from wood. The white people crammed as many of us into one as they could. Luckily my sister was still with me at this point and I hugged here so tight, and I just didn’t want to let go. I looked around the crowded area we were in, and saw my aunt, holding on to a man. It couldn’t be, could it, I thought. I shouted out to my aunt but she did not hear me over all the screams and cries of everyone else. My father looked up at me. There was no need for him to speak as I could tell by the way he was looking at me how he felt. Anger at me and the white people, sadness, fright and despair, sorrow, hopelessness. Many days past and all we could do was stare at the wide blue river in front of us, and comfort my sister so she could get to sleep at night. It was hot and damp even though there were lots of gaps for us to breath through, the cramped condition meant you couldn’t move without accidentally kicking the person next to you. Out of this grew frustration, and many of the men near me and my sister looked they were about to seriously injure whoever angered him next. I spent time wondering whether other people from our tribe had been captured, and wondering maybe, just maybe if say one or two escaped. I felt like crying every time I thought about them, knowing I would never see them again. Knowing that we couldn’t even say goodbye, and that one day, if they are not careful, they will suffer the same fait as us. But I had to keep strong, well at least look it for my sister. I don’t know how she would have coped if she had been on her own. Maybe she would have ended up like that girl I saw, a few weeks back, being shot by the white man holding a gun. A single tear drop began to roll down my face, and that night I lay awake for a long time, before drifting off to sleep where I dreamt about what could have been back home.