I’m writing about immigrants at the moment. They cross the Atlantic, in a “full rigged ship.” Their experiences are not like some I’ve read about, for example the ship that was lost at sea for half a year, adrift, with broken masts and people starving. The surviving passengers were eating the dead. Out of 400 passengers, only 14 arrived in Philadelphia, having been rescued by a passing ship with better luck.
It’s amazing to think that in that enormous ocean one ship would find another, but I guess they knew the winds and the route. Longitude had not yet been “discovered” and sailors did not know how to benefit from the giant clock that is the earth’s rotation.
The voyages were nightmares, even for those who had money to pay for first class cabins, and yet people back then got on ships like it was nothing and went places that were months and months away. I cannot think of any destination that would beckon me so relentlessly that I would get on a giant wooden box, driven by hempen sheets in the random wind, carried across a vast and trackless salt-water waste.
Though the fact is many of those immigrants didn’t choose it, either, and I don’t mean just the African slaves. When we think about slavery we recoil in horror at what we white people did to them. OK, it was bad, very bad. We don’t think that they were captured and sold by other Africans to Dutch or English traders or that slavery was the norm throughout history until people decided to stop it. Everybody did it. To fill ships, the English kidnapped and captured poor people from the streets of Liverpool, Manchester, London and, of course, the Irish who were an unending problem to the British. These people — put on ships against their will, not even prisoners — were expected to “work off their passage” once they arrived in the New World. The minimum sentence for the crime of being poor and homeless on a British urban street was 7 years labor on a frontier farm. Chances of surviving the voyage AND the “indentured servitude” were not very good.
For a while there was a practice of selectively breeding enslaved Irish women to enslaved African men with the thought of “improving the stock” to get higher prices on the slave auction block.
I see in all this a science fiction novel about settlement on Mars. Who would the captives be?