The Slave Dancer

by Paula Fox

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In chapter 4 of The Slave Dancer, what does Purvis say determines ship ownership?

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In the book The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox, Purvis offers interesting information about the ownership of slave ships to Jessie.

While Jessie and Purvis are talking, Purvis informs Jessie about the complicated matter of slave ship ownership. Although this appears fairly straightforward, Purvis illustrates some of the complexities.

Foremost, Purvis illustrates that the ownership depends on the origin of the ship boarding the slave ship. Because they are illegal slave ships, they carry multiple papers and flags that indicate which country has ownership of the ship (American, Spanish, etc.).

Furthermore, citizens from other countries might take temporary control of the slave ship when it is being boarded to further promote this deceit of ownership. As the text reveals:

“The Spanish slavers hire an American citizen to take passage with them. Then, if they’re boarded by the British, the American puts on a captain’s hat, takes command of the ship, flourishes his ownership papers and threatens to sue the British naval officer who’s dared to set foot on his deck!”

Thus, the concept of ship ownership is more complicated than it initially appears. As Purvis illustrates, the ownership of the ship depends on the country of the ship boarding and inspecting the slave ship. For example, if the ship who is boarding the slave ship is British, then the slave ship will pretend that their ownership is American.

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