How Africans Were Lured into Slave Ships by European Slave Traders

During the transatlantic slave trade, European slave traders employed various cunning tactics to lure Africans onto their ships, capitalizing on their vulnerability and ignorance. This article explores the deceptive methods employed by European slavers and the heart-wrenching stories of Africans who were lured into the treacherous journey across the Atlantic.

How Africans Were Lured into Slave Ships by European Slave Traders

The transatlantic slave trade stands as one of the darkest chapters in human history, where millions of Africans were forcibly uprooted from their homeland, enduring unimaginable suffering and exploitation. Apart from forcibly capturing natives and purchasing natives who were prisoners of war, or those captured by African slavers, European slave traders used a variety of devious ways to entice Africans onto their ships, capitalising on their weakness and ignorance.

One strategy used by European slavers was to exploit the aspirations of Africans seeking better opportunities. Naïve and hopeful, these unsuspecting Africans would board the ships, unaware of the harrowing fate that awaited them.

Another tactic utilized by European slave traders was to entice African natives with alluring gifts like trinkets. These gifts were intended to captivate the curiosity of the natives, enticing them to come closer to the ships. The Africans, unfamiliar with the intentions of the traders, would eagerly rush to collect the treasures, unaware that they were walking into a trap.

Firsthand Accounts

How Africans Were Lured into Slave Ships by European Slave Traders

The narratives of former slaves collected by the Federal Writers’ Project, provide invaluable insight into the methods employed by European slavers. These personal testimonies shed light on the experiences of individuals who fell victim to the deceptive tactics of European slavers.

Richard Jones, enslaved & interviewed in South Carolina

Granny Judith said dat in Africa dey had very few pretty things, and dat dey had no red colors in cloth, in fact, dey had no cloth at all. Some strangers wid pale faces come one day and drapped a small piece of red flannel down on de ground. All de black folks grabbed for it. Den a larger piece was drapped a little further on, and on until de river was reached. Den a large piece was drapped in de river and on de other side. Dey was led on, each one trying to git a piece as it was drapped. Finally, when de ship was reached, dey drapped large pieces on de plank and up into de ship ’till dey got as many blacks on board as dey wanted. Den de gate was chained up and dey could not get back. Dat is de way Granny Judith say dey got her to America.

Richard Carruthers, enslaved in Tennessee & Texas

My grandma and grandpa come here in a steamboat. The man come to Africa and say, “Man and woman, does you want a job?” So they gits on the boat and then he has the ’vantage.

Thomas Johns, enslaved in Alabama, interviewed in Texas

My father’s name was George and my mother’s name was Nellie. My father was born in Africa. Him and two of his brothers and one sister was stole and brought to Savannah, Georgia, and sold. Dey was de chillen of a chief of de Kiochi tribe. De way dey was stole, dey was asked to a dance on a ship which some white men had, and my aunt said it was early in de mornin’ when dey foun’ dey was away from de land, and all dey could see was de water all ’round.”

Martha King, enslaved in Virginia & Alabama, interviewed in Oklahoma

My mother was Harriet Davis and she was born in Virginia. I don’t know who my father was. My grand- mother was captured in Africa when she was a little girl. A big boat was down at the edge of a bay an’ the people was all excited about it an’ some of the bravest went up purty close to look at it. The men on the boat told them to come on board and they could have the pretty red hand-kerchiefs, red and blue beads and big rings. A lot of them went on board and the ship sailed away with them. My grandmother never saw any of her folks again.

Shack Thomas, enslaved & interviewed in Florida

Adam [Thomas’s father] was a native of the West Coast of Africa, and when quite a young man was attracted one day to a large ship that had just come near his home. With many others he was attracted aboard by bright red handkerchiefs, shawls and other articles in the hands of the seamen. Shortly afterwards he was securely bound in the hold of the ship, to be later sold somewhere in America. Thomas does [not] know exactly where Adam landed, but knows that his father had been in Florida many years before his birth. “I guess that’s why I can’t stand red things now,” he says; “my pa hated the sight of it.”

John Brown, enslaved in Alabama, interviewed in Oklahoma, 1937

Most of the time there was more’n three hundred slaves on the plantation. The oldest ones come right from Africa. My Grandmother was one of them. A savage in Africa — a slave in America. Mammy told it to me. Over there all the natives dressed naked and lived on fruits and nuts. Never see many white mens.

One day a big ship stopped off the shore and the natives hid in the brush along the beach. Grand- mother was there. The ship men sent a little boat to the shore and scattered bright things and trinkets on the beach. The natives were curious. Grandmother said everybody made a rush for them things soon as the boat left. The trinkets was fewer than the peoples. Next day the white folks scatter some more. There was another scramble. The natives was feeling less scared, and the next day some of them walked up the gangplank to get things off the plank and off the deck.

The deck was covered with things like they’d found on the beach. Two-three hundred natives on the ship when they feel it move. They rush to the side but the plank was gone. Just dropped in the water when the ship moved away.

Folks on the beach started to crying and shouting. The ones on the boat was wild with fear. Grand- mother was one of them who got fooled, and she say the last thing seen of that place was the natives running up and down the beach waving their arms and shouting like they was mad. They boat men come up from below where they had been hiding and drive the slaves down in the bottom and keep them quiet with the whips and clubs.

The slaves was landed at Charleston. The town folks was mighty mad ’cause the blacks was driven through the streets without any clothes, and drove off the boat men after the slaves was sold on the market. Most of that load was sold to the Brown plantation in Alabama. Grandmother was one of the bunch.

These accounts provide a glimpse into the lived experiences of Africans who were lured by European slave traders into their slave ships, highlighting the treacherous methods employed and the devastating consequences for individuals and communities affected by the transatlantic slave trade. It also stands as a haunting testament to the depths of human cruelty and exploitation.


Talk Africana
Talk Africana
Fascinating Cultures and history of peoples of African origin in both Africa and the African diaspora


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