- May 2016
I think that the vision of slavery in the USA plantations (and all over America) is quite strong. But if we look to other slaveries that wouldn’t be so surprising. We had soldier slaves in the Muslim world, we had slaves that climbed almost to the top in the Roman society.Were those slaves working as riggers/pilots/helmsmen/carpenters/etc? I've never heard of slave labour used to crew ships other than galley rowers (this is discounting menial jobs like officers servants or cook's helpers). Not saying it wasn't possible though...
Anyway, regarding to your question I am tempted to say quickly yes, only by memory. What else could the slave do on board, besides being sailors. And there were slaves in many ships. Pilots? Maybe not, or at least rarely, that was the second most important job on-board, after the captain. But the ships had few persons on-board, and if there were slaves why should the others work while the slaves were without doing nothing. So riggers, carpenters, caulks (?) would be possible. I recall soldiers (or at least men that fought side by side with their masters), and “Portuguese” ships that only had one or two Portuguese on board (the captain and eventually pilot), being the rest slaves or proxies. But I will not say yes, without checking the sources again – only if I was sure of where did I read it!
One of the first that comes to my mind is the slave of Magalhães:
Enrique of Malacca - Wikipedia
I made a quick search on the “História trágico-marítima” (Tragic History of the Sea: História trágico-marítima - Wikipedia / avaiable online Internet Archive Search: creator:"Brito, Bernardo Gomes de, 1688-1760?"), in a “light edition” that I have, and saw about the São Paulo, a nao that sunk near Sumatra in 1560 (the translation is mine), it is not the best example:
“It happened several times the master called and only one sailor came and two cabin boys, of more than one hundred sailors on board [they were ill and starving]. For that we had to appeal to the passengers, to work on the quarters [1/4 of the day]. Some were on the watchman others in the helm. Five Portuguese died then and four slaves.”
Other situation after the sea wreck of the galleon São João, in 1552, returning full of pepper to Portugal, after the departure from India. The survivors reached shore, somewhere in South Africa:
“they departed 7 July (1552). In the vanguard it went Manuel de Sousa with eighty Portuguese and slaves, with André Vaz, the pilot, with the flag and the cross, and Dona Leonor in a bed frame carried by some slaves; at the centre, the sea master of the galleon with the seamen and the slave women; on the rear Pantaleão de Sá with the rest of the Portuguese and the slaves, probably some 200 people. At all they should be some 500.”
Even when many of the party became prisoners of the locals (called Cafres, the origin of the Boer term Kaffir) many slaves (don’t know if all) stood with the Portuguese. The slave women cried when Dona Leonor died.
“from all the party [of the galleon São João] only could be saved 8 Portuguese, 14 slaves and 4 slave women…” (a ship commanded by Diogo de Mesquita, trading Ivory saw them and bought them to the Cafres and returned to Mozambique in 1553).
Albeit those are far from the examples I was thinking initially, they were quickly grabbed and give an idea of the quantity of slaves that were on-board. Let us recall that the slaves could be from any provenience of the empire, from America, to Africa, to Asia.
Edited: Typo corrected.