Isidor Paiewonsky, Eyewitness Accounts of Slavery in the Danish West Indies
…On a well run slave ship, the process of stowing the slaves for the night began at sundown. One of the best descriptions of the process is to be found in the account of Capt. Theodore Canot as told to Brantz Mayer:
"The second mate and boatswain descend into the hold, whip in hand, and range the slaves in their regular places; those on the right side of the vessel f acing forward and lying in each other's laps, while those on the left are similarly stowed with their faces towards the stern. In this way each Negro lies on his right side, which is considered preferable for the action of the heart.
"In allotting places, particular attention is paid to size, the taller being selected for the greatest breath of the vessel, while the shorter and younger are lodged near the bows."
On slave ships that were poorly organized and overcrowded, Negroes were jammed into the holds with little regard for stowage. "They were literally piled one on top of another and the unsteady motion of the ship, combined with foul air and great heat made the place simply horrible......
Invariably, epidemics broke out under such conditions. According to the British ship doctor, Alexander Falconbridge:
"When the sea was rough and the rain heavy, it became necessary to close the air vents. Fresh air being thus excluded, the Negroes' storage area grew intolerably hot. The confined air, rendered noxious by the effluvia exhaled from their bodies and by being repeatedly breathed, soon produced fevers and fluxes which generally carried off great numbers of them....
Frequently, I went down among them till the hold became so unbearably hot that I could not stay. Excessive heat was not the only thing that rendered the situation intolerable. The floor of the hold was so covered with blood and mucus, which proceeded from them in consequence of the flux, that it resembled a slaughterhouse.
"It is not in the power of the human imagination to picture a situation more dreadful or disgusting. Numbers of the slaves having fainted, they were carried on deck where several of them died and the rest) with great difficulty, were restored....
"Upon going down in the mornings to examine the condition of the slaves, I frequently found several dead, and among the men, sometimes a dead and living Negro fastened by their irons together. When this was the case, they were brought upon the deck and laid on the grating when the living Negro was disengaged and the dead one thrown overboard.
"An exertion of the greatest skill and attention could afford the diseased Negroes little relief so long as the causes of the diseases, namely, the breathing of a putrid atmosphere and wallowing in their own excrements, remain. When once the fever and flux get to any height at sea, a cure is scarcely ever effected. . . . "
[Note: 'flux" is the early name for amoebic dysentery, an ulcerative inflammation of the colon. It may reach the liver by the portal bloodstream, producing abscesses on that organ. Today we know that this acute form of dysentery is caused not by 'foul air" and "excessive heat" but by the organism Entamoeba histolyticajound in bad water and rotted food. I.P]
"By constantly lying in the blood and mucus flowing from those afflicted with the flux, others contracted it," continued Falconbridge. "Few were able to withstand the fatal effects of it. The utmost skill of the surgeon was here ineffectual."