The Middle Passage2021-05-28T14:20:29-04:00

Resource

The Middle Passage

This record of the slaving voyage of the English ship James contains records of women and girls who endured the brutalities of the Middle Passage.

Content Warning: This resource addresses sexual assault.

Document Text

The Voyage of the Slave Ship James

Voyage Start Date: July 1674

Voyage Start Port: London

Slave Embarkation Port: New Calabar

Total Slaves Embarked: 104

Slave Disembarkation Date: February 1675

Slave Disembarkation Port: Cuba

Total Slaves Disembarked: 72

Men: 39%

Women: 36%

Boys: 18%

Girls: 7%

Percentage Male: 57%

Percentage Children: 25%

Voyage 9938, Golden Lyon, 1678. The Trans–Atlantic Slave Trade Database.

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Background

The middle passage of the Triangle Trade between Europe, Africa, and the Americas carried recently captured men, women, and children from the west coast of Africa to the colonies of the New World. Records indicate that over two million people were forcibly transported across the Atlantic between 1500 and 1700, and only 1.7 million survived the journey. Approximately 266,000 were brought to the Spanish colonies during this time.

The horrors of the Middle Passage are well documented: cramped conditions, lack of food and water, widespread disease, and abuse at the hands of captors all led to a high mortality rate. But traditional historical narratives of the journey tend to leave out the specific horrors faced by female captives. Women and girls were raped by captors and crews. Pregnant women received no special treatment to ensure the health of themselves or their unborn babies, and most women who went into labor while aboard a slave ship lost their lives. Mothers of young children had to struggle twice as hard to ensure not only their own survival but also that of their children, only to be separated at the slave markets when they were sold to different buyers.

About the Document

The statistics here represent the Middle Passage voyage of the English slave ship James. This voyage represents the larger trend of English ships bringing enslaved people to the Spanish colonies, which was growing into an important partnership at the end of the 1600s.

The seventy-two enslaved people who survived the journey across the Atlantic were probably forced to work on sugar plantations in the Spanish colony of Cuba.

For more records of slaving voyages, visit Voyages: The Atlantic Slave Trade Database.

Vocabulary

  • disembark: Leave a ship.
  • embark: Go aboard a ship.
  • London: Capital of England.
  • Middle Passage: The part of the Triangle Trade that brought enslaved people from Africa to the New World.
  • New Calabar: Port in present-day Nigeria.
  • Triangle Trade: The name for the trade between Europe, Africa, and the Americas in the 1700s–1900s. Ships brought British goods to Africa, where they were traded for enslaved people to take to the Americas, where the enslaved people were traded for money and agricultural products to bring back to Europe.

Discussion Questions

  • What additional dangers did enslaved women face during the Middle Passage?
  • Thirty-four of the enslaved people aboard the James­­—one-third of the totaldid not survive the journey. What does this reveal about the conditions aboard the ship?
  • Twenty-five percent of the enslaved people aboard the James were children aged 10 years or younger. What would it be like to endure the Middle Passage at such a young age?
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Suggested Activities

Themes

WORK, LABOR, AND ECONOMY

New-York Historical Society Curriculum Library Connections

Source Notes
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