The middle passage was one of the stages in the triangular trade which involved forceful shipment of millions of people from the African continent into the new world. Such passage was part of the Atlantic trade where slaves were shipped across the Atlantic from West Africa to the West Indies or America which was the route of the former slave trade.
Early history of Slave Trade and Middle Age Passage
African slave trade begun in late fifteenth century and it was divided between the Spanish and the Portuguese and both nations had experience with the West Africa where slaves were obtained. In early 1500's when transatlantic trade commenced, the Portuguese claimed the monopoly of the slave trade in the south Atlantic as they had settlements in the region especially in Brazil while its counterpart span claimed the northern Atlantic capitalizing on their previous explorations on the islands of the Caribbean. Spain was later ousted out of the monopoly of the northern Atlantic by the highly ambitious England.
Sir John Hawkins was the first man from England to ship a cargo of Negro slaves across the Atlantic in 1562. His venture was so profitable that even Queen Elizabeth of England who detested such ventures was convinced to secretly invest in the subsequent Hawkins's slaving expeditions.
Sir Hawkins did not enjoy the profits of his very profitable slaving ventures for long before it was drastically screeched to a halt in late 1560' when his voyage sailed to the port of Vera Cruz where it encountered heavily armed Spaniard sailors who still believed they were entitled to monopoly of the northern Atlantic slave trade. Encounter at port Cruz let to a deadly clash between these competitors and resulted in enslaving and slaughter of many English men; luckily Hawkins and his cousin Drake narrowly escaped the wrath of the Spaniards (Feelings, et al, 56).
The incident discouraged the Englishmen from engaging in the slave trade for a decade until after the upheaval of the English war ended when their interests rejuvenated. By 1672, the Britons had once again ambitiously ventured back into the lucrative business and Sir Charles II established England as the world's greatest slave trader by chartering the Royal African Company. England was later out spaced by Bristol and Liverpool which were closer to the water front and had factories that produced most of England's manufactured goods.
Prior to the middle passage, slave trade was the played a crucial role in the aspects of the Atlantic economy and with the birth of the middles passage that trespassed the Atlantic it became an essential integral route of trade that linked Europe Africa and the parts of the North America. The networked route was used to carry goods which were not produced in other parts. This trade route became the triangular trade and it was developed by sea captains from England who reaped a lot of financial gains from transport of such unique goods across the Atlantic (Redicker, 259).
The goods produced in England were textiles, rum and manufactures goods which were traded in Africa for silver, gold and silver. England then traded the salves and domestic good with molasses and sugar in West Indies which with the remainder of the slaves will be traded in America for lumber, tobacco, flour, fish, food stuff and rum.
Life of slaves aboard the slave ship
The middle passage was a great source of wealth and riches for many whites but it was a brutal practice that subjected many Africans involved to dreadful conditions during the passage. One of such awful that slaves faced was during the loading of slave aboard the voyage which was a very dangerous experience especially when come to realize that they were being sent away from their homes and taken into unknown lands; it at this point that many opted to jump into the sea either to drown or to be devoured by the sharks instead of being taken as slaves.
While aboard the men slaves were shackled together with iron chains while children and women were left to roam around the deck and at around 9'O clock in the morning slaves were fed and interestingly slaves from different sections of West African coast line were served with different type of food and in addition to food slave were also served with their daily ration of half-pint of water. In the afternoon slaves were served their last meal of the day which was mainly horse's beans that were boiled until they are pulpy. Horse's beans were used to feed horses and it was the cheapest kind of food available at the time. That type of food had a horrible taste and captains covered it with a mixture made from palm oil, water and floor with large amounts of peeper (Pybus, et al, 134).
To keep the slaves in shape or in up to standard physical condition in the slave market; they were forced to 'dance' or rather jump up and down on the deck while they are shackled. They would dance to the beats from an African drum until their ankles were bleeding from the effects of the iron chains that bind them. The drum beating was their sole form of recreation and immediately after the sunset they were placed back in their filth decks below.
As if that was not inhuman at all, once inside the decks; they would be packed under the deck either loosely of tightly depending on the space available. Most ships used in the 18th century carried many slave and were tightly packed with slaves being stack on top of each other or force to lie on very small spaces. Life of a slave on decks was extremely uncomfortable as it was very overcrowded, little or no sanitation facilities and inadequate ventilation. Due to the atrociously unhygienic conditions in the deck slaves were exposed to disease and suffocation as well as infestation by lice.
In the morning while the slaves were exercising a crew member would roam about the deck whipping any slave who refused to dance and in most cases they used the cat-o'-nine-tails which consisted of nine cords that were coated with tar and with a knot at the end. Such kind of whip would slash the back of a slave into ribbons with just few strokes.
The worst experiences of the slaves aboard the slave ships happened during bad weather when they would remain in deck all day and night with les or no food at all and had to scrounge for scrams and pieces of contaminated food. At this periods slaves were also forced quench their thirst from puddles of stagnated polluted water. Conditions at the deck during times of bad weather were unbearable as slaves were packed together in decks that had dead slaves, blood, human waste, urine and vomit. Moreover, the crew practices what they termed as 'bed warming' where a crew member could take a slave woman to his living quarters and assault her physically and sexually ( Kendler, par 10).
In addition to that, just before the slaves were sold they were oiled to make their skins shiny and imperfections from whippings and scars could be filled with hot tar so that their appearance is improved and hence fetch high market price. Once the voyage had arrived at the destined port it was anchored miles off the shore to avoid spreading the disease that the slaves might have contracted during the journey. The slaves were then carried to the shore by use of smaller boats on board the ship and while at the shore they were auctioned and from then their lives were condemned to a depraved involuntary servitude.
Revolt of the slave
In very many years of slave trade, more than three hundred and fifty years, the slaves almost gave up in their struggle to regain their freedom. This was brought by the continued transportation of slave to America by voyage from different countries. Example s of ships that transported them is from Spain, France, Portugal, England and America.
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The slave traders knew that the slaves are capable of revolting and every caution was taken to ensure this do not happen. The voyage was always equipped with cutlasses, pistols, muskets, knives and even cannon. The crews were guarded always to ensure that there are not attacked without their notice. Before the cargo could be dispatched, it was searched carefully ensuring that there were no piece of metal, wood or any other material that could be used as war equipment against the crew was on board and within slaves reach. The merchants always gave captains order to conduct their business along the coastline and always to be in high alert to avoid the slave revolt. For example in 1734, Samuel Waldo instructed Captain Samuel Rhodes , "for your safety as well as mine, you will have the needful guard over slaves, and put not too much confidence in women and children lest they happen to be instrumental to your being surprised which may be fatal."
In their attempt to follow precautions, they went too far and they made the lives of the slave a big torture. The precautions that were first put in place to prevent slaves uprising turned to mutilating them. They were place in the hot holds between the decks. The compartment was very short for the slaves to sit upright (Bly,1735). Male's slaves were tied into two and they were separated from women by partitions. To ensure that the ship carried maximum capacity, the Negroes were made to lie fitting on each other's body curve. They lay stripped naked on the plucks of the ship that was very rough. Thus as the ship rolled over the waves, they were rubbed off their skin leaving their body mutilated. During the hostile weather or attack from enemies, air slots were closed leading to their suffocation. This misery made them to start revolting. However, the merchants came up with another trick of religion. They told them that the voyage were a vessel to save people from idolatry life to Gospel dispensation thus creating signs of hopes.
According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. About.com the slaves became very desperate due to the tribulations they went through and took all the opportunity to free themselves. They were desperately devising way to end their suffering. Many went for a hunger strike. The slave trade did every thing to make them eat. They even broke their teeth and even burned their lips with hot coals. Other was even so daring to commit suicide in the voyage.
However, the fatal protest was when Negroes decide to fight back for their freedom through violence. They revolted by attacking their captors in great determination to kill them, capture the voyage and return to Africa.
In this dramatic bloody event of revolting, the slaves were disadvantaged. Although slaves were in bigger number, the crew were armed, disciplined, organized and they worked under tight authority. The crews also were strategically positioned as they controlled the whole ship from the deck to superstructure of the ship. The slaves were very vulnerable as they had only crude weapons. They used their chains, wood and pieces of metals to attack. This made the attack futile, as they were unorganized, undisciplined, weakened by confinement and was only lead by their desire to be get free. They were always disbanded by gunfire by the crews when they try to climb over the deck.
The proved stiff necked fearing neither death nor gunshot as they continuously attacked them in an attempt to free themselves. Though the chances to do so were so slender, they never gave up. Sometimes they could become so adamant but after along struggle they were repulsed. However, it was after some casualties were realized on both sides.
Some ships like slave trading communities of New England experienced attacks and very serious insurrections. The Negroes seriously vandalized a New Hampshire vessel that was commanded by Captain John major of Portsmouth. They attacked killing the entire crew and its cargo. In 1764, a report was made from Charleston South Carolina informing about the death of the captain Millar of the Adventure ship. According to the report, the slaves freed themselves off their chain at night and killing the captain and some crews. The revolts of slaves continued in the process to free themselves. Several attacks were reported for several years. These lead to death of slaves and crew but they lead to freedom in most cases.
The revolts portrayed a scene that was a drama in the fight of freedom. The African slaves were the actors and the ships the stage. The struggles continued as more of the ship were attacked. The fight of the tragedy battle for freedom continued for three century. The blacks upraised up against the white in search of their freedom. The Negroes struggled for their freedom up to American soil. They made a very great attempt toward their freedom until they were at point successful (Taylor, 30) the revolt was all over and the slave trader started fearing the business. The slave trade started going down and as the time went on, the more the insurrections were experienced. The revolt came to show the slave traders that slaves never submitted to enslavement.
The middle passage still has influence in our modern society as most of the slave who survive the ordeal developed themselves and become assimilated in regions they were destined. The new generation that resulted from the slave trade or whose ancestors were victims of the inhuman act have championed for equal rights between the whites and black condemning every discrimination based on race. Most African-Americans have their roots traced back to the salve trade and they have gone against all odds to get their identities respected. Their influence is now felt in united sates and other parts of the world as they from part of the successful individual in the society contribution a lot to the economy. In United States most African -American citizens have risen to the highest class of the society e.g. in music and sport world. Current president of United States Barrack Obama is the first African-American president in United States history and the influence of his leadership is felt across the world.
Also, the middle age passage contributed to growth of many industries in Europe, America and the Atlantic regions at large. For example Liverpool and Bristol in Europe is believed to have grown from the immense wealth acquired through the slave trade during the middle passage. These cities now contribute to world's economy in terms of manufacturing and other services essential to human survival and advancement.
The racial prejudice experienced in the United States is attributed to the effect of slave trade as the black tend to blame the whites for the role their forefathers played in the inhuman act and sometime the whites still view the African -American as consequences of the trade and the prejudice is still felt in the modern American society.
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