Judy Moore: We focus on the Middle Passage

Judy Moore

Judy Moore

West African slaves were forcibly brought over across the Atlantic Ocean to North America on a perilous journey known as The Middle Passage. This was the second leg of a three part triangular slave trade in which slaves were sold and transported across the Atlantic. The money from these sales were used to buy products such as fur, tobacco, rum and sugar that would be transported back to northern Europe. The Middle Passage was a horrific ordeal with millions of lives lost and in case you’re listening, Governor De Santis, there was no benefit for slaves on this journey.

With the voyages occurring between 1700 and 1804, 124 million slaves endured that perilous journey and about 15% died before reaching North America. The captives were sold to European and American slave traders via African kings and warlords. The typical slave ship carried several hundred slaves with a crew of about thirty members. Angola, West Africa was one of the regions that the slaves came from. The voyage took about one to six months depending on the weather.

Furthermore, the conditions aboard the slave ships were horrible, with the men being chained together below deck with leg irons and shackles. They laid flat on their backs on specially built shelves; rolling over on one’s side was nearly impossible. This was where they would eat, sleep and use the toilet. The women and children were held in a separate part below deck. You may have seen a diagram of a slave ship with people packed like sardines in some history books. It’s unforgettable and that’s how it was. The captives were fed once a day, maybe twice, a meal of porridge made of corn and millet. In addition, they were forced to dance for exercise. Doctors would examine them regularly to make sure the human cargo was healthy. The slaves were kept for 16 hours daily below deck and allowed eight hours above deck.

Subsequently, diseases such as smallpox, dysentery, measles among others ran rampant with the filth of rats and poor sanitation. Even though the dead were thrown overboard and eaten by sharks, there were instances where a person lay chained to a dead person for hours or even days. Also, starvation was a cause of death, as well as a lack of fresh air to breathe. Young women and girls were raped by crew members. In fact, crew members were treated cruelly by the captains with whippings. Consequently, many captives resisted by jumping overboard or going on a hunger strike. Many were punished by whippings or forced eating to keep them in line. The slave captains couldn’t have their profit source resisting and they had to be careful about excessive violence towards the slaves because an insurrection may erupt.

The Middle Passage was a means of profit for the slavers, yet, a treacherous and unimaginable journey that Africans suffered, being taken from their home and brought to a new world that considered them property, less than human. Beyond the shackles and the Atlantic Ocean their courage and force of will rings out.

Judy Moore is a tour guide with The Central High Museum who lives in Wylliesburg. She can be reached at v5agabond2@gmail.com.