The Slave Trade

David Musgrove on an excellent summary of human bondage


Reviewed by: David Musgrove
Author: James Walvin
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Price (RRP): £12.95


Walvin is a leading scholar of slavery. His latest book is a short introduction to the subject. It makes for interesting reading particularly if you’re not an expert on the topic.

He makes some trenchant remarks about the nature of the trade, pointing out that enslaved Africans on the ships to the Americas so vastly outnumbered the crews that a system of “violence on an epic scale” was the result.

Included are several facsimile documents. Perhaps most disturbingly fascinating is an 1859 Slave Sale Notice from Charleston.

It lists the names and ages of slaves being sold, but the inhumanity of the business is highlighted by the marginal notes made presumably by a prospective buyer: London, 26, is marked as “healthy, strong”, Betty, 25, is “breeding”, while the name of Rose, 15, is crossed through and annotated “Dead”.


David Musgrove is editor of BBC History Magazine