Sample Essay on The Middle Passage and Early American Slavery

The Middle Passage and early American Slavery (pre-1793)

The African Americans whose origin was Africa were transported from Sub Saharan Africa’s North Western and Middle Western regions as slaves (Hine, 2005). This was during a period when the white colonial landowners in America had resulted to Black enslavement to solve their economic woes in their agricultural economy and used racism and suppression to justify this system. According to Margaret Walker’s quote, African American clearly had a long history of difficult times from the time of their captivity and as they tried to be assimilated in the American societies (Prosser, 2015). In their fight of freedom, which started in mid 1780s, black Americans were considered less than human beings were and faced discrimination in all aspects of their lives (Hine, 2005). However, having come from the African continent where there were diverse groups of people with different ethnic backgrounds that spoke different languages, they were still generally united by a respect for their traditions and devotion to their community (Hine, 2005). They were ready to fight for their freedom and rights despite the suffering they had gone through in many years.

One of the slave trade eras is the Middle passage, which refers to the period during which African slaves were sold or in some cases traded for goods like molasses at the West African coast. They were transported across the Atlantic sea to the Americas, aboard slave ships that were known as slavers (Hine, 2005). The middle passage has come to be remembered not just for the sale of slaves but also as the longest, most dangerous, as well as most horrific part of the journey of the slavers.

The slaves mostly were the petty criminals; those kidnapped from their families or captured during wars and were sold by black slave traders to either the Americans, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Danish or English (Richardson, 2008). Before the slaves were transported, they were first held in slave factories that were set up or sponsored by the sailors. They lived there in despair and distress of being reduced to slavery as well as the in wet and unhealthy environment that led to loss of lives of some of them (Prosser, 2015). They were also faced degrading treatments such as being subjected to inspections to make sure they were in a suitable condition,  they were forced to strip naked  and be examined from head to toe, squeezing their joints, arms, legs and pinched their private parts without mercy (Prosser, 2015). They were also marked with their owner’s identification through branding using hot irons to ensure their owners would identify them as their property. They were treated like animals by the crew of the ships since they did not consider them to be equal human beings. For instance, they were shackled together in pairs with handcuffs and leg irons and then sent down to the hold of the ship where they were kept in apartments that were portioned (Braham et al., 2014).

Inside the ships the conditions they were stored in were inhuman, the hold in which they were held had storage shelves that made it impossible to sit or stand and were tight packed so as to fit in many slaves as possible (Childs, 2009). With the leg irons, handcuffs and restricted space the slaves could not even turn or move since it was painful (Richardson, 2008). These ruthless methods and bestial conditions of their captors led to a variety of diseases and most of them died. The feeding was also poor and could not sustain good health or prevent disease and death of the slaves, some slaves did not have any desire to eat and were subjected to harsh punishments to make them eat. However, the ship crew ate different and balanced meals like fish, which after consuming to their fill they threw the remainders to the sea instead of feeding it to the slaves.

In their resistance the slaves jumped overboard the ships at any chance they got to a certain death of either drowning or being eaten by sharks (Childs, 2009). Other slaves refused to take any food so that they could die and escape the emotional and physical traumas they were being subjected to during the voyage (Braham et al., 2014). There were also frequent uprisings on the coast where the slaves tried to take possession of the ships, this happened in at times after the captains released some of them to assist those who were sick and they contrived to release some of them or take control of the ships (Braham et al., 2014). These uprisings were unsuccessful but they still resulted to huge losses since some of them were killed or thrown overboard. A number of mutinies were success where the slaves managed to destroy ships and murder whole crews, they put up resistance since they preferred to die rather than be enslaved. The natives also attacked and cut off ships often in revenge of the kidnapping and sale of free Africans (Paquette, 2003).

The middle passage involved the unwilling separation of Africans from their home country and families forcing them into a mandatory deportation, reducing their status to mere human cargo (Paquette, 2003). Their captors treated them like they were lesser human beings because they never cared about their mental and physical well-being (Richardson, 2008). They were exposed to an environment that was cramped and full of diseases, not giving them a basic life that was fit for a human being. They subjected them to all kinds of abuses while at the same time they needed them to be physically fit to work in the Americans farms (Childs, 2009). The middle passage enslaved many Africans while others died or emerged physically weak and mentally terrified. However, most of them put a resistance, which resulted to loss of lives of the ship crews and destruction of ships. Among those who lost their lives there are those who killed themselves as a resistance to avoid being enslaved and going to foreign countries (Richardson, 2008). Some of them believed that upon their death they would find themselves back to their countries. This era had an impact on the racial discrimination of African Americans until today since the Americans still look down upon them as lesser human beings who do not deserve equal treatment. The African Americans are still fighting for their rights and against this racial discriminations and oppressions.



Braham, P., Alberto, P., Chambers, E., Dominguez, T. M., Gaiter, C., Guerron, M. C., Henderson, C. E., Thomas, L. (2014). African Diaspora in the Cultures of Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States. Lanham: University of Delaware.

Childs, D. (2009). “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”: Beloved, the American Chain Gang, and the Middle Passage Remix. American Quarterly, 61(2), 271-297.

Paquette, R. L. (2003). The Mighty Experiment: Free Labor versus Slavery in British Emancipation. Journal of Social History, 37(2), 535+.

Hine, D. C. (2005). African American Odyssey. Prentice Hall College Div.

Richardson, D. (2008). Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora. American Historical Review, 113(1), 142-14