There was a dark point in time in which the legal trade of human beings based on their skin color alone was allowed and even commonplace. This knowledge is widely known; everyone has heard at least one horror story of the forced life of a slave, most people know that fellow human beings were shipped from Africa against their will to be slaves. What is not as widely known is the atrocities against these men, women, and children started long before the people even made it to shore. The real horror for these people began while in mid-passage.
Mid-Passage refers to the second leg of the triangular journey known as Atlantic Slave Trade route. Ships would first leave Europe with trade items headed for Africa, where the goods such as sugar, would be traded for human beings. From Africa the ship would make its last journey to The New World, where the men, women and children would soon find themselves someone’s owned slave.
The people would be led onto the floating fortress two by two. With shackled feet the people were then taken below deck to be packed into tight sometimes unbreathable quarters without any windows, they hardly had room for something as simple as rolling over. The men, women, and children were packed in with only one thing in mind “money”, the more people that could be packed in together, the more worthwhile it would become to the Captain of the ship (1).
Though sometimes friends and family were taken together they would not see each other. The soon to be slaves would be separated by their languages so communication became impossible; this was done in order to quell a rebellion by the people and to keep them in lowly spirits. Men always outnumbered the women and children on these ships, usually seven to one. Women and children were not always shackled but they were often subjected to rape and torture if they got out of line.
The passage was itself hard to take, being that it could last for six months at a time. It was not easy for someone whose comforts were met, yet for these soon to be slaves, it was a time of hopelessness and despair. They were forced to have to crawl over one another in order to relieve themselves in buckets which would often overflow or tip over because they were hardly emptied. This forced the people below deck to live in their own feces and urine, creating a stifling environment for them all. Diarrhea, dysentery, and infections were commonplace (2). If anyone showed a sign of a deadly disease, they were tossed overboard into the ocean.
The people would spend up to twenty-three hours below deck with one to two hours above for some air and a small meal. They were cleaned off by being hosed down together while still in chains, but bad weather could keep them below deck for days on end. The people had no understanding yet of what was to become of them, it has been said that many of them thought their captors were cannibals. Suicide was common among the people especially the women, by a leap into the ocean when possible or sometimes by starving themselves to death.There was an old African belief that when one died their spirit would go home, this belief was likely the reason suicide was so prevalent.
At the end of their harrowing journey the men, women, and children would be taken in to port towns and sold during auction blocks to the highest bidder. It is estimated that between ten and twenty million Africans were introduced into the new world by way of the mid-passage. At least two million total over the course of the slave trade did not survive the journey across the Atlantic.
6B. The Middle Passage. (n.d.). . Retrieved June 24, 2014, from http://www.ushistory.org/us/6b.asp (1)
Wood, B. (2005). Slavery In Colonial America, 1619-1776 . : Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. (2)