You are on page 1of 2

Louis Segal 9.

How reliable a witness is Thomas Clarkson for finding out about the Middle Passage?
The Middle Passage was the stage of the trade triangle in which millions of people from Africa were shipped to the Americas as part of the Atlantic slave trade. Thomas Clarkson was an English abolitionist (someone who tried to end the slave trade). He helped to found The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. In this essay, I will conclude whether he was a reliable source for finding out about the Middle Passage. Clarkson was born on 28 March 1760 in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. He was the son of a minister who also taught at the local grammar school. In 1779, Clarkson went to Cambridge University where he won a Latin essay competition about whether it was lawful to force black people to be slaves. The essay was judged by British people. Because there were no cars then, access to the ports and the ships docking which may have been many miles away - would have been very difficult. These people may have no experience of slave ships. The essay may have won the competition for being a good read, but whether it was the truth or not was a different matter. In Clarksons essay, he states: for here they are crowded, hundreds of them together. Source A corroborates this. It is a picture drawn by Clarkson of the interior of a Liverpool slave ship. Obviously this supports his statement as he drew it, and if the diagram showed spacious living conditions, he would be contradicting himself. Source J also corroborates this; it says the ship was so crowded that each has scarcely room to turn himself. Source J was written by an ex-slave when he was 11 years old. He saved up his money to buy his freedom. Because the writer has first-hand experience, I deem him to be a good source. On the other hand, he was only 11 when he wrote the text, so he may only remember certain parts. All in all, I believe Source J to be reliable. This means that Clarksons drawing of the slave ship is probably accurate, and that he is right to believe that the living conditions are not good in terms of space. He also states that the slaves are not fed well: bad provisions. This is interesting as one source claims otherwise, yet another one agrees. Source K says that the slaves are fed meat twice a day. The writer is a doctor, and for him to gain that title he must be educated. He has been on the slave ships. I believe him to be reliable. Source J, however, says that the food is not edible. I have already explained that I think Source J is a reliable source. I think that unless any more evidence is found to inform us about food on slave ships, it is hard to know. However, it is common for people to assume that slaves arent fed well on ships and this does seem highly feasible. It is also said by Clarkson that some slaves starved themselves to death. This is challenged by two other sources. Source J, a reliable source, claims that some of the slaves do try to starve themselves to death, but are unsuccessful. Source M (from William Wilberforce) says that the slaves are forced to eat. M was written by William Wilberforce. He was an abolitionist and was an important member of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery. It is clear that he had based his speech on abolition of slavery on research. As an abolitionist, he would have had to work hard to try to end slavery, as many people objected. To do this, he may have to exaggerate or even make things up.

Louis Segal 9.5 Clarkson comments on the pestilential air. Source J substantiates this by referring to the loathsomeness of the stench and the air became unfit for breathing. Source J is a reliable source and as I have shown in the last three paragraphs, it is used a lot by Clarkson. There are many cases where Clarkson states something that is not backed up by any of the 14 sources. These are slaves thrown into the sea, killed on the spot and slaves killed themselves. No sources corroborate these statements and that leads us to wonder whether he has made this up, which makes us question whether we think he is a reliable source. If he has made these things up, then that would make him an unreliable source, although like Wilberforce - he may have felt the need to exaggerate to try and bring about the abolition of the slave trade because many people were opposed to the idea. After reviewing Thomas Clarksons essay and the sources he used, I believe that on the one hand he was a good source for finding out about the middle passage because as I have shown some of his work is corroborated by other sources. On the other hand, there are things in his essay which may have been exaggerated and which are not supported by other sources. He may not be a perfectly reliable witness for finding out about the Middle Passage but his work does give us an interesting and important insight into the slave trade.