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 them in 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.”