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Live Cargo: A state of war

Millions of Africans were taken from their own countries and forced to work in the West Indies or in America. The slave trade dehumanised people – first making them into commodities and then slaves.

Olaudah Equiano was an enslaved African who bought his freedom. He lived in England and travelled round Britain campaigning against the slave trade. He wrote a book about his experiences which was widely read.

Equiano said: 'When you make men slaves you deprive them of half their virtue, you set them in your own conduct an example of fraud, rapine and cruelty, and compel them to live with you in a state of war …'

The slave ship

Olaudah Equiano:… the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us … the air soon became unfit for respiration, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died …'

William Allason to brother Robert Allason, of Greenbank House:'… There is a good deal of money made here by buying Negroes from off ships in quantity … after keeping them for a few weeks from £25 to £50 is common … I will draw on you for £500 and divide the profits.'

On reaching land

Olaudah Equiano: 'It is very common, particularly in St Kitts, for the slaves to be branded with the initial letters of their master’s name; and a load of heavy iron hooks hung about their necks … often instruments of torture … [are used, such as the] … iron muzzle, thumb-screws, etc.'

William Allason to Robert Allason: 'My property tho in land and slaves I expect will with ease enable me to slide through life …'

Click here to find out more about Scotland and the slave trade