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Middle Passage

After the British first began to settle the area, which would be come the 13 colonies, indentured servants provided the manual labor. Indentured servants would work for 4-7 years for someone who paid their passage to the Americas. As the times passed, and less people escaped the religious and economic strife in Britain, there were less indentured servants arriving to do the hard work. The British and other groups then looked to West Africa to provide the work force. The trip from the area of West Africa to the Americas was called the Middle Passage.

West African chiefs in areas such as Serra Leone would sell their criminals, prisoners of war, and handpicked denizens to sell to Europeans such as Portugal and Britain. The slaves would be moved to Bunce Island for processing. Bunce Island is located just off the West African coast. They would be check for health, ages, size, and fitness. Then they would board a ship to the Americas.

The trip from West Africa to the islands and to the Americas took about four weeks. The slaves from West Africa were desirable because of their strong build, great intelligence, and ability and knowledge concerning the rice fields. The slaves were loaded and transported much like animals. They were packed in tightly below the ship, shackled in chains, and arranged head to feet. The trip was rough and often stormy. Little food or water was given to the cargo. Many lost their lives as they traveled on these ships. Manifests can be located today, which have notes on the passengers, their conditions, and their ages. Slaves would died during the voyage were tossed over board into the ocean. I was reported that schools of sharks would follow the ships as they made their voyage and ravage those bodies tossed into the ocean. At first, most of the slaves were transported to the West Indies Islands for work, but as the South evolved and needed people to work the large rice, tobacco, and indigo fields the majority of the slaves were sold in the South. Then when cotton became king, the need for slaves increased even more. A record number of 1.5 million slaves made the voyage through the area we now refer to as the Middle Passage.

The Middle Passage was a treacherous and rough stretch of water. The conditions the slaves endured on this passage were sub-human. This period in history is indeed a dark and shameful one.


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