Africa, the arrival of Europeans and the transatlantic slave trade

Slave shackle

Made around 1780-1804
Wrought iron

Object number NMLH.1992.917
Unknown donor

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Slave shackle

This shackle was used in the slave trade in the French West Indies colony of Saint-Domingue.  Saint-Domingue, with its extensive sugar, tobacco and indigo plantations, occupied the western third of the formerly Spanish-controlled island of Hispaniola. Before this, the original native name for the western part of the island was Haiti.

Haiti has a unique history, as the only nation whose independence was gained as a result of slave rebellion, which began in 1791. It also became the first post-colonial, independent, black-led nation in world history. Haiti's successful slave rebellion and eventual independence were achieved through the brilliant military and political leadership of two former Haiti slaves, Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean Jacques Dessalines. Independence was declared in 1804 and the native name Haiti was reinstated as the name for the new nation.

The use of shackles, handcuffs and whips in slave markets and on sugar and cotton plantations had always been one of the most shocking aspects of slavery for abolitionist Europeans and Americans. Such items were still in use in the early 1860s, on the eve of the American Civil War. Escape attempts were common and the use of shackles, whips, guns and dogs played a major part in ensuring the ongoing enslavement of black Africans.

This information was provided by curators from the People's History Museum.