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Middle Passageunlocked

Middle Passageunlocked

  • Anita RupprechtAnita RupprechtSchool of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Brighton


The term “Middle Passage” invokes the unparalleled experience of dispossession, suffering, community, and resistance associated with the global and globalizing history of forced African transportation and racial enslavement between the 16th and 19th centuries. Over nearly four centuries, an estimated 12.5 million Africans endured this sea passage, and nearly two million Africans died. “Middle Passage” is freighted with multiple allusions, however, having been first popularized in the late 18th century by European abolitionists campaigning against the horrors of the slave trade and latterly appropriated as a powerful political and cultural symbol for the historical travails of African diasporic peoples. It still carries older Eurocentric meanings, even as Black Atlantic cultural memory and Africanist scholars have shifted its historical and cultural references.


  • Colonial Conquest and Rule
  • Slavery and Slave Trade

Chronology of the Middle Passage

Historically, Europeans referred to the Atlantic crossing as “middle” because it was the second stage of the three-part colonial trading circuit that connected Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Ships sailing the first stage of the triangular sea route carried textiles, tobacco, firearms, gunpowder, metal, alcohol, and sundry manufactured goods from European ports to the West and Central West African coast. Having exchanged these commodities for African captives, slave traders sailed across the Atlantic to the New World. Finally, colonial goods—sugar, rum, tobacco, and cotton—were shipped from the Americas back to Europe. The Spanish, Dutch, French, and British, and to a lesser extent North Americans, were the primary slave traders who plied part or all of the triangular route for the three centuries during which the Atlantic slave trade developed, flourished, and declined. South of the equator, the Atlantic slave trade was dominated by Portuguese and Luso-Brazilian merchants. This sea route was governed by the countervailing southern hemispheric regime of winds and currents of the southern Atlantic following a bilateral pattern between West Africa and South America. While “Middle Passage” still evokes the Northern Atlantic maritime circuit, the Atlantic crossing is also understood as one element in a much longer journey into racial enslavement, which often originated hundreds of miles inland from the West African coastal ports where captives were forced aboard transatlantic slave ships.1 Moreover, the Middle Passage did not necessarily end for African captives when transatlantic slaving vessels reached their destinations in the Americas. So-called “domestic” and intercolonial slave traders sold, and immediately transhipped, many Africans again before they reached the places where they would be forced to labor.2

The earliest transatlantic slaving voyages departed not from Africa but from Spain at the beginning of the 16th century. The vessels making this journey carried captive and “Iberianized” Africans who were forced to mine gold in the Spanish Antilles. It is believed that the final slaving ship sailed from Africa to Cuba in 1867.3 Historians tend to divide the era of the transatlantic slave trade into three distinct time periods. Spain and Portugal opened up, and then dominated, the slaving route until 1642.4 In the mid-17th century, the slave trade began to expand rapidly, reaching its peak in the mid- to late 18th century. During this period, Northern Europeans—Dutch, French, and English merchants—entered the slave trade, capitalizing on the increasing demand for enslaved labor created by the expansion of plantation sugar production from South America northward and eastward into the Caribbean. Denmark, Sweden, and the German state of Brandenburg also despatched slave ships to Africa before 1700, and, by the 1730s, British North Americans were also forcibly conveying captives across the Atlantic. England became the leading slave trading nation during the 18th century, carrying more captives to the Americas than any other European country. While all slave traders sailed along the African coastline, particular regions of West and West Central Africa became associated with certain European nations for periods of time. For example, the Portuguese traded heavily with Luanda and Benguela, the key ports of West Central Africa, and in southern Senegambia. The English dominated commerce in the Bight of Biafra, transporting 87 percent of all captives taken from this region during the 18th century. The Dutch captured the market on the Gold Coast and eastward to the Ivory Coast. Prior to the revolutionary rising in Saint Dominque in 1791, French slavers exploited ports north of the Congo River. Northeastern European vessels traded along the eastern Gold Coast.5

Figure 1. Vue du Cap Francais et du n[avi]re la Marie Seraphique de Nantes, Capitaine Gaugy, le jour de l’ouverture de sa vente, troisieme voyage d’Angole, 1772, 1773 (View of Cap Francais and the Marie Seraphique of Nantes, Captain Gaugy, the day of its opening of its sale [after] its third voyage from Angola, 1772, 1773).

Source: Watercolor courtesy of unknown artist, in Musèe du Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne, Nantes, France. Slavery Images: A Visual record of the African Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Early African Diaspora.

European nations began a protracted process of outlawing their parts in the slave trade in the early 19th century. It took over thirty years for all nations to pass legislation banning new supplies of African labor to the Americas. As Cuban and Brazilian sugar production boomed, Spanish and Portuguese vessels came to dominate the trade again during this period. Denmark outlawed its slave trade in 1792, a ban that was implemented in 1803. The passing of anti–slave trade legislation by Britain in 1807 and the United States in 1808 had a significant impact on the volume of slaving traffic across the Atlantic. The Dutch passed a ban in 1814, and the Spanish signed a treaty agreeing to outlaw the trade in 1817. France passed legislation in 1817, although the ban was not effective until 1826. Portugal was the last nation to implement a complete ban in 1836, by which time African rulers had begun to sign anti–slave trade treaties. Britain played a leading role in pressing other nations to pass legislation and in policing the Atlantic off the West African coasts. Both diplomatic and military strategies were shaped by interimperial rivalry. Issues of legal sovereignty, the designation of piracy, and the nascent status of international law made the outlawing of slaving a protracted process.6 Despite the legislation, and naval efforts to suppress the trade, Africans continued to be forced to make the Middle Passage for the next three decades. The development of complex illegal slave-trafficking networks ensured that four million captives were carried from the African coasts from the beginning of the 19th century to the 1860s, approximately one-third of all captives that endured the Atlantic crossing.7

Outfitting for the Middle Passage

The Middle Passage was central to the global and globalizing trade infrastructures developed by European imperial and mercantilist expansionism. European nations developed their part in the slave trade by first forming state-backed, joint stock, monopoly trading companies. Until the early 17th century, the Portuguese held a monopoly position in Africa, carrying on an exclusive trade in gold, ivory, and Africans. The Dutch West Indian merchants were the first serious challengers to this captive market followed by French and English company traders.8 Beginning in the early 18th century, the regulated monopolies began to collapse under pressure from increasing numbers of independent merchants, called interlopers or free-traders, seeking to profit from the dramatically expanding demand for enslaved African labor in the American colonies.

Slave trade ventures were highly specialized operations that carried high investment costs and considerable risks. As one Liverpool commentator put it in 1795,

The African commerce . . . holds forward one constant train of uncertainty, the time of slaving is precarious, the length of the middle passage uncertain, a vessel may be in part, or wholly cut off, mortalities may be great, and various other incidents may arise impossible to be foreseen.9

By the late 17th century, specially adapted marine insurance policies underwrote the particular hazards associated with the Middle Passage. Lloyd’s of London became a key financial hub for agents who arranged marine insurance coverage that compensated for “losses” arising from shipboard resistance but not those resulting from “natural death.”10

Outfitting a vessel bound for the African coasts could take months, as captains with suitable reputations and negotiating skills were sought, unusually large crews of skilled artisan and sailors were hired, and ships were provisioned and stocked with appropriate trade goods. The largest outfitting expense was the cargo. Merchants knew that their financial success depended on meeting specific, and frequently shifting, regional demand at particular ports on the African coast. This knowledge derived from experience but also directly from trading contacts in Africa. For example, an African agent, Egboyoung Offeong, wrote from Old Calabar to Liverpool merchants in 1783, to confirm that a “very fine Cargo” had arrived, but “we wante[d] more iron bar[s] and Romalls [cloth] and [gun]powde[r] and ordnance . . . as them be the Finest thing for our trade.” He also asked for “Round White & Round green and round yellow bead[s].”11

In order to accommodate the nuances of the African market, slave ships departed European and American ports as floating emporiums laden with regionally and globally sourced commodities, including Virginian tobacco, Swedish bar iron, Dutch guns, Venetian glass beads imported from Livorno, cowrie shells from the Maldives, and, most importantly, Indian cloth. Brazilian slaving merchants also purchased a wide variety of Indian textiles importing them from Goa, either via Lisbon or shipping them directly to Luanda.12 These latter observations are a reminder that the term “triangular trade” does not adequately describe the global map of the sea routes and markets that supported trafficking in African lives. Ukawsaw Gronniosaw’s autobiography, first published in England in 1770, provides a glimpse of the lethal contingencies of supply and demand in the African slave market. Captives could be killed if they were not saleable.13 Remembering how he thought he would be killed when a French trader refused to purchase him, Gronniosaw recorded that he was grateful when a Dutch captain purchased him on the Gold Coast for “two yards of check, which is of more value there, than in England.”14 The African abolitionist Ottobah Cuguono saw the exact price for which he was sold away as a child: “a gun, a piece of cloth, and some lead.”15

The Middle Passage Voyage

As Marcus Rediker has noted, “the slave ship was a strange and potent combination of war machine, mobile prison and factory.”16 Heavily armed to repel attack from without and within, and especially adapted to confine and control human cargoes, slavers were mobile sites of human rendering, unparalleled transformation, and death. While early abolitionists struggled to find words to describe generally the conditions of the Middle Passage, the very few first-person accounts written by Africans testify to the horror of their experience by their sheer brevity.17

Quantifying and explaining the rates of mortality aboard transatlantic slaving vessels has long been central to economic and sociohistorical studies of the slave trade, and a subject of intense debate.18 It is estimated that 20 percent or one-fifth of captives died during the crossing prior to 1600, and by the second half of the 18th century, the figure was 12 percent. During the 19th century, when the transatlantic slave trade had been outlawed by nearly all Atlantic nations, mortality rates rose again.19 Prior to this period (often referred to as the illegal slave trade), adjustments to ship design and medical care may have allowed more captives to survive. In Britain’s case, the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1788, which legislated for the numbers of Africans carried according to the tonnage of a ship, may have had some impact.20 The location of departure has been strongly linked with the likelihood of death. Peoples transported from the Bight of Biafra had markedly lower survival rates than those taken from the Gold Coast, West Central Africa, and Sierra Leone.21 The chances of survival, however, were subject largely to the circumstances of a particular voyage. Once aboard, the prior health of the captives, outbreaks of uncontrollable disease, dehydration, physical abuse and injury, deep despair, and the lure of self-destruction were some of the factors that determined who lived and who died. The length of a voyage, the season, diet, and provisions also affected the mortality of captives.22

Slave ships or “Guineamen” carried at least 50 percent more crew members than similarly sized merchant vessels. Mariners labored at sailing the ship, reprovisioning the vessel when off the African coast, and in supervising and subordinating the captive human cargo during the Middle Passage.23 In order to maintain control over large numbers of peoples, captains and their crews developed distinctive and brutal daily routines of feeding, washing, and “exercising” captives. On their embarkation, African men, women, and children—the very young and the very old—were stripped of their personal clothing and other adornments, divided by sex, and confined below decks. Ships’ holds were modified to accommodate as many bodies as possible via the construction of platforms upon which captives were forced to lie.24 Most commonly, men were shackled to each other where they lay, while women and children tended to be left unconstrained.25 On the majority of ships, Africans were brought on deck twice a day for sustenance and air. Barricades often divided the upper deck in order to keep men separated from the women and captives from the officers and crew. When captives were on deck, sailors used whips to compel captives to move their bodies or “dance” on the understanding that it would assuage the physical and mental effects of their confinement. The violently coerced social dynamic aboard slave ships was complex and volatile. Male captives were sometimes charged with sailing the ship when crew sickness and death diminished numbers. Women were sometimes made to work as cooks. Captains employed African linguists to convey orders and to extract information.26 Slave traders enlisted African guardians to police and intimidate fellow captives on early Portuguese slave ships. The Royal African Company also engaged guardians, although this practice did not extend beyond the 17th century.27

Forced together in such tightly confined airless spaces for long periods of time, and with no possibility of maintaining personal hygiene, captives were extremely vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious disease. Physical and mental depletion further eroded immune systems and increased susceptibility to illness.28 Ships’ surgeons could do little to prevent smallpox, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, dysentery, yellow fever, or ophthalmia spreading uncontrollably through a ship, often with catastrophic results.29 Moreover, all European ships’ officers were confronted by lost profits stemming not only from infectious sickness but also from collective despair.30 Despite the fact that wooden platforms or nettings were attached to the sides of vessels to prevent Africans from taking their own lives, many leapt overboard. Having been consumed by the slave trade, death was believed to be a way of returning to Africa.31 Slave traders understood this deadly anguish in terms of racial pathology. The French used the term la mélanolie noire, and Brazilians used the Afro-Portuguese word banzo.32 In 1791, Isaac Wilson, a British ship’s surgeon, attributed “melancholy” as the “primary cause” for two-thirds of the 155 captives who died of “flux” aboard the Elizabeth.33

Figure 2. Stowage of the British Slave Ship Brookes under the Regulated Slave Trade Act of 1788.

Source: Courtesy of Broadside collection, rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (Portfolio 282-43); and Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-44000. See also Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library, Slavery Images: A Visual Record of the African Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Early African Diaspora.

Nineteenth-century abolition laws and suppression efforts altered the conditions of the Middle Passage as demand for enslaved labor expanded dramatically in Cuba and Brazil.34 Between 1800 and 1850, 3.7 million captives were forced aboard slave ships in Africa. The transatlantic slave trade expanded for the first twenty years after Britain and America passed abolition laws in 1808. Spanish, Portuguese, and American slave traders trafficked over a million Africans, which occurred after Portugal became the final nation to outlaw the slave trade in 1836.35 Most captives were deported from Central West Africa.36 During this period, the proportion of women who crossed the Atlantic declined, and the number of children dramatically increased. By the 1850s, children under fifteen represented nearly half of all captive Africans disembarking in the Americas.37

Given the risks of interception by naval patrols off the coast of Africa and in Caribbean and Brazilian waters, illegal traffickers favored fast, technologically advanced American-built slaving vessels. Many of these vessels were supplied by the shipyards of Baltimore and other ports along the eastern seaboard. American companies based in Rio de Janeiro also advertised US-built slave ships and slave trading equipment. Slave ships that had been captured, condemned, and sold by the Courts of Mixed Commission were also recycled back to the illegal traffickers.38 Whereas previously, slavers might have spent months on the African coast, illegal slave traders aimed to fill their vessels and depart the shore as quickly as possible. Captives spent longer penned in barracoons as large groups of people were assembled prior to their rapid collective embarkation. When illegal slave ships were sighted by naval ships, they gave chase. Crews jettisoned evidence of the nature of their voyage—chains, shackles, platforms, and cauldrons—in order to disguise their intent. If the Middle Passage was already underway, slavers attempted to outsail or outgun their pursuers.39 The Spanish slave ship Carlos was intercepted by the British navy near Guadeloupe as it made for Cuba in 1813. The brig was “under 200 tons.” It had crossed the Atlantic with 512 captives and eighty-two crew members aboard. On being pursued by the warship, eighty Africans were jettisoned into the sea, before it was captured and escorted into Antigua to be condemned in the Vice Admiralty Court, by which time 20 percent of those trapped aboard had died.40

Insurrections Aboard Slave Ships

The structures of the Atlantic slave trade were shaped by the captives’ collective resistance to being transported. European shipping records, newspapers, slave traders’ journals, and letters provide rich evidence of both fear of shipboard insurrection and its, often catastrophic, consequences. It has been estimated that up to 10 percent of all slaving ships experienced shipboard revolts with a marked increase in recorded incidences during the second half of the 18th century.41 On French ships, there was on average one rising in every twenty-five voyages.42 These figures gloss the more generally accepted assessment that very few voyages were completed without the threat or discovery of conspiracies that may or may not have exploded. The full extent of the Africans’ violent struggle against their captors remains unknown.43 Men, women, boys, and girls fought their oppressors.44 Boston merchant Samuel Waldo wrote to Captain Samuel Rhodes before he departed for Africa in 1734, warning him about the financial and mortal dangers of complacency:

For your safety as well as mine . . . You’ll have the needful guard over your Slaves, and put not too much Confidence in the Women nor Children lest they happen to be Instrumental to your being surprised which may be fatall.45

Like other merchant ships, slave ships were armed, but they carried an extra array of weapons designed to intimidate and, if necessary, to quell attacks from within, as well as without. Chests of small arms and shells were stowed aboard. Cannon- and swivel-mounted short-barreled muskets were positioned around the quarterdecks pointing inward so as to be able to rake the deck in the event of a rising. Hatchways were closely watched by armed mariners. Captives attempted to rise at all stages of the Middle Passage. The period while waiting for a ship to be filled carried the highest risk of revolt and the potential “loss” of captives, cargo, and even the ship. For this reason, underwriters often excluded what was termed “trading in boats” from their insurance policies.46 The proximity of the African coast meant that many grasped opportunities to make for the land they could still see. For example, seventy men rose up on the Mermaid off the coast of Angola in 1792 while many of the crew were onshore collecting wood. They wrested the carpenter’s maul from him, beat off their chains, and attempted to break through the peak bulkhead. The remaining crew fired on the captives through the hatches. When that failed, they twice threw lighted gunpowder below in an effort to subdue them. Finally, the crew sent “Six of the Natives down with Cutlasses” upon which they finally surrendered. Thirty captives were severely wounded, and nineteen died from their burns during the first four weeks of the voyage.47 Sometimes, collective resistance was successful. Off the Gold Coast in 1729, those imprisoned aboard the British vessel Clare “rose and making themselves Masters of the Gunpowder and Firearms” and forced the captain and crew to abandon the ship, after which the Africans ran the ship ashore and made their escape.48

Figure 3. Revolt Aboard a Slave Ship, 1787.

Source: Courtesy of Carl B. Wadstrom, An Essay on Colonization, particularly applied to the Western coast of Africa . . . in Two Parts (London 1794, 1795), fold-out included in pocket attached to cover, Slavery Images: A Visual Record of the African Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Early African Diaspora.

Vessels often weighted anchor by stealth at night so that captives would not see the coast receding. On reaching the open Atlantic, the realization that there was no possibility of return could lead to desperate action. In 1787, Ottobah Cogoano recalled his departure from Cape Coast. He wrote, “when we found ourselves at last taken away, death was more preferable to life, and a plan was concerted amongst us, that we might burn and blow up the ship, and perish altogether in the flames.” It was agreed that the women and boys would set fire to the ship, given that the men “were chained and pent up in holes.” The conspiracy was betrayed by one of his countrywomen while enduring sexual assault. The punishments that followed the discovery of conspiracies to rise were merciless. All Cugoano recorded was that “the discovery” was “a cruel and bloody scene.”49

While incidences of violent resistance decreased during the Atlantic crossing, the struggle continued. When captured by the British Navy off St. Thomas in 1807, Joseph Viall, the captain of the Charleston-bound Nancy, reported that he and his crew had spent the voyage in fear, as they failed repeatedly to subdue the captives. A mariner, keeping watch at night, had unleashed his gun into the hold killing a man. He had stabbed another to death for fear about what he might do. Viall reported that he had been finally compelled to change his course because “the Slaves ha[d] several Times risen on the crew.”50 When the illegal French slaver La Belle was captured by the British Navy in 1815 and brought into Antigua, an abolitionist who inspected the ship reported that the captives had “mutinied” on four different occasions during the Middle Passage. On inquiring about the ship’s carpenter, who was clamped in irons on deck, he was told that the man was deranged. Nobody would divulge the precise cause of the white man’s condition, but they did say that he had gone missing during one of the risings and was supposed to have been killed by the captives.51 Africans were often driven to rise as vessels approached landfall in the Americas. In 1808, the Leyander was found drifting some 250 miles off the coast of South Carolina with fifty-six captives aboard and no crew. The captives said that the sailors had all died, but it was later surmized that they had been killed or driven overboard.52 Africans continued to be transhipped once they had made the Atlantic crossing and continued to resist transportation. Indeed, the most well-known maritime risings occurred on voyages between ports in the Americas, including aboard the Tryal in 1805, the Amistad in 1839, and the Creole in 1841.53 On the latter two occasions, the captives succeeded in regaining their freedom.

Impacts and Memories of the Middle Passage

Describing the impact of the Middle Passage on those who survived it, and on their descendants, continues to defy the limits of representation, and it remains a recurring point of reference for many Black Atlantic artists, writers, poets, and philosophers. For anthropologists and historians, explaining and mapping the historical continuities and transformations that shaped modern African diasporic identities, cultures, and politics have been critical and contentious issues. The role of the Middle Passage in this process may never be fully understood. The violence of capture, dispossession, and transportation destroyed the structures of kinship and belonging that gave meaning to those who were driven from their homes, often far inland, and forced to journey to the coast before boarding slave ships.

In response, individuals struggled to reconstitute social and affective connections long before they reached the coast and then below decks at sea. In his autobiography, Olaudah Equiano recalled how he was kidnapped from his home with his sister. He vividly describes how they traveled together for a time before being separated. Later, he describes his joy at being unexpectedly reunited with her and then his devastation when she is taken away from him a second time before he reached the coast. He was carried aboard a slaving vessel alone. His ability to orient himself began when he found “countrymen” below decks who spoke his language.54 Unlike Equiano, other captives boarded ships alongside people with whom they had previously shared the coffle or the barracoon. When slaving raids swept up whole families, neighborhoods, or settlements, blood relations, neighbors, and friends could find themselves aboard the same vessel.55

Yet, as the coast receded from view, new attachments and forms of solidarity were born out of the intensity of collective suffering and resistance at sea. Cinqué and the multiethnic group of insurgents who rose up on the Amistad were able to draw on, and further develop, a powerful set of connections. Most were Mende, and almost all were multilingual. They all came from communities overseen by secret Poro societies. They were penned together on the Gallinas coast before being forced aboard the transatlantic slave ship Teçora. They were again held together in barracoons in Havana prior to being sold and forced aboard the Amistad.56

The widespread and lasting significance of the kinship bonds forged by Africans during the transatlantic crossing is evident in the fact that terms for them can be found in a variety of languages in the Americas. Africans came ashore in Virginia and the English Caribbean colonies as “shipmates.” In the Dutch colonies, individuals who had crossed the Atlantic together called each other “sippi” or “sibbi.” In Brazil, the name for the kinship bond forged at sea was “malungo,” derived from the Mbunde word “malunga,” which were ancient symbols brought from the sea. For captives transported from Angolan ports, associating these newly formed bonds with ancestors from the sea activated cultural memory in the present and secured their significance. In contrast, in Haiti, the term was linguistically new. “Batiment” is the Haitian Creole term for ship.57 There are many examples of the enduring importance of these affiliations in the struggle against enslavement. In the American South and the Caribbean, shipmates absconded from plantations together, sought for each other when separated, and ran to places where it was known that other shipmates labored.58 The ties of “fictive kinship” survived for decades where shipmates stayed together in the same place helping to secure community and identity.59 Understood as familial, enduring and extremely precious to enslaved Africans and their descendants, these bonds of solidarity attest “to the role the memory of the slave ship played in their pursuit of viable personhood in unfamiliar American worlds.”60

Identifying the origins of the distinctive cultural forms and practices Africans carried with them across the Atlantic, and that then further developed in the context of enslavement, have been central to the study of the Atlantic slave trade for over four decades. Debates about how precisely to model the process of cultural transmission and transformation between West and West Central Africa and the Americas continue to shape cultural, anthropological, and historical inquiry. While the Middle Passage was historically pivotal to forging African identities in the Americas, it nevertheless holds an ambiguous place in the extensive and diverse scholarship. Most generally, two theoretical frameworks have been at stake in these debates. In the 1970s, anthropologists emphasized the sheer diversity of the millions of peoples who arrived continuously in the Americas over four centuries, viewing the Middle Passage as a world-shattering experience that severed captive Africans from their social structures, institutions, and cultural memories. While not denying the importance of culturally specific African memories in the building of identities and community in the Americas, they focused on the necessary newness or cultural creativity of diverse Africans in response to their natal dispossession, their sea passages and their enslavement in the Americas.61 Their “creolization” model has since been challenged by Africanist cultural and social historians and complicated by the findings of the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database.

The availability of detailed empirical information regarding regularized trading patterns and routes between specific entrepots on either side of the Atlantic has enabled scholars to map the development of regional groupings of Africans possessing similar ethnolinguistic backgrounds over time in a variety of ways. In this scholarly context, the Middle Passage functions as a conduit telegraphing cultural continuities from one side of the Atlantic to the other, thus connecting particular African knowledge and lifeways with particular cultural forms and practices that evolved on the “new soil” of the Americas.62 The historical analysis of the ways in which enslaved Africans were able to recoup key aspects of their former societies and lives in the Americas raises complex analytical and methodological questions in relation to the precise place of the Middle Passage in terms of the relationship between theorizations of ethnogenesis and their material histories.63 For example, the extent to which different African cultural formations were creolized—as a result of historical “extraversion”—prior to, and during, contact with the transatlantic slave trade complicates the identification of essentialized cultural dynamics.64 Moreover, that some cultural forms and categories of African ethnicity appear to confirm connections that link enslaved Americans to their particular African homelands might be understood in terms of the after-effects of the traumatic violence of Middle Passage dispossession. In this sense, the slave ship was a mobile crucible of violently forced social and cultural transformations as much as a conduit via which complex identities and cultural forms were channeled from Africa to the Americas.65

Discussion of the Literature

The Middle Passage has received much less scholarly attention than the other key institution of Atlantic enslavement: the plantation. In the 21st century, however, scholarship has developed apace. Thirty years after the last slave ship crossed the Atlantic, W. E. B. Du Bois published The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638–1870.66 George Francis Dow published a selection of historical narratives in 1927. In the context of mid-20th-century anticolonial, pan-Africanist, and Black freedom struggles, African American historians Lorenzo Greene and Darold Wax drew attention to African resistance aboard slave ships.67 Eric Williams’s Capitalism & Slavery and Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa centered the Atlantic slave trade at the heart of the development of capitalism. Daniel Mannix and Malcolm Cowley’s Black Cargoes: A History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1518–1865 marks the last study providing a general social history of the transatlantic slave trade prior to the publication of Philip Curtin’s The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census, which set out to answer scientifically the question of how many African were transported during the entire period of the Atlantic slave trade.68

Curtin’s statistical research redirected slave trade scholarship. A wave of economic and business histories, based on quantitative methods, began to examine the Middle Passage, as an aspect of the wider Atlantic slave trade, in terms of its development, organization, investment patterns and profitability, demography, mortality rates, and the establishment of Atlantic trading routes by individual European nations over time. Notable were those by Roger Anstey on Britain’s slave trade, Johannes Postma on the Dutch slave trade, Robert Louis Stein on the French slave trade, and Joseph Miller on the Portuguese slave trade.69 Herbert S. Klein’s The Middle Passage: Comparative Studies in the Atlantic Slave was the first comparative study synthesizing general characteristics of the Atlantic slave trade.70 These issues were subjected to ongoing debate and update during the 1980s, marked in particular by David Eltis’s important comparative study of the 19th century slave trade.71 David Richardson and David Eltis’s edited book Routes to Slavery: Direction, Ethnicity and Mortality in the Transatlantic Slave Trade brought together the latest findings on African and crew mortality and flows of captive labor and contributed to a parallel developing body of research mapping the historical movement of particular ethnic groups from Africa to the Americas. The 1990s witnessed publications addressing African agency in the Atlantic slave trade, and on the making of the African diaspora, with key works by John Thornton, Michael A. Gomez, and Paul Lovejoy.72 Hugh Thomas’s The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440–1870 offers a sweeping descriptive account largely of slave traders rather than captives. Klein’s now classic The Atlantic Slave Trade contains a much-referenced overview of the Middle Passage.73

The publication of the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database on CD-ROM in 1999 transformed all branches of slave trade scholarship. Containing 27,233 individual Middle Passage voyages, the database enabled searches across a range of variables, including numbers of captives aboard (often by age and sex), mortality, incidences of resistance, names of ships, captains, owners, and ports of departure and arrival.74 The first web-based version—renamed Voyages—was launched in 2008 and illuminated the previously under-appreciated volume of the south Atlantic slave trade.75 Richardson and Eltis published an edited collection and an atlas on the findings of the new database.76 To date, the database details more than 36,000 slaving voyages, an estimated 80 percent of all Middle Passage journeys. In 2018, an intra-American slave trade database added a further 11,000 slaving voyages within the Americas. The updated database informed a fresh wave of African Atlantic diaspora studies, including Toyin Falola and Matt Childs on the Yoruba diaspora, Toyin Falola and Rafael Chijioke Njoku on the Igbo diaspora, Kwasi Konadu on the Akan diaspora, and Linda Heywood and James Sweet on the forced migration of Central Africans to South America.77

Social and cultural historians have also begun to problematize the nature of the abstract knowledge produced by large-scale quantitative and data-driven economic analyses. While the database remains a key resource for scholars of the Middle Passage, acknowledgement of the risks associated with replicating the dehumanizing data produced by the slave traders has shaped alternative historical approaches to Middle Passage studies. For example, focus has turned to recovering the violent social worlds of the slave ship and to the personal stories submerged beneath the anonymizing numbers. Eric Robert Taylor’s If We Must Die: Shipboard Insurrections in the Era of the Atlantic Slave Trade documents and examines nearly 500 risings aboard transatlantic slave ships.78 Marcus Rediker’s The Slave Ship: A Human History centers the slave ship as a key technology of capitalist development and labor subordination drawing on (mostly) English archives to dramatize, and humanize, the bloody struggles between captains, sailors, and African captives from the vantage point of the decks of the slave ship.79 Emma Christopher’s Slave Ship Sailors and their Captive Cargoes, 1730–1807 turns attention to slave ship sailors and their role in commoditizing African captives.80 Robert Harms, John Bryant, James Walvin, and Sean Kelley eschew generalization by producing detailed narratives of individual slaving voyages.81 David Northrup and Jerome Handler recover narratives produced by Africans sold into the slave trade.82 Anne C. Bailey’s oral history research on transgenerational transmission of stories about the Middle Passage in southern Ghana is indicative of approaches drawing on African cultural memory and nontextual archives.83 Material culture studies and marine archaeologists are also shedding new light on the Middle Passage.84

Alongside this body of research lies a reflexive thread of Middle Passage scholarship, attuned to the ethics and politics of “archival power” and of knowledge production. For example, Stephanie Smallwood’s influential Saltwater Slavery demonstrates how practices on the West African shore, and then during the Middle Passage, violently rendered captive Africans into marketable commodities while foregrounding the interpretive limits of the slavers’ business archive for accessing the captives’ point of view.85 Saidiya Hartman engages the archive to highlight the problems associated with recuperating captive womens’ voices in an influential article, “Venus in Two Acts” (2008).86 Relatedly, Sowande’ M. Mustakeem centers the gendered nature of the Middle Passage in the article “‘She Must Go Overboard & Shall Go Overboard’: Diseased Bodies and the Spectacle of Murder at Sea.”87 Mustakeem’s book Slavery at Sea develops the lenses of sex, terror, illness, and death to shed unflinching light on the myriad of merciless ways in which enslavement was “manufactured” out of diverse individual lives at sea.88 Jennifer Morgan’s Reckoning with Slavery recovers the elusive Middle Passage experiences of African women in the early modern Atlantic world in order to center their role in the historical development of racial capitalism.89

Primary Sources

Despite the wide range of primary sources, many aspects of the Middle Passage remain difficult to research. First-person narratives or testimonies by Africans that speak to their experience of the Middle Passage are extremely rare. Most accounts are by men, and many are very brief. The most well-known autobiography is by the African abolitionist Olaudah Equiano (1789), which has been the subject of much debate.90 Other narratives include Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (1772), Quobna Ottobah Cugoano (1787), Boyrereau Brinch (1810), and Mahommah Baquaqua (1854).91 Archival fragments and interviews provide further sources. For example, Zora Neale Hurston’s 1927 interviews with Cudjoe “Kossola” Lewis, a survivor of the last North American bound slave ship Clotilda, has finally been published.92 Women’s testimonies of the Middle Passage are even more scarce. Florence Hall briefly narrated her voyage to Jamaica.93 The stories of Sally “Redoshi” Smith and Matilda McCrear, who were also aboard the Clotilda, have recently been recovered.94

Nearly all primary sources relating to the Middle Passage were created by European and American slave traders in the service of their private business interests or by state officials engaged in its colonial regulation. Quantitative sources include financial accounts, ledgers, bills of lading and of sale, and ships’ logs. Qualitative sources include journals, diaries, reports, personal correspondence, and business letters sent between merchants, slave traders, masters of slave ships, outfitters, and agents located in Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Producing these documents was central to commodifying African lives; however, by detailing the practices of the slave trade, these sources often allow for something of the captives’ experiences to be excavated. Important archival collections are located in the national archives of slave-trading nations around the Atlantic including, Arquivo Histórico Nacional de Angola, Luanda, Angola; Arquivo Nacional do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Archivo Nacional del Cuba, Havana, Cuba; Archives Nationales d’Outremer, Aix-en-Provence, France; Nationaal Archief, The Hague, Netherlands; Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino, Lisbon, Portugal; Sierra Leone Public Archives, Freetown, Sierra Leone; Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain; and the National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. Many collections are located in regional and institutional archives, for example, Archives Départmentales de la Loire-Atlantique, Nantes, France; Maritime Museum, Liverpool, United Kingdom; The New York Historical Society Manuscript Collection Relating to Slavery, New York, United States; and Humphry Morice Papers, Bank of England Archives, United Kingdom.

Late-18th century British anti–slave trade campaigners produced a rich set of documents in their efforts to portray the horrors of the Middle Passage. Alongside their pamphlets and visual materials, Thomas Clarkson assembled firsthand evidence about the Atlantic crossing by interviewing sailors in the British slaving ports of Liverpool and Bristol.95 The British government also held official inquiries into the practices of the Atlantic slave trade between 1789 and 1791 that elicited detailed testimony about the Middle Passage from slave traders, ships’ captains, and merchants.96 Slave traders and slave ship captains published narrative accounts of the Middle Passage.97 Ships’ surgeons also recorded their experiences.98 William Butterworth’s narrative is a rare account written by a slave ship sailor.99 British Parliamentary Papers (available online) are useful on the 19th-century suppression of the illegal Atlantic slave trade. The records for the “Liberated African Department,” created to administer the resettlement of African captives who were on board slave ships seized by Royal Naval patrols are held by the Public Archives of Sierra Leone. Some of these documents have been digitized by the British Library.100 Relevant sources are listed for every Middle Passage voyage in Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database.

Further Reading

  • Barcia, Manuel. The Yellow Demon of Fever: Fighting Disease in the Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Slave Trade. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2020.
  • Christopher, Emma. Slave Ship Sailors and Their Captive Cargoes, 1730–1807. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Eltis, David, and David Richardson. Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2010.
  • Fett, Sharla. Recaptured Africans: Surviving Slave Ships, Detention, and Dislocation in the Final Years of the Slave Trade. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.
  • Harris, John. The Last Slave Ships: New York and the End of the Middle Passage. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2020.
  • Klein, Herbert S. The Atlantic Slave Trade. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • Miller, Joseph C. Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade, 1730–1830. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.
  • Mustakeem, Sowande’ M. Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016.
  • Northrup, David. Africa’s Discovery of Europe, 1450–1850. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Postma, Johannes. The Dutch in the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600–1815. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
  • Rawley, James A. with Stephen D. Behrendt. The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A History. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.
  • Rediker, Marcus. The Slave Ship: A Human History. London: John Murray, 2007.
  • Rediker, Marcus. The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom. London and New York: Verso, 2013.
  • Smallwood, Stephanie. Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.
  • Taylor, Eric Robert. If We Must Die: Shipboard Insurrection in the Era of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006.
  • Thornton, John. Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1800. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Walvin, James. Crossings: Africa, the Americas and the Atlantic Slave Trade. London: Reaktion Books, 2013.


  • 1. Paul E. Lovejoy, “The African Diaspora: Revisionist Interpretations of Ethnicity, Culture and Religion under Slavery,” Studies in the World History of Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation 2, no. 1 (1997): 1–23.

  • 2. Gregory E. O’Malley, Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619–1807 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014); and Alex Borucki, David Eltis, and David Wheat, “Atlantic History and the Slave Trade to Spanish America,” The American Historical Review 120, no. 2 (2015): 433–461.

  • 3. David R. Murray, Odious Commerce: Britain, Spain and the Abolition of the Cuban Slave Trade (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 324–325.

  • 4. Robin Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492–1800 (London: Verso, 1998), 127–160.

  • 5. David Eltis and David Richardson, Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2010), 21–23.

  • 6. Jenny S. Martinez, The Slave Trade and the Origins of International Human Rights Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

  • 7. Eltis and Richardson, Atlas, 271–273; and John Harris, The Last Slave Ships: New York and the End of the Middle Passage (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2020), 13–14.

  • 8. Abdoulaye Ly, La Compagnie du Sénégal (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1958); Henk den Heijer, “The Dutch West India Company, 1621–1791,” in Riches from Atlantic Commerce, 1621–1791, ed. Johannes Postma and Victor Enthoven (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003); Kenneth G. Davies, The Royal African Company (London: Longmans, 1957); and James A. Rawley with Stephen D. Behrendt, The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A History (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005), 129–147.

  • 9. Cited in Eric Williams, Capitalism & Slavery (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 38.

  • 10. Anita Rupprecht, “Excessive Memories: Slavery, Insurance and Resistance,” History Workshop Journal 64 (2007): 5–28.

  • 11. Stephen D. Behrendt, Anthony J. H. Latham, and David Northrup, eds., The Diary of Antera Duke, an Eighteenth-Century African Slave Trader (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 56.

  • 12. Herbert S. Klein, The Atlantic Slave Trade (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 75–104.

  • 13. Randy J. Sparks, Where the Negroes Are Masters: An African Port in the Era of the Slave Trade (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), 155.

  • 14. James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, an African Prince, as Related by Himself (Leeds, UK: David and Booth, 1811), 10.

  • 15. Quobna Otttobah Cugoano, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery (London: Penguin, 1999), 14.

  • 16. Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History (London: John Murray, 2007), 9.

  • 17. David Northup, Africa’s Discovery of Europe, 1450–1850 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 164–171; and Jerome S. Handler, “Survivors of the Middle Passage: Life Histories of Enslaved Africans in British America,” Slavery & Abolition 23, no. 1 (2002): 25–56.

  • 18. Herbert S. Klein and Stanley L. Engerman, “Long-Term Trends in African Mortality in the Transatlantic Slave Trade,” in Routes to Slavery: Direction, Ethnicity and Mortality in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, ed. David Eltis and David Richardson (London: Routledge, 1997), 37–48.

  • 19. David Eltis, “Mortality and Voyage Lengths in the Middle Passage: New Evidence from the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Economic History 44, no. 2 (1994): 301–308.

  • 20. The 1788 Slave Trade Act is also known as the Dolben Act. Peter M. Solar and Nicolas J. Duquette, “Ship Crowding and Slave Mortality: Missing Observations or Incorrect Measurement,” The Journal of Economic History 77, no. 4 (2017): 1177–1202.

  • 21. David Eltis and David Richardson, “The ‘Numbers Game’ and Routes to Slavery,” in Routes to Slavery: Direction, Ethnicity and Mortality in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, ed. David Eltis and David Richardson (London: Routledge, 1997), 9.

  • 22. Joseph Miller, Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade, 1730–1830 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), 413–424; and Herbert S. Klein, The Atlantic Slave Trade (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 136–139.

  • 23. Emma Christopher, Slave Ship Sailors and Their Captive Cargoes, 1730–1807 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 163–194; and David Richardson, “Shipboard Revolts, African Authority and the Atlantic Slave Trade,” The William & Mary Quarterly 58, no. 1 (2001): 74.

  • 24. Michael K. Stammers, “‘Guineamen’: Some Technical Aspects of Slave Ships,” in Transatlantic Slavery: Against Human Dignity, ed. Anthony Tibbles (Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 1994), 31–36.

  • 25. Wilma King, “African Children and the Transatlantic Slave Trade across Time and Place,” in Ambiguous Anniversary: The Bicentennial of the International Slave Trade Bans, ed. David T. Gleeson and Simon Lewes (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2012), 52–78.

  • 26. Joan M. Fayer, “Interpreters in the Atlantic Slave Trade,” Anthropological Linguistics 45, no. 3 (2003): 281–295.

  • 27. Stephanie Smallwood, “African Guardians, European Slave Ships, and Changing Dynamics of Power in the Early Modern Atlantic,” William and Mary Quarterly 64, no. 4 (2007): 679–716.

  • 28. Sowande’ M. Mustakeem, Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016), 131–155.

  • 29. Richard B. Sheridan, “The Guinea Surgeons on the Middle Passage: The Provision of Medical Services in the British Slave Trade,” The International Journal of African Historical Studies 14, no. 4 (1981): 601–625.

  • 30. Jacques Savary, Le Parfait Negociant (Paris: Chez Jacques Lyons á Lyon, 1697), 206–207.

  • 31. William D. Pierson, “White Cannibals, Black Martyrs: Fear, Depression and Religious Faith as Causes of Suicide among New Slaves,” Journal of Negro History 62 (1972): 147–159; and John Thornton, “Cannibals, Witches and Slave Traders in the Atlantic World,” William and Mary Quarterly 60, no. 2 (2003): 273–294.

  • 32. Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440–1870 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997), 401; and Kenneth F. Kiple and Brian T. Higgins, “Mortality Caused by Dehydration during the Middle Passage,” in The Atlantic Slave Trade: Effects on Economics, Societies and Peoples in Africa, the Americas, and Europe, ed. Joseph E. Inikori and Stanley L. Engerman (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992), 328.

  • 33. John Ranby, Observations on the Evidence Given Before the Committee of the Privy Council and House of Commons in Support of the Bill for Abolishing the Slave Trade (London: John Stockdale, 1791), 290.

  • 34. David Eltis, Economic Growth and the Ending of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 125–144; and Harris, Last Slave Ships, 137–196.

  • 35. Harris, Last Slave Ships, 36.

  • 36. Daniel B. Dominques da Silva, The Atlantic Slave Trade from West Central Africa, 1780–1867 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 21.

  • 37. Sylviane Diouf, Dreams of Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 65.

  • 38. Leonardo Marques, “US Shipbuilding, Atlantic Markets, and the Structures of the Contraband Slave Trade,” in The Rise and demise of Slavery and the Slave Trade in the Atlantic World, ed. Philip Misevich and Kristin Mann (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2016), 196–219.

  • 39. Robert Burroughs, “Eyes on the Prize: Journeys of Slave Ships Taken as Prizes by the Royal Navy,” Slavery & Abolition 31, no. 1 (2010): 99–115.

  • 40. African Institution, Ninth Report of the Directors of the African Institution (London: Ellerton & Henderson, 1815), 46–47.

  • 41. Richardson, “Shipboard Revolts,” 73–74; and Stephen D. Behrendt, David Eltis, and David Richardson, “The Costs of Coercion: African Agency in the Pre-Modern Atlantic World,” Economic History Review 53, no. 3 (2001): 467–468.

  • 42. Christopher Miller, The French Atlantic Triangle: Literature and Culture of the Slave Trade (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), 52.

  • 43. Eric Robert Taylor, If We Must Die: Shipboard Insurrection in the Era of the Atlantic Slave Trade (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006), 3.

  • 44. Stella Dadzie, A Kick in the Belly: Women, Slavery and Resistance (London: Verso, 2020), 41–64; Rebecca Hall and Hugo Martinez (Illustrator), Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts (London: Particular Books, 2021); and Jessica Marie Johnson, Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy and Freedom in the Atlantic World (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020), 77–120.

  • 45. Lorenzo J. Greene, “Mutiny on the Slave Ships,” Phylon 5, no. 4 (1944): 347.

  • 46. Rupprecht, “Excessive Memories,” 21; and Christopher, Slave Ship Sailors, 147–153.

  • 47. Protest of Edward Taylor, Bristol, August 29, 1793, Chancery Masters Exhibits, C107/13, National Archives, London, UK.

  • 48. Rediker, Slave Ship, 298.

  • 49. Otttobah Cugoano, Thoughts and Sentiments, 15.

  • 50. Elizabeth Donnan, ed., Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America, vol. 3 (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1932), 395–396, 400–401; and George Francis Dow, Slave Ships and Slaving (Salem, MA: Marine Research Society, 1927), 271–272.

  • 51. African Institution, Tenth Report of the Directors of the African Institution (London: Ellerton & Henderson, 1816), 42–43.

  • 52. Thomas Bee, Reports of Cases Adjudged in the District Court of South Carolina (Philadelphia: William P. Farrand, 1810), 260–262.

  • 53. Greg Grandin, Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom and Deception in the New World (London: Picador, 2015); Marcus Rediker, The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom (London: Verso, 2013); and Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie, Rebellious Passage: The Creole Revolt and America’s Coastal Slave Trade (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

  • 54. Vincent Carretta, ed., Olaudah Equiano: The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings (London: Penguin, 1995), 46–52.

  • 55. John Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1800 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 195.

  • 56. Marcus Rediker, “The African Origins of the Amistad Rebellion, 1839,” special issue, International Review of Social History 58, no. 21 (2013): 26–28.

  • 57. Sidney Mintz and Richard Price, The Birth of African American Culture: An Anthropological Perspective (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), 43–44; and James H. Sweet, Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the African-Portuguese World, 1441–1770 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014), 31–34.

  • 58. Michael Mullin, Africa in America: Slave Acculturation and Resistance in the American South and the British Caribbean, 1736–1831 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1192), 13–61; and Philip D. Morgan, Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 444–445.

  • 59. Walter Hawthorne, “‘Being Now, as It Were, One Family’: Shipmate Bonding on the Slave Vessel Emilia, in Rio de Janeiro and throughout the Atlantic World,” Luso-Brazilian Review 45, no. 1 (2008): 53–77; and Alex Borucki, From Shipmates to Soldiers: Emerging Black Identities in the Rio de la Plata (Albuquerque: University of Mexico, 2015), 57–83.

  • 60. Smallwood, “African Guardians,” 196.

  • 61. Mintz and Price, Birth of African American, 18–19.

  • 62. Edward Brathwaite, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770–1820 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971); Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005); and Walter Hawthorne, From Africa to Brazil: Culture, Identity, and an Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600–1830 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

  • 63. James Sidbury and Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, “Mapping Ethnogenesis in the Early Modern Atlantic,” William and Mary Quarterly 68, no. 2 (2011): 181–208.

  • 64. Lisa A. Lindsay, “Extraversion, Creolization, and Dependency in the Atlantic Slave Trade,” The Journal of African History 55, no. 2 (2014): 135–145.

  • 65. Alexander X. Byrd, Captives and Voyagers: Black Migrants across the Eighteenth Century British Atlantic World (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008), 32–56; and Smallwood, “African Guardians,” 101–121.

  • 66. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638–1870 (New York: Longmans, Green, 1896).

  • 67. Greene, “Mutiny on the Slave Ships,” 346–354; and Darold Wax, “Negro Resistance to the Early American Slave Trade,” Journal of Negro History 51, no. 1 (1966): 1–15.

  • 68. Williams, Capitalism & Slavery; Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (London: Bogle-L'Ouverture, 1972); Daniel Mannix and Malcolm Cowley, Black Cargoes: A History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1518–1865 (New York: Viking Press, 1962); and Philip Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969).

  • 69. Roger Anstey, The Atlantic Slave Trade and British Abolition, 1760–1810 (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1975); Joseph C. Miller, Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade, 1730–1830 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988); Johannes Postma, The Dutch in the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600–1800 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990); and Robert Louis Stein, The French Slave Trade in the Eighteenth Century: An Old Regime Business (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979).

  • 70. Herbert S. Klein, The Middle Passage: Comparative Studies in the Atlantic Slave Trade (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978).

  • 71. Eltis, Economic Growth.

  • 72. David Richardson and David Eltis, eds., Routes to Slavery: Direction, Ethnicity and Mortality in the Transatlantic Slave Trade (London: Routledge, 1997); Thornton, Africa and Africans; Michael A. Gomez, Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998); and Paul E. Lovejoy, ed., Identity in the Shadow of Slavery (London: Continuum, 2000).

  • 73. Thomas, Slave Trade, 291–448; and Klein, Atlantic Slave Trade, 130–160.

  • 74. David Eltis, David Behrendt, David Richardson, and Herbert S. Klein, The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade: A Database on CD-ROM (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999); and Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, “New Perspectives on the Transatlantic Slave Trade,” (special issue), William & Mary Quarterly 58, no. 1 (2001).

  • 75. David Eltis, David Behrendt, Manolo Florentino, and David Richardson, Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database.

  • 76. David Eltis and David Richardson, Extending the Frontiers: Essays on the New Transatlantic Slave Trade Database (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008); and Eltis and Richardson, Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

  • 77. Toyin Falola and Matt D. Childs, eds., The Yoruba Diaspora in the Atlantic World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004); Toyin Falola and Raphael Chijioke Njoku, eds., Igbo in the Atlantic World: African Origins and Diasporic Destinations (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016); Linda M. Heywood, Central Africans and Cultural Transformations in the American Diaspora (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Kwasi Konadu, The Akan Diaspora in the Americas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); David Trotman and Paul E. Lovejoy, eds., Trans-Atlantic Dimensions of Ethnicity in the African Diaspora (London: Bloomsbury, 2003); and Sweet, Recreating Africa.

  • 78. Taylor, If We Must Die.

  • 79. Rediker, Slave Ship.

  • 80. Christopher, Slave Ship Sailors.

  • 81. Robert Harms, The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade (New York: Basic Books, 2002); Jonathan M. Bryant, Dark Places of the Earth: The Voyage of the Slave Ship, Antelope (New York: Riveright, 2015); Sean Kelley, The Voyage of the Slave Ship, Hare: A Journey into Captivity from Sierra Leone to North Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2016); and James Walvin, The Zong: A Massacre, the Law & the Ending of Slavery (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011).

  • 82. Northrup, Africa’s Discovery, 157–184; and Handler, “Survivors of the Middle Passage,” 25–56.

  • 83. Anne C. Bailey, Atlantic Voices of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Beyond the Silence and the Shame (Boston: Beacon Press, 2005).

  • 84. Jerome S. Handler, “The Middle Passage and the Material Culture of Captive Africans,” Slavery & Abolition 30, no. 1 (2009): 1–26; Jane Webster, “Looking for the Material Culture of the Middle Passage,” Journal for Maritime Research 7, no. 1 (2005): 245–258; Leif Svalesen, The Slave Ship, Fredensborg (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000); and David D. Moore and Corey Malcolm, “Seventeenth-Century Vehicle of the Middle Passage: Archaeological and Historical Investigations on the Henrietta Marie Shipwreck Site,” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 12, no. 2 (2008): 12–38.

  • 85. Stephanie Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

  • 86. Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” small axe 12, no. 2 (2008): 1–14.

  • 87. Sowande’ Mustakeem, “‘She Must Go Overboard & Shall Go Overboard’: Diseased Bodies and the Spectacle of Murder at Sea,” Atlantic Studies 8, no. 3 (2011): 301–316.

  • 88. Mustakeem, Slavery at Sea, 6.

  • 89. Jennifer L. Morgan, Reckoning with Slavery: Gender, Kinship, and Capitalism in the Early Black Atlantic (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2021).

  • 90. Carretta, ed., Olaudah Equiano; Vincent Carretta, Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man (New York: Penguin, 2005); Paul E. Lovejoy, “Autobiography and Memory: Gustavus Vassa, Alias Olaudah Equiano, the African,” Slavery and Abolition 27, no. 3 (2006): 317–347; and James H. Sweet, “Mistaken Identities? Olaudah Equiano, Domingos Alvares, and the Methodological Challenges of Studying the African Diaspora,” American Historical Review 114 (2009): 279–306.

  • 91. Otttobah Cugoano, Thoughts and Sentiments; Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars. Also in Vincent Carretta, ed., Unchained Voices: An Anthology of Black Authors in the English-Speaking World of the Eighteenth Century (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2013); Kari J. Winter, ed., The Blind African Slave: Or Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nicknamed Jeffrey Brace (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 2005); and Paul E. Lovejoy and Robin Law, eds., Biography of Mahommah G. Baquaqua: His Passage from Slavery to Freedom in Africa and America (Princeton, NJ: Markus Weiner, 2002).

  • 92. Zora Neale Hurston, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” (London: HQ, 2018).

  • 93. Randy M. Browne and John Wood Sweet, “Florence Hall’s ‘Memoirs’: Finding African Women in the Transatlantic Slave Trade,” Slavery and Abolition 37, no. 1 (2016): 206–221.

  • 94. Hannah Durkin, “Finding Last Middle Passage Survivor Sally ‘Redoshi’ Smith on the Page and Screen,” Slavery and Abolition 40, no. 4 (2019): 631–658; and Hannah Durkin, “Uncovering the Hidden Lives of Last Clotilda Survivor Matilda McCrear and Her Family,” Slavery and Abolition 41, no. 3 (2020): 431–457.

  • 95. Thomas Clarkson, The Substance of the Evidence of Sundry Persons on the Slave-Trade, Collected in the Course of a Tour Made in the Autumn of the Year 1788 (London: James Phillips, 1789).

  • 96. Sheila Lambert, ed., House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century, vols. 67–76 (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1975), 82.

  • 97. William Snelgrave, A New Account of Some Parts of Guinea, and the Slave Trade (London: Knapton, 1734); John Newton, The Journal of a Slave Trader, 1750–1754 (London: Epworth Press, 1962); and Hugh Crow, Memoirs of the Late Captain Hugh Crow, of Liverpool: Comprising a Narrative of His Life, Together with Descriptive Sketches of the Western Coast of Africa; Particularly of Bonny (London: Frank Cass, 1970).

  • 98. Alexander Falconbridge, An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa (London: J. Philips, 1788); and Dieudonné Richon, Pierre-Ignace-Liévin van Alstein, Capitaine Negrier (Dakar: Mémoires de IFAN, No. 71, 1965).

  • 99. William Butterworth, Three Years Adventures of a Minor in England, Africa, the West Indies, South-Carolina, and Georgia (Leeds, UK: Edward Baines, 1822).

  • 100. Archival Records from Liberated African Department [1808–1894] (EAP443-1), British Library.