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The Middle Passage

The Middle Passage was the leg of the Atlantic slave trade that transported people from Africa to North America, South America and the Caribbean. It was called the Middle Passage as the slave trade was a form of Triangular trade; boats left Europe, went to Africa, then to America, and then returned to Europe.



Slave traders acquired slaves by purchasing them from numerous ports in Africa. They were able to pack nearly 300 slaves and approximately 35 crew into most slave ships. The men were normally chained together in pairs to save space — right leg to the next man's left leg — while the women and children may have had somewhat more room. The captives were fed very small portions of corn, yams, rice, and palm oil, normally just enough to sustain them. Sometimes captives were allowed to move around during the day, but many ships kept the shackles on throughout the journey.

It is estimated that 13% of the captured slaves did not survive the journey before the 18th century. Diseases, starvation, and the length of passage were the main contributors to the death toll. Many believe that overcrowding caused this outrageously high deathrate, but amoebic dysentery and scurvy were the main problems. Additionally, outbreaks of smallpox, measles, and other diseases spread rapidly in the close-quarter compartments. Slave ships might take anywhere from one to six months to cross the Atlantic depending on the weather conditions at sea. The death rate rose steadily with the length of voyage, as the risk of dysentery increased with longer stints at sea, and the quality and amount of food and water diminished with every passing day.

Precise records are not available to provide an actual death toll, but it is estimated that as many as 8 million slaves may have perished to bring 4 million to the Caribbean islands. This number does not include the slaves brought to North or South America.



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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Middle Passage ".