Essays On The Middle Passage


Can you imagine walking home from school, work, the grocery store or the park in your own neighbourhood when suddenly you are kidnaped, stolen from your family, from your community; shackled, then thrown into the darkest hole of a huge ship. There you are crammed with other captives beaten and starved for weeks, maybe even months. Then you are taken to a foreign country where no one knows your language, no one knows your culture, no one knows you. These are the experiences of an estimated eleven million enslaved Africans who were taken across the Atlantic on a journey known as the Middle Passage.  But, what exactly is the Middle Passage and why is it considered the most traumatic ordeal for the African captives on their voyage to the New World?

The Middle Passage was the stage of the triangular trade in which millions of people from Africa were shipped to the New World as part of the Atlantic slave trade. In other words, the Middle passage refers to the middle leg of the Triangular Trade and was the transition point from freedom to enslavement. The sands of time will tell that the Triangular Trade and the various mechanism and methods employed to obtain captive African labour in the late 15th century was not the first instance of enslavement in world history. Slavery was seen as an economic necessity and a mode to expand power and world dominance as seen in societies such as Mesopotamia, Rome and Egypt. By the 1400’s, however, a very dark chapter of the annals of the world began to be written and with it came suffering, anarchy, betrayal and despair

The transatlantic crossing, is one of, if not the most fundamental part of the middle passage as it was this stage that the enslaved found most horrendous and left them in a sad and angry state. Ships departed Europe for African markets with manufactured goods, which were traded for purchased or kidnapped Africans, who were transported across the Atlantic as slaves; the slaves were then sold or traded for raw materials, which would be transported back to Europe to complete the voyage. Voyages on the Middle Passage were a large financial undertaking, and they were generally organized by companies or groups of investors rather than individuals.

The voyage itself lasted approximately 6 to 8 weeks. The enslaved Africans were chained together by the hand and the foot, and packed into the smallest places where there was barely enough room to lie on one’s side. It was here that they ate, slept, urinated, defecated, gave birth, went insane and died. They had no idea where they were going, or what was going to happen to them.

In order to accommodate the vast numbers of enslaved individuals per journey the ships had to be redesigned. The manner in which they were redesigned is widely distinguished into two broad categories:

  • Tight Packers- On these ships the captives were crammed up deck with little space if any between the enslaved and it wouldn’t be an understatement to suggest that the enslaved were packed like sardines in a can as this was the case. Tight packing was based on the assumption that at least 20% of those who were taken on the high seas would eventually kick the bucket before seeing land and so it was wise to pack as much as possible and travel as fast as possible to maximise on ‘yield’. Up to a thousand persons were crammed on the deck of ships in this method
  • Loose Packers- There was a considerable amount of space between captives. Loose packing was considered more physically comfortable to the enslaved and that this would significantly reduce the death rate of the enslaved. In order to facilitate this the ships that utilized loose packing were generally pack to 75%.

In essence, slavers were divided among school of thought on the various methods of transporting their enslaved human cargo. It is to be noted however that there was no real impact as the death rate seen in both methods are similar. This arises from the fact that even though less persons were on the loose packers the fact that transportation took a longer time often exceeding 8 weeks meant that the death rate would inevitably increase. In most cases by the 8th week the ships would run out of food and water leaving captives to die of dehydration or starvation. Also, diseases worsened and the prolonged and delayed treatment meant only that the captives would die.

The conditions experienced on the Middle Passage by the enslaved Africans can only be described as unimaginable. This as the pain, suffering, anguish, misery, lives lost, the tears cried and the darkness endowed cannot be summed up or explained in a word, phrase or sentence.

The slaves were first and foremost stripped of their dignity and freedom; treated like animals, mere cargo as if they were only tools used in marketing in the West Indies. The holds in which they were kept resembled slaughterhouses with blood, mucus, faeces and urine polishing the floor. These were just some of the horrific conditions that the enslaved had to come to grips with day after day. Morse so, the stench of the hold was so intolerably loathsome that it was dangerous to remain there for any time. But, what choice did the enslaved have? They had to lay on their back and even bellies for weeks enduring all this filth. The closeness of the place made it an impossible task for a captive to even turn to gasp air which was wholly inadequate. In some cases persons struggled for air and since early slave ships didn’t provide ventilation for those below lead to many been suffocated. The situation was so catastrophic that sometimes candles lightened would not burn because of the insufficient oxygen.

The sweltering tropical heat combined with the far from sanitary conditions on deck lead to a plethora of disease. Diseases were a rampant killer. They ranged from measles, to smallpox, to lethargy, to scurvy and of course the most common killer, dysentery. These diseases often spread like a bushfire in the Harmattan.

Slavers didn’t fully understand why contagious diseases spread in the confined environs in which the enslaved were housed in. Neither did they know and couldn’t understand why exposure was fatal to some and not others. They dealt with each case in the same manner.

They threw the disease stricken overboard to curtail the spread of the disease.  Millions of lives were lost at sea due to diseases and the enslaved being thrown overboard. In fact, the slavers created a feast for the sharks. It had been observed and noted that during the Atlantic Slave Trade the population and migratory pattern of Atlantic sharks changed significantly in keeping with the actions of slavers

In truth and in fact there were often sharks, which followed the ships in warm waters, feeding off refuse. When dead slaves were thrown over-board the Dutch merchant William Bosman wrote  in A New and Accurate Description of the Coast of Guinea (1705), “I have sometimes, not without horror, seen the dismal Rapaciousness of these Animals; four or five of them together shoot to the bottom under the Ship to tear the dead Corps to pieces, at each bite an Arm, a Leg, or the Head is snapped off; and before you can tell twenty have sometimes divided the Body amongst them so nicely that not the least Particle is left.”

Moreover, the captain often sent for women with whom they wanted to be sexually involved with. In most cases the women refused and of course they were later killed and thrown overboard

Through all the misery and suffering, new African identities were created, forming a basis for a new transnational culture. Within these ships, Africans from different countries, regions, cultures and with different languages learned to communicate with each other; many conspired to overthrow their captors together.

This is just one example of resistance by the enslaved. Resistance began at the moment of capture and sale. The fact that the Africans were making the trek across the Atlantic meant that there resistance wasn’t successful. They, however, didn’t lose hope and often tried to conquer their masters in any way possible.

Resistance took various forms:

  • Refusing to eat
  • Suicide
  • Infanticide
  • Revolts
  • Etc.

One notable successful revolt was that was La Amistad. The control of the ship was taken over by the Africans who were being transported from Sierra Leone after successfully defeating their slavers during an on deck revolt. Subsequent to achieving this feat they commanded the captain to sail them back home. The captain however betrayed them and sail westward were the ship was captured off the coast of Long Island. La Amistad was interned while court proceedings were undertaken for their disposition.  The case, United States versus The Amistad (1841) was finally decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in favour of the enslaved, restoring their freedom. It became a symbol in the movement to abolish slavery.

In concluding, the Middle Passage can be considered the most traumatic ordeal for enslaved Africans on their voyage to the New World. The ghastly and excruciating pain and experiences that confronted the enslaved was nothing short of barbaric. Many productive lives were lost, hearts broken, families destroyed and economies faltered and up to this day still haven’t recovered.  A clear link/ connection can now be made between the barbarism that occurred in the latter 18th century and the present state of the majority of Africa. Africa now stands as the poorest continent on the face of the Earth. Additionally infant mortality, starvation and deaths are generally high. Africa also represents a people robbed of their culture, dignity and riches. Such was the pain brought by the Middle Passage. 


© Copyright 2018 Marvin Hill. All rights reserved.

Use of The Middle Passage in the Slave Trade

Essay add: 30-09-2015, 10:10   /   Views: 415

Use of The Middle Passage in the Slave Trade

The Middle Passage was the journey of slave trading ships from the west coast of Africa, where the slaves were obtained, across the Atlantic, where they were sold or, in some cases, traded for goods such as molasses, which was used in the making of rum. However, this voyage has come to be remembered for much more than simply the transport and sale of slaves. The Middle Passage was the longest, hardest, most dangerous, and also most horrific part of the journey of the slave ships.
With extremely tightly packed loads of human cargo that stank and carried both infectious disease and death, the ships would travel east to west across the Atlantic on a miserable voyage lasting at least five weeks, and sometimes as long as three months. Although incredibly profitable for both its participants and their investing backers, the terrible Middle Passage has come to represent the ultimate in human misery and suffering. The abominable and inhuman conditions which the Africans were faced with on their voyage clearly display the great evil of the slave trade.

While there was slavery throughout World History, never has it reached such an epic proportion as during the Middle Passage/ transatlantic slave trade. At this time, no one knows exactly how many Africans died at sea during the Middle Passage experience. Estimates for the total number of Africans lost to the slave trade range from 25 to 50 million. The Middle Passage was a term used to describe the triangular route of trade that brought Africans to the Americas and rum and sugar cane to Europe. It was synonymous with pain and suffering. The journey from Africa to the Americas would take as many as 30 to 90 days. Many of the ships were called 'loose packers' or 'tight packers', describing the capacity of the slave ship.

To conclude, the smell of rotten bodies thrown overboard lured sharks to the ships route. European countries participating in the slave trade accumulated tremendous wealth and global power from the capturing and selling of Africans into slavery. Originally, slaves were sold to the Portuguese and Spanish colonies in South and Central Americas to work on sugar cane plantations. The middle passage was the worst thing that could happen to African American slaves.

Article name: Use of The Middle Passage in the Slave Trade essay, research paper, dissertation


Related essay

  • Women In Slavery In The Past
  • Uncle Toms Cabin And American Romantism
  • Uncle Toms Cabin And American Romanticism
  • Discuss the long term impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on social divisions in the Americas.
  • A History of the Slave Trade

  • 0 Thoughts to “Essays On The Middle Passage

    Leave a comment

    L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *