Scholars want help identifying slaves' origins

By Suzanne Gamboa

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 29 2011 11:55 a.m. MST

"These people enslaved were not just a nebulous group of people with no place and no name," said Kwesi DeGraft-Hanson, one of the researchers, who has found variations of his name, his brother's and his children's names in the database. He is originally from Ghana. "That's how lot of us view slavery. We don't have names faces to go with it ... It makes them that much more removed from us."

Eltis and his researchers acknowledge the database may not help African Americans with genealogical research because records on the Africans once they were freed from the ships are harder to find, if they exist at all.

However, the project provides another piece in a major jigsaw, and helps put together a bigger picture on slavery, Walvin said.

Before this project, Eltis and others assembled a database of 35,000 trans-Atlantic slave ship voyages responsible for the flow of more than 10 million Africans to the Americas.

Together, the two databases provide some details on the horrific voyages of the Africans, including the Obamas.

The Xerxes, which carried one of the unidentified Obamas, was a 138-foot schooner that began its voyage in Havana with a crew of 44. Five guns were mounted aboard when the ship left on a slave purchasing trip to Bonny on Feb. 10, 1828.

Sailing under the Spanish flag, the ship's captain Felipe Rebel purchased 429 slaves, nearly one third of them children, before setting out on a return trip to the Americas. But on June 26, 1828, the Xerxes was intercepted and forced to dock at an unknown Cuban port. By then, 26 slaves had died.

The other unidentified Obama, 6-foot-3-inches tall, was one of 562 Africans shackled in the belly of the Midas. The vessel was a Brig, a fast, maneuverable ship with two square-rigged masts. It was equipped with eight guns.

Midas' captain J. Martinez and a crew of 53 left Cuba on an unknown date. It left Bonny with 562 slaves but was intercepted. It docked in Cuba July 8, 1829 minus 162 slaves who had died during the voyage.

Some slaves freed from seized ships were returned to Africa, but not always to their original homelands. Some were sent to Liberia or were allowed to remain free in the cities where the courts were located. Some may have been re-enslaved and some died on ships that were returning them to Africa.

On the Net: African Origins: http://www.african-origins.org/

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Voyages: http://www.slavevoyages.org

Suzanne Gamboa can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APsgamboa

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