The Zong! Massacre by Shane Gresser

Sir Captain Luke Collingwood, who was the captain of the ship known as the Zong! was transferring what had to be at least four hundred-seventy African American slaves from the west coast of Africa, all the way to Jamaica. Captain Collingwood, along with the rest of his crew, at a certain point on his voyage with the slaves on board decides to throw one hundred-fifty slaves off the ship. Collingwood believed that if “the African slaves on board die a natural death, the owners of the ship will have to bear the cost, but if they were ‘thrown alive into the sea, it would be the loss of the underwriters’ “ (189). Collingwood and the rest of the crew murdered all of these slaves. All of this was done with having only one purpose in mind. The purpose of the mass murder of all these slaves was so that the owners of the ship Zong! would be able to claim the insurance money from all of the deceased slaves. The insurance company refused to pay the money to the owners of Zong! when they came back from the sea. This whole problem ended up going to court. Usually when something like this happens, the insurance company in most cases would end up having to give the ship owner the money they deserve, but this is not one of those cases. Given the evidence that was presented in the court, the ship owners had not “satisfactorily proved that they needed to “jettison their cargo,’ that is, murder one hundred- fifty African slaves” (200). The case ended up going to the insurance company because the captain ending up having to kill all of those African American slaves could have been easily preventable and it was all because of the mistakes of the captain that this horrible tragedy happened. It is completely true that all of these terrible deaths of the slaves could have easily been prevented and this all happened because Captain Luke Collingwood is a selfish and absolutely awful person, along with the owners of the ship Zong! 

            Author M. NourbeSe Philip consistently mentions that this a story that cannot be told but must be told. This was something that was very confusing for me and I had absolutely no idea what the author had meant by that. It finally occurred to me that the author M. NourbeSe Philip wanted to leave all of the readers pondering. This book is a mystery and the story must be told but cannot be told. It was also very confusing to me that the book had most of their words separated and spread out. This was something else that left me almost completely clueless and it started to become very stressful. It finally occurred to me is that it has a good relation to the story itself. The words being spread out relates to the African American slaves being thrown off of the ship. It is the evil of that story that relates to the sentences being spread out. It is evil that the author would spread the words out, just like how it was so evil that all of these African American slaves were tossed off of the ship and left in the water for dead. The story must be told but cannot be told. 

            The author wrote this poem that is as long as a novel to attempt to give a voice to slavery. The author wanted to show just how poorly these slaves, along with a bunch of other African American slaves are being treated. Slaves during and around this time period were treated like absolute garbage. The slaves weren’t even considered as people. They were considered as property and that is something that is truly sickening.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you believe the case of Gregson v Gilbert should have went?
  2. What was your reaction to all of the African slaves being murdered?