Slavery brought to light — and to life – in harrowing detail

Slavery brought to light — and to life – in harrowing detail
Katharine Shilcutt, February 25, 2019, Rice University News & Media



The Amistad is arguably the best known of all the ships that carried slaves to the U.S. Memorialized in Steven Spielberg’s 1997 film of the same name, it was also at the center of the landmark 1841 Supreme Court case United States v. Schooner Amistad, which was second only to Dred Scott v. Sandford in its legal impact on the abolition of slavery in America.

But anyone interested in learning more about the Amistad through Voyages, the world’s leading online resource on slaving vessels, came up empty-handed. Searching the website and its list of 37,000 trans-Atlantic expeditions produced nothing on the infamous ship.

That’s because the Amistad, like many other slaving vessels, was on an intra-American course. And until recently, the Voyages website was limited to slave-trading voyages that crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

That’s one reason Voyages will relaunch later this month. The website will boast a new database of information on intra-American expeditions, 3D modeling of a trans-Atlantic slave ship and a new interface that makes it easier to find specific facts on each vessel. Among the details: mortality rates aboard slave ships, how many children they transported, how many guns were mounted on board and information on resistance and insurrections.

“So now if people come here to the intra-American slave trade database, they’ll find the well-known Amistad of 1839,” said Rice assistant professor of history Daniel Domingues as he clicked through the new website. “Another one that is here now is the White Lion, the ship that brought the first Africans to what would become the United States 400 years ago. That’s the foundational moment of the African-American experience.”

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