The Middle Passage

  "This wretched situation was again aggravated by the galling of the chains, which now became insupportable, and the filth of the necessary tubs [toilets] into which the children often fell and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women and the groans of the dying rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable."--Olaudah Equiano, from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African (London, 1789). 

The "Middle Passage" was the final leg of the triangular slave trading journey that usually began in a European port months earlier.  Sailing from Europe, these slave ships stopped at western ports in Africa to load kidnapped Africans by the thousands, and would then travel across the Atlantic to North America and the Caribbean where they were sold into slavery.  

Afterward, the crew returned to their European home port to begin the process again.  Begun in the early 1500s, this highly-profitable triangular slave trade continued into the nineteenth century.                                                                       

 

Captured Africans in a forced march to a western port for sale into slavery.

The human toll of this trade was enormous--many Africans died during the arduous trip, due to the lack of sufficient food, water, and fresh air.  Additionally, inhumane and extremely unsanitary conditions on board led to the rapid spread of infectious disease, sickening or killing Africans by the dozens. 

Artist renderings of a typical slave ship's hold (left), and the body positions of slaves on board (right).  

 

The voyage from Africa to the New World called the Middle Passage represents an evil chapter in humanity, and one of the worst examples of the infliction of misery upon human beings. 

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