The Slave Ship Named Jesus
Little is known about this slave trading ship other than it was built in the Free City of Lubbock (Germany) circa 1520, acquired by the English circa 1540, and used mainly as a slave trading ship by the English from 1562–1568. One source states that this ship was under the direction of Admiral Sir John Hawkins who used it expeditiously to transport captured slaves from West Africa to the West Indies four separate times or in at least four separate organized voyages. Jesus was later captured by the Spanish and used for similar means between Spain and Santo Domingo and Venezuela.
My immediate and limited research on this forgotten ship has left me with many questions.
Why would someone name a ship after Jesus, the Jewish Messiah? And then why would someone acquire such a ship to use as a means to transport endangered peoples for profit? What were the conditions on the ship for those endangered peoples? What were they taught, fed, and how they were treated once aboard for the weeks-long trip between the West African coast and the West Indies?
We understand that every colonial empire sought to use religion as a means not only to control their immediate societies in Europe but also as a metric by which they would hold indigenous peoples in the Americas accountable. Once people were indoctrinated into believing in the god of white Europeans, they then knew that the deity nor his agents on earth were to be questioned. Europeans sought to instill God in just about every action, moral or immoral deed, questionable or ethical act, with the image or name of Jesus to make potential dissidents aware that their insurgency was akin to a rebellion against Christ Jesus.
To rebel against a slave ship headmaster was to rebel against God. To rise against a colony governance body was to challenge the very leadership of God and His chosen people on earth, Europeans.
Therefore, it is easy to understand why certain ship companies felt compelled to stamp the name of the Divine onto property used in such heinous practices.
If Jesus’ name was on the brand, the practice was then sanctified.
Various historians illustrate the horrors of the middle passage, how human beings were captured and sold then resold then forced onto these vessels, typically under threat of bodily harm with a spear, sword, or a musket blast to survive the trip westward as perpetual slaves to liberators and constitutionalists.
Bodies were crammed through the tiers and floors of the ship, side by side, laid down and shackled to the beams that supported the structure of the vessel. Some slave ships fed their passengers victuals thrice a day, some mixture of corn soup or porridge and water. Other more cruel voyagers fed their transport once a day if that. They were told to use the restroom where they sat or lay, urinating or defecating where they could or in the corner of a room that was cleaned every other day or once a week by an unfortunate slave. Seldom being afforded the luxury of relieving themselves at sea over a rail or another, they had no other place to “go.”
Disease ran rampant in their midst. When slaves caught some disease or another they were either forced to endure it unto death or tossed into the sea before they could spread the ailment onto another slave.
On certain ships, slaves were afforded time on deck to breathe fresh air, as their barracks needed washing. These areas were not ventilated or well ventilated at all, forcing many of them to live and breathe the refuse and body odor of their fellow countrymen for weeks without relief or chance to see the stars at night or the sun by day.
Storms and tempest would rock the ships as if they were made of paper over roaring seas. The ships that did plummet to the bottom of the ocean took every shackled soul down with them. Many were unable to swim and those who could swim were not able to free themselves from their bonds to escape. Those who were lucky enough to escape their chains were prevented from leaving the ship as gates and barricaded doors prevented them from securing their own lives in case of an emergency.
Once a slave descended into the belly of a ship he or she would not leave that place until they reached the port on which they would be sold for profit.
Those afforded the luxury of sunlight or moonlight would at times dive into the sea, preferring to die in the mouth of beasts of the sea, the chill of the water, or drown, than to remain another night, another hour in the hold of such a heinous vessel. Death was favorable to languishing in the ship. Drowning was favorable to a life of servitude and bondage.
Seldom would there be an uprising on these vessels but many there were, as warriors turned slaves sought to relieve themselves of their shackles to wrestle their freedom back from their captors. You can imagine the bloodshed, the rage, the bloodlust when knives, daggers, whips, and blunt objects were in the hands of slaves and not that of slave drivers and slave masters. Some ships were never seen nor heard from again. Others, where uprisings took place, were recaptured by the same slave masters once men with muskets came around to disperse the freedom-crazed slaves, one well-aimed shot at a time.
The death of slaves was never an issue as many smugglers insured the bodies of slaves before and after the voyage. Payment for transport was secured before ships ever sailed therefore whether the ship arrived intact, all slaves accounted for, or if the ship arrived in pieces with all slaves missing, the company that enacted the voyage would be paid for its losses and the cost of transport per slave.
Rape and violence were ubiquitous on slave ships. Predatory men would brutalize men, women, and children to gratify their wanton desires. Both white enslavers and shackled men were willing and active participants in promoting and enacting sexual violence on unsuspecting people. Pregnant women would give birth to dead babies and the babies that survived and were healthy became part of negotiations, as they too would be sold off for profit. Sickly babies were thrown overboard along with mothers who succumbed to postpartum complications.
Lastly, slaves were afforded time on the deck to listen to ministers as they expounded on the glories and beauties of Jesus Christ and the Word of God.
This, of course, is bizarre because many if not most slaves did not read nor write in English, nor were they able to understand the language at first. If translators were aboard a vessel, one can imagine the type of sermon shared by a cleric onboard:
“The Lord our God, creator of Heaven and Earth, benevolent and Sovereign over all creation has brought us this opportunity which we must seize at once lest we lose it to pagans, namely, (the French or Dutch). The opportunity to thrive and expand on lands He has granted us through exploration and discovery is ours for the taking. This doctrine of discovery has afforded us the right of rulership and leadership and you, dear children of God, most unfortunate in His divine plan for creation, the right to work and till the land. I must entrust to you this marvelous gospel, this message of forgiveness of sins and deliverance from your violent and devilish tribal religions, that you may have eternal life. Believe now, on this day, in Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins and the salvation of your souls lest you be tossed into the fiery pit of hell. Amen.”
The Consequence of Slave Ship Theology
Can you imagine the psychological and theological makeup of people who were transported as slaves across the Atlantic under such horrific conditions on a ship named after the savior Jesus?
Imagine the first, second, and then third generation of enslaved peoples as they came to know of Jesus and then make the connection between the origin of the name and the name of the ship used to transport them from their native lands to lands foreign and perilous.
The concept of Jesus combined with that name on slave ships, slave trading posts, and anything to do with the acquisition, transfer, and murder of enslaved people truly and rightfully transformed the way many African peoples understood and saw Jesus.
How true and relevant must this horrific example be to our modern neighbors?
Now, of course, we no longer have slave ships as they were outlawed nearly or just over two centuries ago. But many structures of harm, horrors, and violence still carry the name of Jesus today and have skewed the light through which people visualize Jesus.
How many of our neighbors have only come to learn of Jesus through defective and destructive means? Ministers defrauding community members of millions for private jets; politicians siphoning public funds into private self-interest firms whilst bragging about their love for Jesus in the public square of ideas; universities claiming to be beacons of Christly light for centuries who are just now uncovering the unmarked graves of slaves that helped construct their institutions, who died shortly after the institution opened, never able to join nor learn within the school they built, still slaves.
We have women and children who learned of Jesus from the mouths of men who violated them, brutalized them, and fetishized them from Sunday to Sunday. Ministers claimed holiness from the pulpit but demonstrated vileness in darkened rooms where no one could see their true nature.
Tens of thousands if not millions have been transported to faith on metaphorical slave ships named Jesus, now known as churches and Christian institutions that carry, display, exude, and promote the name Jesus but whose sole function and purpose, through history and action live out the exact opposite of everything Jesus Christ stood and stands for.
If you were transported from atheism to faith or from faith to faith on a modern slave ship named Jesus, please, understand that the disaster enacted upon you by these recalcitrant earthly demons named men and women of the cloth is not what the historical and historic person of Jesus set off to accomplish.
The gospel of liberation is antithetical to the gospel of bondage. The gospel of sanctity and holiness is antithetical to the gospel of sexual deviancy, abuse, and exploitation. The gospel of altruism is selfless and antithetical to the gospel of money hucksters and televangelists. The gospel of Christ is both heaven and earth-centered whereas the gospel of slave ship Jesus is heaven centric, dismissing the cries of slaves, advising them to focus on the afterlife as they languish under tyranny.
There are millions of slaves ships named Jesus out there still, carrying in their bellies the souls and psyches of millions more, who, under duress and distress, believe the safest way for them to cross the horrors of sea and death is on a ship that itself emits horror and death. So many are held captive by a fallacious, decrepit, villainous image of Jesus as triumphant not over death and sin but triumphant over the underprivileged, racial minorities, women, and disabled.
This is not Jesus.
We must destroy these slave ships, rebel against them, insurrection and uprising and all, to reframe the image of our Lord as redeemer and liberator, to then name these ships, these institutions, these policies and their foundations, these churches, as they ought to be named, the ships and transport vessels of Satan.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. — Proverbs 31:8 NLT