The Middle Passage & Slave Trade


Map Illustrating the Middle Passage Routes and Cargoes


       The Middle Passage was the name given to the overseas trip made by African slaves on their way to the new world colonies of the European imperial powers. This was only one part of the larger, so called, triangular trade illustrated above. Slaves were moved to the new world for forced labor on plantations that produced sugar, cotton, and tobacco among other commodities. These were manufactured in Europe into products useable by the general population. These manufactured goods were also used to bye more slaves from African leaders willing to sell them to Europeans.





Slave Ships



Loading of a Slave Ship

Tight Quarters on the Deck




      Travel on a slave ship was a hazardous business for Europeans and Africans alike. Disease and malnutrition ran rampant, as did hunger and dehydration. Ships often arrived at their destinations reportedly “Low on Flesh”, a euphemism for being emaciated. One figure states that out of the 9,949 slaves transported on a particular ship between 1720 and 1725, 1,311 or 13.2% died en route. These were undoubtedly attributed to cramped living quarters coupled with low food and water supplies.

       Living space for the slaves was also marginalized. Every man was allotted a space six feet long by sixteen inches wide; women five feet ten inches long by sixteen inches wide. The numbers were even smaller by children. The pictures below give us a strong visual image of how these people were literally packed into the cargo holds of these ships. Often upon these ships, slaves who were separated from their families would form what was known as fictive kinships. They would form informal bonds with other members on the voyage who would take the place of their families. An older woman would usually take the role of mother and an older man as father respectively. These fictive kinships would last until the sale of the slaves which would destroy any family united created on the voyage.


Diagram of a Typical Slave Ship




Tight Packing in Chains







Slave Trade


Advertisement for Slaves in a Mississippi Newspaper; Note how the Slaves are Sold Alongside Mules


       The ordeal of the African slave was far from over after he or she was released from the ship upon its arrival in the New World. There were several settlements in the Caribbean termed “Fattening Stations” where slaves were recuperated from the harsh journey across the Atlantic in order to sell for higher prices in market. Indeed, slaves were sold in market as if they were cattle or horses. One custom that prevailed in the United States until the end of the Civil War involved the inspection of the slave’s teeth as a measure of worth, just as a prospective buyer would of a horse. Such practices led to the inevitable belief of the owners that the slaves were sub-human. This attack against their humanity is still one that is felt by African Americans today.