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The Middle Passage

History of the Middle Passage and the Triangular Trade Route as they impact American chattle slavery

Kale Blickenstaff

on 10 November 2015

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Transcript of The Middle Passage

“If you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks you do not have worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don’t have to compel him to seek an inferior status, he will do so without being told and if you can make a man believe that he is justly an outcast, you don’t have to order him to the back door, he will go to the back door on his own and if there is no back door, the very nature of the man will demand that you build one.”-Carter G Woodson
Several underwater tributes to slaves who lost their lives at sea during the triangle trade.
The Middle Passage:
These were the lucky ones....the living would
soon envy the dead......
- Olaudah Equiano, giving the first eyewitness account of life on a ship from a slave's point of view.
"I was soon put down under the decks, and there I received such a salutation in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life: so that, with the loathsomeness of the stench, and crying together, I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat, nor had I the least desire to taste anything.
I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me; but soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me eatables; and on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands and laid me across I think the windlass, and tied my feet, while the other flogged me severely.”
Heading for Jamaica in 1781, the ship Zong was nearing the end of its voyage. It had been twelve weeks since it had sailed from the west African coast with its cargo of 417 slaves. Water was running out. Then, compounding the problem, there was an outbreak of disease. The ship's captain, reasoning that the slaves were going to die anyway, made a decision. In order to reduce the owner's losses he would throw overboard the slaves thought to be too sick to recover. The voyage was insured, but the insurance would not pay for sick slaves or even those killed by illness. However, it would cover slaves lost through drowning. The captain gave the order; 54 Africans were chained together, then thrown overboard. Another 78 were drowned over the next two days. By the time the ship had reached the Caribbean,132 persons had been murdered.
"Exercise being deemed necessary for the preservation of their health they are sometimes obliged to dance when the weather will permit their coming on deck. If they go about it reluctantly or do not move with agility, they are flogged…”
Taken from Alexander Falconbridge, An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa.
"...the excessive heat was not the only thing that rendered their situation intolerable. The deck, that is the floor of their rooms, was so covered with the blood and mucus which had proceeded from them in consequence of the flux, that it resembled a slaughterhouse."
Taken from Alexander Falconbridge, a surgeon aboard slave ships and later the governor of a British colony for freed slaves in Sierra Leone.
Onboard the Slave Ship
One-third died
Men died at a greater rate than women
Adapted to new foods
Influenced regional diets
Learned a new language
Creole dialect well enough to obey commands
Psychological ~ no longer suicidal
Africans retained culture despite the hardships and cruel treatment
Extended families very important
Converted to Christianity (negro spirituals)
The End of the Journey
From 13% - 30% of the Africans aboard slave ships died during the Middle Passage.
Diseases, such as dysentery, malaria, and smallpox killed thousands of Africans.
1789  wrote and published, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African.
Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797)
Frequently, slaves were permitted on deck in small groups for brief periods, where the crew would encourage, and many times force, captives to dance for exercise.
Africans were crowded and chained cruelly aboard slave ships.
Interior of a Slave Ship, a woodcut illustration from the publication, A History of the Amistad Captives, reveals how hundreds of slaves could be held within a slave ship. Tightly packed and confined in an area with just barely enough room to sit up, slaves were known to die from a lack of breathable air.
The slave ship Brookes with 482 people packed onto the decks. The drawing of the slave ship Brookes was distributed by the Abolitionist Society in England as part of their campaign against the slave trade, and dates from 1789.
There were two philosophies regarding transport of slaves

Loose Packers – risk: lower profits reward: lower mortality rates
Tight Packers - risk: higher mortality rates
reward: higher profits
Many Africans committed suicide because of their inhumane treatment.
This engraving, entitled An African man being inspected for sale into slavery while a white man talks with African slave traders, appeared in the detailed account of a former slave ship captain and was published in 1854.
This map indicates regions in North America, the West Indies, and South America that had, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, significant populations of enslaved people of African descent.
Slave Colonies of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
The Arrival of Europeans in Africa - 1795
The Portuguese, under the sponsorship of Prince Henry, had landed in West Africa 350 years earlier.
'Inventory of Negroes, Cattle, Horses, etc on the estate of Sir James Lowther Bart in Barbados taken this 31st day of December 1766'
Objective: To examine the conditions faced by African slaves during the Middle Passage.
THIS is the Vessel that had the Small-Pox on Board at the Time of her Arrival the 31st of March last: Every necessary Precaution hath since been taken to cleanse both Ship and Cargo thoroughly, so that those who may be inclined to purchase need not be under the least Apprehension of Danger from Infliction. The NEGROES are allowed to be the likeliest Parcel that have been imported this Season.
“Coffin” Position:
Onboard a Slave Ship
Where from?
Where to?
The Atlantic Slave Trade

Looks complex!
Between 1699 and 1845 there were 55 successful African uprisings on slave ships.
The most famous of these occurred aboard La Amistad
Full transcript