The mutilation of slaves was often implemented under the guise of punishment, or for the purposes of doing things for the slaves’ personal well being. Punishment through mutilation is also well recorded. Punishment was moreso acts of brutality than acts of rehabilitation. The record shows for example, in the case of Captain Phillipe Loit, that a common practice was to break the teeth of female slaves considered to be recalcitrant.1 Other accounts show that mutilation was no different than death. For many ship captains on the middle passage, on e means of trying to prevent slaves from jumping ship was to recapture them and behead them in front of other slaves.2
Examples of the latter have been documented to have occurred on the middle passage where ship captains would make use of a tool called speculum oris, an instrument shaped like a pair of scissors with serrated blades that was forced in the mouths of captives who refused to eat.3 On the sugar plantations in the
Moses Roper, who had lived as a slave in the Carolinas and Georgia recalls in her narrative of her master pouring tar on her head an face and setting her on fire, and following up this action by placing the fingers of her hand in a vice and removing her fingernails and having another man smash her toes with sledge hammer.7 Other tools of mutilation included the thumb screw and pickets, the latter being used so extensively in
The events that were used to justify acts of maiming and mutilation covered a broad range of activities. Frederick Douglass in his Narrative recants of looking at a person in the wrong way, saying certain words, a simple mistake, and not to mention running away, could result in permanent injury or death for slaves.9 Mutilation of slaves was so bad that in French colonies, Louis XIV published a Code Noir to curtail cruelty to Africans.
Since slaves in
In closing, the system of slavery was an inhuman institution in which descendants of European ancestry maintained control over slaves through beliefs and brutish actions against slaves. Although practiced by Africans, the Chinese, and Arabs, slavery as expedited by Europeans was replete with atrocities that often resulted in the mutilation of slaves. This may be why many have noted that the slavery practiced in the
1 Robert L. Stein, The French Slave Trade in the Eighteenth Century: An Old Regime Business, 1979, (
2 W.O. Blake, The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade, ancient and modern, 1860, (
3 Nigel Tattersfield, the Forgotten Trade: Comprising the Log of the Daniel and Henry of 1700 and accounts of the slave trade from the minor ports of England, 1698-1725, 1991 (London: Jonathan Cape), 142.
4 W.O. Blake, The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade, ancient and modern, 1860, (
5 W.O. Blake, The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade, ancient and modern, 1860, (
7 Moses Roper, Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper, 1837, (
8 W.O. Blake, The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade, ancient and modern, 1860, (
9 Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, 3rd