Last Updated 30 Mar 2021

Middle passage of slavery

Category History, Middle Ages
Essay type Research
Words 1490 (5 pages)
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Table of contents

One of the dark periods of the world’s history is the trading and exploitation of black slaves. The economic expansion in Europe and America through agricultural lands brought a growing demand for labor hands. European traders seized the opportunity by supplying Africans to be sold as slaves.

Sources included Kongo and Ndongo (which now became Angola) and Senegal, although major trading took place ion the Atlantic Coast of Africa. As demands for slaves increased, trading spread in Eastern Africa (Perry 227).  Nowhere can one find a more profitable business than slave-trading during these period, which remarkably pned for about four centuries (15th to 19th century) of continuous trading, estimated to reach about 20 million slaves (Ferguson and Bruun 569). At the height of trading during the 17th to 18th century, a trader who sold one male slave is guaranteed to make more than enough a year’s earnings.

In England, a trader can even gain respectability since its society saw nothing wrong with this kind of business and was not regarded as illegal. It is not surprising therefore that many Europeans were lured by the promise of making a big fortune out of slave trading, to the detriment of Africans who were taken captive. The desire to make a sizeable amount of money and the insensibility of land owners had blinded them to see that these Africans were fellow human beings and should be treated humanely.

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A significant aspect of the entire process involved partnering with Africans. While it is shocking to see how one race could brutally treat another, it is more startling to see how a fellow African could exploit its own kind. Fellow Africans play a key role in helping European traders to succeed. They are responsible for the capture of their own countrymen, snatching and detaining them to a slave factory located at the western coast of Africa (Hibbert 127). Many do not reach the coast, since they could not survive being forced to march as far as 1,000 miles chained and with little food. Those who do were forcibly held in the factory, where working conditions were deplorable and food was scarce. Detention could range from a number of weeks to a year. These African human smugglers would exchange their ‘goods’ for guns, fabrics, metal products for weapons and farm tools, beads, or even cowry shells and other insignificant items brought by their European counterpart (Perry 229).

Slave trading then became a lucrative business. There were written accounts of the horrific conditions with which captured Africans were subjected to. One captive slave named Olaudah Equiano vividly described through his own experience, the ordeal of many African slaves (Winds of Revolution 123). For this reason, some slaves had come to regard death a blissful way of ending the hardship. From the onset of their captivity to the point of slavery, slaves were deprived of any right to choose for themselves. Slaves were regarded more as a piece of property than a worker. Men, women, or children, common or of noble descent, all were taken captive for selling. Their ‘fate’ totally depended on the hands of their captors and ‘owners’ (Ferguson and Bruun 569-590).

The Slave-Trade Route and The Middle Passage

The course of trading by the Europeans involved different stages. The Middle Passage was usually associated with the trans-Atlantic shipment of human cargoes either to the Americas or the Caribbean. Strictly speaking however, the term was used to describe the second of a three-part stage of a trading process which includes the transportation of captured Africans. This also meant that traders are able to make a big size of income since every stage is able to produce a large amount of profit.

The first part starts with the Europeans carrying goods to Africa that will be used to trade-in for the African slaves. Upon completion of negotiations, the now empty vessel is now replenished with purchased humans. The Middle Passage or otherwise known as the “middle” leg then begins --- the second part of the trading route.

This voyage would often take two to three months before reaching America or other destinations in Europe. During bad weathers, the trip could stretch as long as four months. Those who survive the trip were sold and the huge profit was used to purchase products such as sugar. The traders will make another huge profit, as they sell these goods in their return trip to Europe, the last part of the voyage (Winds of Revolution 122).

Conditions During the Voyage

Those taken to the slave ships were treated worse than animals. The decks were cramped and did not leave much room for standing. Men and women in shackles were packed closely. They were required to lie on their backs, with their heads on another slave’s leg. Such a horrible position caused them to lie down on human discharges of another’s feces, urine, and at times even blood all throughout the passage. The air was putrid for breathing.

Consequently, such poor conditions in cargo ships led to the rapid spread of diseases that took the life of many these people. Those who died were thrown overboard to keep sickness from spreading further. In order to control any rebellion, the crew often resorted to cruelty. Women were often abused sexually.

The poor physical conditions within the ship, the lack of food, the cruelty of their captors, and the uncertainty of the future caused others to attempt suicide. Traders however, would want as much as each slaves to survive, simply for profit’s sake. When a slave attempts to commit suicide through self-imposed starvation, the method of force-feeding was used.  Others sought death by jumping off the ship. If it is of any consolation, members of the crew’s ship were treated just a little better than the slaves. Others also experienced being severely beaten by their captain. One account even records of a crew who sought his watery death than continue the agony of being repeatedly beaten (Winds of Revolution 124-129).

Reason for Choosing Africans as Slaves

When Spain and Portugal took off plans for exploration, it ended in human exploitation. As they reached and colonized parts of the Americas, Native Americans proved extremely difficult for forced labor since they were unaccustomed to agricultural work. They also exhibited poor resistance to Old World diseases. Their familiarity of the surroundings made it extremely difficult for the Europeans to prevent them from escaping.

Meanwhile, a small portion of Africans slavery was already being practiced in its outposts in Africa. Europeans had taken the idea from an African practice of enslaving war prisoners.  African characteristics were also observed to be a lot better: Africans were found to be more useful and stronger than the Native Americans. Since they were used to a hotter climate and agricultural work, Africans did not easily fell prey to European diseases. All these factors caused Europeans to rely more on Africans for slavery.


The practice was deeply rooted in greed. Actions to counter slavery met with great resistance and were relatively slow. It even tore America apart during a bitter civil war. The dispute concerning slavery continued for many generations between those who are for or against it. England passed the abolition of slavery in 1833 and anyone caught violating the law was fined as much as ₤ 20 million (Checkland 341). Other European nations also followed suit.

Towards its abolition, great damage was already done on the economic, political, and social aspects of Africa. Since wealth was concentrated on slave-trading and possessed only by a few hands; acquired wealth was not used for the development of the land to benefit its entire society. Africa lost much of their human wealth and for four hundred years, suffered the consequences --- losing potential leaders and good laborers for its own advancement. Those transported became alienated from their culture of origin (Perry 231).

As for the following generations of those people who were transported, the struggle still continuous for people of color even thousands of years after the abolition of slave trading in America and the Western countries. Many still feel the sting of living from the taint of stereotyping created by the past. It left a legacy of racism present in some parts of society today. Although the practice should remain buried in the past, looking back on this bitter history should keep aflame all efforts to prevent it from recurring again.

Traders before referred to it as a necessary evil. However, no amount of reason should be sufficient enough to allow anyone to exploit or even look down on its fellow human being.

Works Cited:

  • Checkland, S.G. The Rise of Industrial Society in England, 1815-1885. Great Britain: Longman, 1964.
  • Cowell, Alan. Killing the Wizards. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.
  • Ferguson, Wallace, and Geoffrey Bruun. A Survey of European Civilization 3rd ed. USA: The Riverside Press, 1958).
  • Hibbert, Cristopher. Africa Explored: Europeans in the Dark Continent (1769-1889). London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1982.
  • Perry, Marvin. Unfinished Journey: A World History. USA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983.
  • Winds of Revolution AD 1700-1800. USA: Time-Life Books, 1991.

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Middle passage of slavery. (2017, Apr 07). Retrieved from

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