Mary Jo Wainwright
Module 5: Slavery
The migration of Africans to America is the largest forced migration in world history. The Atlantic slave trade started with the Portuguese in the fifteenth century and ended in the United States in 1807, but continued in other parts of the Americas until 1867. Out of the 10.5 million Africans that arrived in the Americas ninety percent went to areas of sugar production (the Caribbean, and Brazil) and somewhere around one in every twenty-five were transported to the British colonies of North America. The majority of transported Africans were young men between the ages of fifteen and thirty. Most slaves were captured by either large armies that launch massive attacks on villages or by small raids by a group of armed men. The captives then waited in dark dungeons or in open pins, the captives were split up from their families and ethnic groups to lessen the possibility of resistance.
The journey from Africa to America by way of the Atlantic is known as the “Middle Passage”, or the middle portion of the trade triangle that links Europe, Africa and America. Ships that were intended to hold only 450 slaves would pack roughly 600 slaves into the ship. An observer described the slaves on the ships as “[r]ammed like herring in a barrel, [slaves were] chained to each other hand and foot, and stowed so close, that they were not allowed above a foot and a half for each in breadth.” Because of the little room, Africans had to sleep in a “spooning” fashion. The rocking of the ship jostled the passengers so violently that often the skin over their elbow was worn to the bone from being scraped on the planks. The voyages typically had a daily routine; in the morning the captives would be taken on deck and fed a breakfast of beans before jumping up and down as an exercise known as “dancing the slave”, at the end of the day they were fed again and stowed back below decks. Because of the non-existent sanitation, captives had to sit in their own wastes and often died from sickness. Along with the unsanitary conditions, diseases such as dysentery, smallpox, measles, and yellow fever were common. Approximately one in every seven died on the voyage across the Atlantic. Some of the captives were destined to a single buyer, or allocated to a merchant who sold them for a profit. Occasionally the captain himself was responsible for the slaves. In ports like Charles Town, South Carolina sales were made by auction or by a method known as the scramble, where the Africans were