The Slave Dancer

The Slave Dancer

It all began in the cold month of January,

1840, in New Orleans. Fog laid a heavy blanket on the streets and alleyways
of the city. Rain steadily engulfed the seaside locality, and the sound
of drunken riverboat men and the slaves celebrating their festivities surrounded
the area. New Orleans was where Jessie Bollier lived, and was the place
where he was captured on that dark January evening. Jessie then found himself
aboard The Moonlight, the slaver with its towering sails and masts, cabins
and storage space under the deck. These were places where Jessie had to'dance the slaves' and where the captain and crew would spend many weeks
living in fear of the slaves, of each other, and of getting caught. In
the Bight of Benin, on the rugged coasts of Africa, where the multitudes
of slaves were captured and mistreated. The crew then made their way across
the Atlantic once again to land in the Gulf of Mexico. The Moonlight was
anchored there and stayed because it was here where the ship submerged.

Two of the survivors washed up on the shores of Mississippi, who were Jessie
and Ras meet Daniel, their soon to be friend. Ras was a slave Jessie befriended
while on the ship. The Slave Dancer is written through Jessie's eyes, and
projects a depressing, melancholy mood. It is the tragic song of the slaves
and the mistreatment of Jessie and the slaves.

The hero of the story is the thirteen year
old boy, Jessie Bollier. "He's a fearful runt," comments Captain Cawthorne.

He is brought on board the slaver to make the slaves dance, to keep them
healthy. Jessie innocent and does not fully understand his purpose. "My
life had turned upside down. My friend was a man who pressganged me. I
disliked the man who befriended me." Jessie does not realize what is going
on within him. He does not realize that these men, these women, and children
are slaves...are owned. He does not perceive the cruel treatment of the
slaves, but does not know why. Jessie himself puts it best, "My stomach
rebelled." The antagonist is surprisingly Jessie, but after the voyage.

He went through many changes after the excursion. "At first, I made a promise
to myself: I would do nothing that was connected with the use of slaves...but
everything I considered bore the imprint of black hands." In the war between
the states Jessie fought for the Union. He moved to Rhode Island and began
a new life. However, he could never forget his horrible past. He was in
continual search for his slave friend, Ras, wherever he made his way. He
had matured in a way all of us should look up to. He matured in the light
of love, strength, wisdom, and loyalty to his heart and to peace.

There were various secondary characters
in The Slave Dancer because there were so many important roles. Captain

Cawthorne, the captain of The Moonlight, was a short, very moody, very
ambitious man. He was respected-a fine seaman. The captain's purpose was
to guide the ship to Africa, and trade rum, tobacco, and other items in
exchange for slaves. he was then to bring them to Mexico to sell to the

Spanish and return to Charleston without getting caught. It is known that
the captain must have a first mate. In this case it was the lucky Nicholas

Spark. He kept to the captains side like a shadow. Spark was a very thin
man with a "paper voice." Nicholas got into a fight with a black slave
while aboard the ship and shot him. The captain was furious, so he dropped

Spark into the deep waters below. There was Adolph Curry who's main reason
for traveling on the ship was to cook. Jessie described him as,"...a terribly
thin man. His skin was the color of suet except for uneven patches of salmon
along the prominent ridges of his cheekbones." Another member of the crew
was Ned Grime who was older than the other men. Ned was a carpenter and
somewhat a doctor. Grime talked as if he had nothing to do with the trading
of the slaves, yet he was paid the same amount as the rest of the men on
the slaver. Ned once said, "My heart's not in it." Claudis Sharkey was
the man who captured Jessie off the streets of New Orleans and wrapped
him in a big sack. He was tall with a black beard. Claudis told Jessie
the "illegal" truth about slave trading. Now comes to Benjamin "Saint"

Stout.