More than two centuries ago, on April 27,1794, a slave ship named ‘São José’ , set out from the Kingdom of Portugal and was headed to Mozambique, and then to Brazil. It was the beginning of a major shift in Atlantic Slave Trade. Before this time, the European and American ships only traveled to west Africa to obtain slaves. The voyage of São José was one of the longest. It was a part of an increased effort to obtain more number of slaves, as the competition between European slave traders’ was high.
It is ironical, how the 18th century was both the time when US talked about independence, yet many were involved in expansion of slave trade.
First slave shipwreck ever discovered
Captained by Manuel João Pereira, the São José did not reach Brazil. It had sunk off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, after it got stuck between two reefs in Cape Town’s Camps Bay and broke into pieces.
It was only in 2015 that the shipwreck was discovered near the coast of Cape Town, in the bottom of the ocean, by the Slave Wrecks project. Studies are being conducted since then, to obtain brutal, significant and gruesome details about the people who were chained and about the ship that carried them.
Other horrifying details about the shipwreck:
- The ship that was only an estimated 130-feet long, had around 500 African slaves, out of which 212 died due to the sinking. The ones who survived were sold to farmers in Dutch-controlled South Africa.
- Jaco Boshoff, a maritime archeologist and co-founder of the Slave Wrecks Project, suggested that the crew might have already known that certain people will die on the voyage. That is why, they added more people on the ships so maximum profit is extracted from high number of slaves.
- The debris looked as if the slaves were squeezed up against each other, so as to fit in the large number of them on a comparatively smaller ship.
- The iron ballasts of the ship are exhibited at the National Museums of African American History and Culture, located in Washington DC. It was the basic clue in identification of the ship being São José. These strong ballasts were placed so the ship could handle the enormous weight of hundreds of captives.
Barrels and shackles have been found and preserved, along with imprints of nails and bolts that were discovered. The shipwreck may help in extraction of even biological clues about the people who died in Portuguese ship.