8 Disturbing Photos of Instruments of Torture Used on Black People

torture cotton screw

Cotton screw

Moses Roper, a captured African who eventually escaped slavery in 1835, recounted the torture endured in punishment for running away in “Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper, from American Slavery.”

A machine used for packing cotton used as an instrument of punishment. Roper had attempted yet another escape and among the “instruments of torture” applied to him was the “cotton screw”, a machine used for packing and pressing cotton.

Roper recalled: “He hung me up by the hands at letter a, a horse moving round the screw e* (*This screw is sometimes moved round by hand, when there is a handle on it. The screw is made with wood, a large tree cut down, and carved in the shape of a screw), and carrying it up and down, and pressing the block e into the box d, into which the cotton is put . . . . I was carried up ten feet from the ground, when Mr. Gooch . . . let me rest for five minutes, then carried me round again, after which, he let me down and put me into the box d and shut me down in it for about ten minutes . . .”

torture thumb screw

Thumbscrew 

The thumbscrew is a torture instrument that was used on captured Black people aboard slaver traders’ ships on the Atlantic Ocean. The torture device was often used against the Africans involved in uprisings and insurrection during the Atlantic slave trade from the 16th to 19th century. The leader would be forced to place his thumbs between two flat metal pieces, connected by one or more screws. The metal bars had ridges, either smooth bumps or sharp spikes, that would bore into a victim’s thumbs, trapping him into the metal mechanism as his bones were crushed. It was a small, torturous device that inflicted extreme pain without too much effort.

In an extract from the journals kept by slave trader John Newton, he wrote:  “I have known slave ship captains to use thumbscrews that produce the most excruciating pain among the enslaved.”

torture mask 1

Mask

Variations of a mask were used against captured Africans who tried to escape their bondage. In an article on fugitive Africans in Brazil, “Esclave Marron a Rio de Janeiro (Runaway Slave in Rio de Janeiro), Mister Bellel notes that masks were used for further torture:

“Captured fugitives are forced to do the hardest and roughest work. They are ordinarily placed in chains and are led in groups through the city’s neighborhoods where they carry loads or sweep refuse in the streets. This type of slave is so frightful that, while they have lost all hope of fleeing again, they think of nothing but suicide. They poison themselves by drinking at one swallow a large quantity of strong liquor, or choke/suffocate themselves by eating dirt/earth. In order to deprive them of this way of causing their own deaths, they put a tin mask on their faces; the mask has only a very narrow slit in front of the mouth and a few little holes under the nose so they can breathe”

torture neck

Neck collar

A metal collar was placed around the necks of captured Africans for months at a time to remind them of their wrongdoing. Such collars were thick and heavy; they often had protruding spikes that made fieldwork difficult and prevented the wearer from resting at night. It often took one hour of filing to remove the collar.

torture wooden boards

Wooden collar

English missionary and author William Ellis describes first seeing the wooden collar in “Three Visits to Madagascar”  during the mid-19th century:

“In one of their houses . . . a number of female slaves were at work. Some of them were carrying baskets of cotton or other articles from one room to another . . . I saw one young girl who had a couple of boards fixed on her shoulders, each of them rather more than two feet long, and ten inches or a foot wide, fastened together by pieces of wood nailed on the under side. A piece had been cut out of each board in the middle, so that, when fixed together they fitted close to her neck, and the poor girl, while wearing this instrument of punishment and disgrace, was working with the rest. On another occasion I saw a boy, apparently about fifteen years of age, with a rough, heavy iron collar on his naked neck. It seemed to be formed by a square bar of iron, about three-quarters of an inch thick, being bent around his neck, and the two ends then joined together. yet he was . . . employed in carrying fire-wood to the beach for shipping.”

torture whip 1

Whip

Whipping or flogging was the most common use of torture against captured Africans.

The crack of a whip is actually a small sonic boom. The strikes of the whip were so severe that pieces of flesh were torn right off the victim, and losing an eye in the process was common. Victims would lose so much blood it was normal for them to fall into a state of hypovolemic shock.

torture mutilation

 Blade

Captured Africans were often branded, dismembered, castrated and mutilated as forms of punishment. The image above was based on drawings by John Gabriel Stedman, a young Dutchman who joined a military force against rebellions of the enslaved in the Dutch colony in the late 18th century. In his autobiographical work, Five Years’ Expedition, Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, he remembered: “In this case, the victim’s left hand was cut off before he died as additional punishment for theft and to serve as an example to others. This method of torture was intended to keep the victim alive long enough to endure extreme pain before his eventual death.”

torture hanging

Hanging/Rope

John Gabriel Stedman recalled another incident where a captured Black man was hung alive by the ribs.

“An incision was made in the victim’s ribs and a hook placed in the hole. In this case, the victim stayed alive for 3 days until clubbed to death by the sentry guarding him, who he had insulted,” Stedman wrote.

Source: 8 Disturbing Photos of Instruments of Torture Used on Black People

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