An oft-asked question I receive is how to find out information about slave-trading voyages that the D’Wolfs and others participated in.
Now available online, without charge, is the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. This site is available to anyone, students, researchers, and the general public. It is fully searchable and provides all information currently available on approximately 85% of theTrans-Atlantic slave-trading voyages between 1526 and 1867 (roughly 35,000 voyages). It went “live” one week ago. This will not be publicized widely for another few months so that they can determine how well it works and correct any malfunctions between now and then based on usage by people who happen upon it because they’ve heard about it.
This amazing tool combines many sources of information–that were previously available in different places and formats–into a single database. It includes lesson plans and maps for educators as well as an African name database with information on more than 67,000 African people aboard slave ships, listed by name, age, gender, origin, and place of embarkation. It includes an interactive estimates page where you can analyze the volume and routes of the slave trade. You can read about the history of the development of the database here.
One of the challenges I faced in writing Inheriting the Trade, and that the filmmakers had in producing Traces of the Trade was insuring that our historical data was factually correct. I had a tremendous amount of help from several people, most notably my cousin James DeWolf Perry who told us about this database when it was housed at Harvard University. The “home” for the database is now Emory University, where Dr. David Eltis, one of the lead researchers and coordinators of the project, teaches. I had the good fortune to be on a panel with Dr. Eltis at the recent Harlem Book Fair in New York (From the Door of No Return: The Bicentennial of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade to the U.S.)
The fact is that a lot of information many people wish to know simply isn’t available. Record-keeping wasn’t standardized and it certainly didn’t include a lot of information many of us wish it did. With the release of the Voyages Database there is now more information at our fingertips than has ever been available before. This international project of collaboration will continue to add more information as it becomes available.
I encourage you to check it out for two reasons. One is to help them refine and improve the site as a result of your usage. The other is to become more aware of the enormous scope of slave trade. As much as I’ve studied it over the past several years I continue to be amazed at its enormity and consequent legacy that continues to impact us today.