How did people experience the Middle Passage?
This extra credit opportunity is worth 2 points of extra credit PER question on your Mini Q – Exploration or Reformation: Which was the More Important Consequence of the Printing Press? on March 13.
In order to establish profitable colonies, European countries needed a large supply of labor. Europeans enslaved indigenous peoples, but because many indigenous populations were decimated by European disease and violence, indigenous slavery didn’t meet the labor demands of the colonies.
In the 16th century, Europeans began purchasing enslaved Africans from West African traders. The forced labor of Africans proved hugely profitable for Europe and its colonies. Slave owners didn’t pay their slaves, and the life-long and hereditary nature of slavery guaranteed new generations of free labor. In order to maximize profits for slave owners, working conditions for slaves in the colonies were often atrocious.
Over the course of the next four centuries, it is estimated that more than 12.5 million Africans were taken from Africa. Due to the brutal conditions on the trip to the Americas, historians estimate that only 10.7 million of the captives survived. The vast majority of those slaves were taken to European colonies in South America and the Caribbean. The most recent estimates suggest that less than 400,000 slaves were taken directly from Africa to the present-day United States. The Portuguese, British, French, Spanish, and Dutch were the main slave traders.
The slave trade drastically changed African societies. In the centuries before the Atlantic slave trade, mutually beneficial intercontinental trade was an important part of African states’ economies. Many of these relationships were replaced by the slave trade. In Africa, the slave trade destabilized states, created economic depressions, and led to wars.
The Atlantic slave trade was part of a broader economic system known as the Triangular Trade that connected three continents. European traders would transport enslaved Africans to European colonies in the Americas, where the slaves would work to produce various agricultural goods, including sugar, cotton, and tobacco. Those raw goods were then shipped back to Europe in order to be turned into manufactured goods. European traders would subsequently trade those goods with West African slave traders for more kidnapped Africans, and the cycle would continue. It is important to note that there were also various exceptions to this basic outline. For instance, European manufactured goods were also sold to colonies in the Americas. Similarly, sugar produced in the Caribbean was sold in New England and rum produced in the Americas was sold in Africa.
Central Historical Question: How did people experience the Middle Passage?
Directions: Read Document A and B and then answer the questions provided.
Document A: Portuguese Textbook (Modified)
Portugal was one of the first European countries to engage in the African slave trade. Portuguese ships played a key role in the slave trade between Europe, Africa, and the Americas for several centuries. The following excerpt comes from a Portuguese high school textbook.
The development of the slave trade became part of the process of settling the American continent. In comparison with Indian slavery, the blacks had a better physical capacity and resisted better to the climate, two important factors to justify the successive waves of slaves that left Africa towards America.
The time between the moment the slaves were bought and when they arrived at port was very dangerous not only for the European traders but for the slaves as well. Revolts and disturbances occurred frequently. Crossing the Atlantic was extremely difficult for slaves. First there was not enough room in the boats. They suffered from heat, thirst, and a lack of hygiene. Even the whites had difficulty with these things.
At the time the European states did not recognize the negative consequences of these massive migrations. On the other hand, a new diverse cultural situation originated on the American continent that resulted from the multiplicity of mixed races and cultures. Brazil became the most expressive model of the process carried out by the Portuguese as it melted Indian, white, and black in a complex mix of ethnicities and cultures.
Source: History for Grade Ten, Volume 2, published in Portugal in 1994.
expressive: effectively conveying an idea
Document B: Slave Ship Captain (Modified)
Captain Thomas Phillips transported slaves from Africa to Barbados on the ship Hannibal in 1693. The ship left the African island of São Tomé on August 25th and arrived in Barbados on November 4th.The Royal African Company of London funded the trip. This is an excerpt from his journal about the voyage.
There happened such sickening and mortality among my poor men and Negroes. Of the first we buried 14, and of the last 320, which was a great detriment to our voyage, the Royal African Company losing ten pounds by every slave that died. . . .
The distemper which my men as well as the blacks mostly died of was the white flux. . . . The Negroes are so vulnerable to the small-pox that few ships that carry them escape without it, and sometimes it makes vast havoc and destruction among them. But though we had 100 at a time sick of it . . . we lost not above a dozen by it. . . .
But what the smallpox spared, the flux swept off, to our great regret, after all our pains and care to give [the slaves] their messes, . . . keeping their lodgings as clean and sweet as possible, and enduring so much misery and stench so long among creatures nastier than swine, only to be defeated by their mortality. . . .
No gold-finders can endure so much noisome slavery as they do who carry Negroes. . . . We endure twice the misery; and yet by their mortality our voyages are ruined.
Source: Thomas Phillips, A Collection of Voyages and Travels, 1732.
mortality: death, especially on a large scale
distemper: disorder or disease
white flux: intestinal infection that caused intense diarrhea
gold-finders: individuals seeking wealth
Students may receive extra credit by responding to and commenting on blog posts and comments on this page. Students must adhere to the following guidelines in order to receive credit.