What is exceptional about the Middle Passage?

As Europeans looked to make money from their new lands in the Americas, they became reliant on capturing Africans, enslaving them and sending them to work as slaves in the Americas. But what was the ‘Middle Passage’? And how did this journey turn Africans into ‘Negroes’?

You can download the worksheet below. If you are unable to download the worksheet, complete the tasks in the yellow boxes.

– I can describe what the Middle Passage is.
– I can analyse a variety of sources to explain what Middle Passage journeys were like.
– I can explain how this process dehumanised Africans and turned them into ‘Negroes’.

Dehumanise = To limit someone from having the normal enjoyment human beings have. This is usually done by treating someone as if they were not a human, but instead an animal.
Negro = a racist word. This is how Europeans would describe their African slaves.
Plantation = A large farm in the Americas where sugar, cotton or tobacco is grown. Slaves would work here to harvest these.

Think back to what you learnt last lesson on Portugal and the early slave trade. On your worksheet, answer the following questions:
1) What is a colony?
2) What was the ‘New World’?
3) Why did Portugal think trading for slaves was a good idea?

TASK ONE: What was the triangular trade and the ‘Middle Passage’?

Look at Source A read the information below. Once you have done this, answer the following questions:
1) What was the ‘Middle Passage’?
2) What was the triangular trade?

What was the triangular trade and the ‘Middle Passage’?

SOURCE A: A diagram showing how the triangular trade worked from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

By the late 16th century, many European countries (including England, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark and France) had colonies in the New World that could make them very wealthy due to the resources such as sugar and tobacco that are found there. It soon became common for African slaves to be sent to the Americas to complete this work.

It is estimated that between the 16th and 19th century, 12 to 15 million African slaves were transported on slave ships along the ‘Middle Passage‘. This route took slaves from West Africa, where they would be sold to plantation owners in the Americas to produce sugar, cotton or tobacco.

Yet this was only one part of the ‘triangular trade’. The slave ships would take back the sugar, cotton and tobacco to Europe. These were then exchanged for European goods such as textiles, rum and other goods. These in turn were taken to Africa where they would be traded for more slaves, and the process would start again. This route normally took a year for slave traders, but made them extremely rich.

TASK TWO: What can we learn about the Middle Passage?

Look at sources B, C, D and E below. For each one, complete the table on your worksheet to explain:
a) What you can see in each source.
b) What this tells you about the Middle Passage.

Try to complete Source F as an extension if you can.

SOURCE B: A clip from a documentary explaining what the Middle Passage was.

SOURCE C: A diagram from the 1700s showing how slaves can be transported in a slave ship along the Middle Passage.

SOURCE D: A clip from a documentary explaining how shackles were used in the Middle Passage.

SOURCE E: An extract from Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography. Olaudah was an African man who was made a slave and later became a free man, lived in England, and wrote of his experiences.

I was soon put down under the decks, and there I received such a greeting in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life; so that with the loathsomeness of the stench, and crying together, I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat, nor had I the least desire to taste anything. I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me; but soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me [food]; and on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands, and laid me across, I think, the windlass, and tied my feed, while the other flogged [hit] me severely.
The white people looked and acted, as I thought, in so savage a manner; for I had never seen among my people such instances of brutal cruelty.

An extract from The Life of Olaudah Equiano the African (1789).

EXTENSION – SOURCE F: An extract from the writing of Alexander Falconbridge. He was a doctor that worked on slave ships in the late 1700s.

The hardships… suffered by the Negroes during the passage are scarcely to be [understood]. They are far more violently affected by seasickness than Europeans. It frequently terminates in death, especially among the women. But the exclusion of fresh air is the most intolerable.
During the voyages I made, I was frequently witness to the fatal effects of this exclusion of fresh air. [During one voyage], some wet and blowing weather having occasioned the port-holes to be shut and the gratings to be covered, [and] fevers among the Negroes ensued. While they were in this situation, I frequently went down among them till at length their room became so extremely hot as to be only bearable for a very short time. But the excessive heat was not the only thing that rendered their situation intolerable. The deck, that is the floor of their rooms, was so covered with the blood and mucus which had proceeded from them… that it resembled a slaughter-house. It is not in the power of the human imagination to picture a situation more dreadful or disgusting. Numbers of the slaves having fainted, they were carried upon deck where several of them died and the rest with great difficulty were restored. It had nearly proven fatal to me also.

An extract from An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa (1790), by Doctor Alexander Falconbridge.

TASK THREE: How did the Middle Passage dehumanise Africans?

Modern historians have argued that the Middle Passage was a ‘process of dehumanising‘ Africans, and acted as the start of racism today.

In a PEE paragraph (using the structure below), answer the following question:

Explain how the Middle Passage dehumanised Africans.

POINT: The Middle Passage dehumanised Africans in many ways.
EVIDENCE: For example, … In addition … Furthermore …
EXPLANATION: This contributed to the dehumanisation of Africans because…

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