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This research paper briefly discusses the happenings of the slave trade in the middle passage. This trade entailed the shipping of Africans from their native African homes to America to provide labor in the sugarcane plantations. This includes the way in which the Africans were captured, treated and challenges they faced in the ships set for Europe. Faced with the challenges that the Africans were faced with, they tried to rebel against the ship crew and captain. The consequences of their rebellion have also been discussed stating the names of the captains.
1.1 Middle Passage
1.1.1 Introduction to the middle passage
This is the period that Africans were transported from Africa against their will to the Americas via the Atlantic Ocean. The journey is referred as the middle passage because it took place in the middle part of the triangular slave trade system between Africa, Europe and the Americas. Ships sailed from Europe to Africa where prisoners and kidnapped victims on the African coast were traded for or sold for goods in the African markets. The traders travelled back to America and the Caribbean where they sold or traded Africans for goods in the European markets. The goods later returned to Europe. Those that took part in this trade included Portugal, England, France, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Brazil and North America. The middle passage was used as a way for getting Africans as workers in the transatlantic slave trade. The Africans were held captive of their own freedom and transported to slave factories in the Atlantic world. The enslaved Africans came from such countries as west central Africa, south eastern Africa, Senegambia, gold coast, Senegambia, upper guinea and windward coast. Many people died during the capture and transport of the enslaved Africans to the ships and another estimated 15% of Africans died at sea (Kachur 2006)
The design of the ship and the weather conditions affected the crossing times of the ships. It took slave ships six to eight weeks to cross the Atlantic. There was an incident in 1796 where a violent storm made a slave ship, headed to Liverpool, take six months to travel from Africa causing approximately 128 people to die due to starvation on the ship. Food supplies ran low and only forty Africans survived the voyage. Another incident in 1751 occurred where a ship, the Duke of Argyle, captained by John Newton, took forty two days to cross the Atlantic due to the poor condition of the ship. The transatlantic voyage duration varied widely ranging from one to six months and this depended on the weather condition at that time. Over a period of time the journey became more efficient and by the 19th century the crossing only required six weeks. Private kidnappers and warlords sold the captives to Europeans. The slave ships contained about thirty crew members and several hundred slaves. To save space, the men captives were tied in chains in pairs; right leg to the next man's left leg. The women and children had somewhat more room than the men. During the journey, the captives ate corn, yams, rice and palm oil (Keller 2004)
1.1.3 Conditions of ships during the middle passage
The slave traders wanted to squeeze as many people as possible in the ships so that they could make more money. Platforms were built between decks to accommodate as many people as possible. This therefore led to the Africans being cramped in the voyage ships. It was even impossible for them to stand up and to some it was even hard to lie on their backs and they were forced to lie on their sides. To top it all, they had to lie on hard wooden boards for the whole journey since no bedding was provided. Washing and toilet facilities for the Africans was very poor which drove them to sharing very basic toilet equipment and those who were too weak to move had to sleep on their urine and excrement. The smell in the slave decks was very unbearable due to the poor health conditions. The insanitary conditions and cramped conditions on the slave ships made diseases spread very easily. The illnesses began way before the Africans began their voyage because they were forced to walk for long distances before they reached the coast. Dysentery was very common and led to many deaths. Out of the twenty four Africans who died on captain Newton's ship from 1751 and 1752 died of dysentery. It is estimated that out of five Africans hat were loaded on the ship one died during the crossing. The Africans were very badly treated and this is evidenced by the fact that the Africans who were seriously ill were thrown overboard into the sea even before they died completely. They were thrown to reduce the financial costs and prevent the spread of the diseases to the other crew members. The effects of the trauma experienced by Africans during the middle passage are shown by the fact that many of them died within two years after arriving in the Americas (Klein 2010)
1.1.4 African rebellions
Any rebellions by the Africans were severely punished by the ship crew. The Earle family owned the Unity and the captain was Richard Norris. During the 1769-1770 voyage, the Africans rebelled for at least five times. On 4th June 1770, Captain Norris put forty men into leg irons for attempted rebellion. The same captain shot the leader of an attempted rebellion on 27th June 1770.The captains of the slave ships were very brutal like Captain Norris of the unity. Some slave ships carried doctors whose work was to supervise the cleaning of the slave decks and also keep the sick away from the rest of the people to reduce the spread of diseases among the Africans. Alexander Falconbridge was a doctor on a slave ship who later joined the abolition movement (Brion 1966).
1.1.5 Some improvements to the Middle Passage
The British government in the 18th century introduced conditions that would help improve the conditions of the Africans on the slave ships. The Doblen's law, introduced to parliament by Sir William Doblen, was passed to control the number of slaves which ships could carry depending on their weight. The law also ordered all slave ships to carry a doctor who was to keep records about the Africans on board. Due to these measures, the death rate reduced from one out of five to one out of eighteen Africans carried on slave ships. These measures were made to reduce the number of deaths on slave ships to increase the profits made from slave trade and not for the well being of the Africans. The law also favored the crew members to reduce the deaths caused by the spread of disease.
The British government banned slave trade in 1807 but it still continued for another sixty years illegally. This is because it is estimated that around a quarter of the Africans enslaved between 1500 and 1870 were shipped across the Atlantic after 1807. Due to the increase in the direct transatlantic slave trading voyages, the proportion of the number of ships following the triangular slave trade fell.