Slave Ships & the Atlantic Crossing (Middle Passage)

  • Slave Shackles

    Photograph of iron slave shackles from an unidentified slave ship. The exhibit labeled them "Slave Shackles" from an unknown date.
  • Fers pour négres

    "Irons for Negroes" (caption translation). Boudriot's artistic interpretation shows how shackles were employed on slave ships. His drawings of the individual objects are based on the originals held in various French museums. The naval architect, Jean Boudriot (1921-2015), extensively researched naval artilleries from 1650 to 1850. Although these are not historical images, they accurately represent the conditions on board slave ships. See also image H001.
  • Vue du Cap Francais et du n[avi]re la Marie Seraphique de Nantes

    "View of Cap Francais and the Marie Seraphique of Nantes" (caption translation). One of two known artistic representations of La Marie-Sèraphique, a French ship active in the late eighteenth-century Atlantic slave trade. The full caption states "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 the opening of its sale [after] its third voyage from Angola, 1772, 1773). The image shows the purchase of slaves aft on the main deck, an iron barrier separating them from the quarter-deck, and Europeans apparently having a picnic on the stern. There is also a cross section of ship's hull with storage quarters. A black/white view of the other representation of this ship is published in Jean Boudriot, Traite et Navire Negrier(Paris 1984), p. 89, which also describes physical features of the ship.
  • Untitled Image (Liberated Africans on Deck of the Albatross and Removed from the Portuguese Slaver Albanez)

    Pencil drawing by Lt. Francis Meynell, shows Liberated Africans on top deck of the Albatross, a British naval vessel. From Nov. 1844 to May 1845, Meynell was mate on the Albatross, which had captured the Brazilian slaving vessel, Albanez, off the mouth of the Kwanza River on 29 February 1845. The drawing was apparently of the Albatross deck after the Africans had been removed from the Albanez. In a dispatch dated 16 March 1845, sent by Reginald Yorke, captain of the Albatross, to the British naval office, Yorke identified the captured brig as the Albanez, and described how it was captured, whereby "150 Africans were on board, [while] the rest of her cargo, making a total of 737 slaves were moored alongside in rafts made of the stalks of palm leaves, ready to be embarked, which rafts were also loaded with casks of water (see The National Archives, FO 84/610, ff. 217-218). The captured ship was provisioned and sent to Sierra Leone in the Upper Guinea Coast region under command of one of the officers of the Albatross. However, a document from the Vice-Admiralty Court of Sierra Leone notes that 705 slaves were on board the Albanez when captured and that 148 died between the time of capture and adjudication by the court in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Of the contingent of 705 who survived the middle passage, 557 were ultimately emancipated in Sierra Leone (Irish University Press Series of British Parliamentary Papers, Slave Trade, vol. 32). Another account of the capture is published in The Illustrated London News, May 10, 1845 (vol. 6, p. 301). The ILN account is similar and also based on a letter from Yorke, but some details differ, e.g., the ILN account specifies that the slaving ship, unnamed, was captured off the Congo river (sic) and that it had already embarked 300 [sic] Negroes out of what would have been a whole cargo of 743 slaves. D. Hamilton and R. Blyth, Representing Slavery: Art, Artifacts and Archives in the Collections of the National Maritime Museum (London, 2007), p. 279, err in some details, e.g., the captured vessel was Brazilian, not Spanish; named Albanez, not Albanoz; and was captured in 1845, not 1846. Also, the captive Africans are shown on the top deck of the Albatross, not the Albanez. See also image E029 on this website.
  • The Africans of the Slave Bark "Wildfire"

    This widely reproduced engraving shows the emaciated survivors of the Middle Passage on the top deck of the American slave ship Wildfire, owned by New Yorkers. Captured in April 1860 by the U.S. Navy within sight of Cuba (its presumed destination), the Wildfire had violated the U.S. law, enacted in 1808, prohibiting the importation of slaves from overseas. Taken on board at the Congo River at the Loango Coast and Kwanza North regions, the 510 captive Africans who had survived the Atlantic crossing (90 had perished during the voyage) were taken to Key West, Florida. A correspondent for Harper's Weekly boarded the ship soon after it anchored and wrote a very vivid and lengthy account of the captives and their physical condition. His description started with the observation that all of the Africans he saw on the deck "were in a state of entire nudity, in a sitting or squatting posture. . . They sat very close together, mostly on either side. . . About fifty of them were full-grown young men, and about four hundred were boys aged from ten to sixteen years. When he descended into the deck below, he saw sixty or seventy women and young girls, in nature's dress, some sitting on the floor and others on the lockers, and some sick ones lying in the berths. Four or five of them were a good deal tattooed on the back and arms, and. . . three had an arm branded with the figure '7' which we suppose is the merchant's mark" (p. 344). During the Atlantic slave trade, most captive Africans were transported across the Atlantic in a state of complete nudity. See Jerome Handler, The Middle Passage and the Material Culture of Captive Africans, Slavery and Abolition, vol. 30 (2009): p. 1-26. See also image HW007.
  • Paquito de Cabo Verde Portuguese Slave Brig

    This image depicts the liberated Africans being taken from the slave ship to a British naval vessel. The hand-written caption in English under the drawing states "Paquito de Cabo Verde Portuguese slave brig captured by boats of the H. M. S. Scout on 11th Jany. 1837 in the Bonny River. She had mounted 2 18 prs. [guns] with a crew of 35 men and 576 slaves on board; TF Birch (engraver)." This drawing of a large canoe was taking people to an off-shore European vessel at Bonny in the Bight of Biafra region. The Peabody Essex Museum purchased a photograph of the illustration in 1941. The PEM has no record of where it purchased the photograph. Research in London demonstrates it was obtained from the National Maritime Museum, London (neg. PU5861) which has many drawings of British naval vessels and captured slaving ships. Shipping records show that the Paquete de Cabo Verde was, in fact, detained in Bonny on the above date and was bound for Cuba; although nominally registered as Portuguese, it probably belonged to owners in Spanish Havana. Daniel Mannix published suggested the people in the canoe were slaves being taken to a waiting slave ship (see Black Cargoes (New York, 1962), after p. 146).
  • A Slaver Taking in Negroes

    Smaller boats take captives to unidentified ocean going vessels. The origins of this image have not yet been identified, although Walvin's caption was "A Slaver Taking in Negroes, 1844" (p. 53).
  • Section of Embarkation Canoe

    This image depicts a cross section of boat, showing how slaves were positioned on board to be taken offshore to waiting slave ship. As reported in The Illustrated London News, these are "the embarkation boats used by the [Spanish] slave factors [on the Gallinas River in Sierra Leone at the Upper Guinea coast region]; they are launched from the beach, with 200 slaves in their bottom; besides 20 or 30 rowers to each boat, which is about 40 feet long, 12 broad, and seven or eight feet deep" (p. 237).
  • On Board a Slave Ship

    This image depicts enslaved Africans being loaded onto an unidentified slave ship at an unknown place. The image shown here has been cropped from a larger illustration shown, for example, on the Getty Images/Hulton Archive website (image 3324442). The same image appears on the Mary Evans Picture Library (London) website, but with no caption (picture # 10011127). Although the MEPL vaguely cites Cassell's History of England as the primary source, we have been unable to verify the citation in several editions of Cassell's history and the citation may be wrong. The image has also been published in a number of secondary sources and websites, but never with a primary source given. Whatever the case, this illustration appears to be based on an artist's imagination, rather than an eyewitness drawing. The artist might have been Paul Edouard Rischgitz (1828–1909), who was a Swiss draughtsman, landscape painter and etcher.
  • Emménagement d'esclaves à bord d'un négrier

    "Moving in slaves on board a slave ship" (caption translation). This image depicts enslaved Africans being loaded onto a ship. M. Biard traveled to Brazil in the mid-1800s for three or four years.
  • Nègres a fond de calle

    "Negroes at the bottom of the hold" (caption translations). This image shows men, women, children below deck, with European sailors/guards. Johann Moritz Rugendas (1802–1858) was a German painter, famous for his works depicting landscapes and ethnographic subjects in the Americas, in the first half of the nineteenth century. Rugendas arrived in Brazil in 1822, hired as an illustrator for Baron von Langsdorff's scientific expedition. Rugendas remained on his own in Brazil until 1825, exploring and recording his many impressions of daily life in the provinces of Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro, and quickly the coastal provinces of Bahia and Pernambuco on his journey back to Europe. He produced mostly drawings and watercolors. He returned to Europe and between 1827 and 1835 he published his book with the help of Victor Aimé Huber. For an analysis of Rugendas' drawings, as these were informed by his anti-slavery views, see Robert W. Slenes, African Abrahams, Lucretias and Men of Sorrows: Allegory and Allusion in the Brazilian Anti-slavery Lithographs (1827-1835) of Johann Moritz Rugendas (Slavery & Abolition, vol. 23 [2002], p. 147-168).
  • Stowing the Cargo of a Slaver at Night

    Engraving done in 1855 to illustrate excerpt from account of Captain Canot (1804-1860), who was a French-Italian adventurer and slave trader. Canot mostly traded between the Upper Guinea Coast and Cuba. Henry Howe (1816–1893) was an American author who wrote the histories for several states in the United States.
  • Scene in the Hold of the "Blood Stained Gloria"

    Drake sailed on board the slave ship, Gloria, or María da Gloria, which made numerous voyages between various ports along along the West African coast, including the Forests of West Africa, Voltaic Region, Bight of Benin and Bight of Biafra. The ship mostly went to Brazil, including Bahia and Rio de Janeiro (for lengthy descriptions see p. 89-90). Richard Drake, who was born Philip and raised in the English midlands, was orphaned at four years old. His uncle, Richard Willing, was a slave trader and introduced Drake to the business. As a teenager, Drake traded with Asante and later married the youngest daughter of a Dahomey king. Drake's involvement in the slave trade occurred during the British abolition movement. The last known voyage of the Gloria took place in 1847. The illustration is also in the 1972 reprint of Drake's work (Metro Books, Northbrook, Ill.), foreward by Blyden Jackson.
  • Traversée: Danse de nègres

    This illustration shows enslaved Africans being forced to dance on the deck of slave ship for exercise during the Middle Passage. The text surrounding this image of an unidentified ship refers to St. Louis in the Senegambia region. Also published in Anthony Tibbles (ed.), Transatlantic Slavery: Against Human Dignity (London: HMSO, 1994; fig. 5) where the author's name is erroneously transposed as Grehan Amedee.
  • Stowage of the British Slave Ship Brookes under the Regulated Slave Trade Act of 1788

    This image is probably the most iconic image of the Atlantic slave trade. It shows each deck and cross-sections of decks and tight packing of captives. After the 1788 Regulation Act (the Dolben act), which specified how Africans were to be transported across the Atlantic, the Brookes (also spelled Brooks) was allowed to carry 454 captives, the legal limit and the approximate number shown in this illustration. However, in four earlier voyages (1781-86), she carried from 609 to 740 enslaved Africans; thus, crowding in the decks was much worse than shown here. For example, in her 1782 voyage with 609 Africans, there were 351 men, 127 women, 90 boys, and 41 girls crammed into its decks. The illustration also appears as a fold-out in the pocket attached to the cover of Carl B. Wadstrom, An Essay on Colonization, particularly applied to the Western coast of Africa (London, 1794, 1795). Wadstrom includes a very lengthy and detailed description of the Brookes, and notes that "the proprietors [of the engraving] favoured him with the original plate" (see image Wad-1). This illustration of the Brookes, or sections of it, was often reprinted in other contemporary sources dealing with the slave trade, as well as in more modern secondary works. Its most famous reproduction is in Thomas Clarkson's celebrated abolitionist work, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament (London, 1808), vol. 2, between pp. 110 and 111; (Philadelphia, 1808), vol. 2, between pp. 90 and 91 (the space calculations that Clarkson reports are from a House of Commons report in 1789). Also published as a separate engraving by Willian Kneass (Philadelphia, 1808; see Library Company of Philadelphia). An excellent and readable account of the history of this image and the role it played in the British abolitionist movement is in Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History (Viking 2007), pp. 308-342.
  • Untitled Image (Sleeping Positions of Captive Africans on the French Slave Ship L'Aurore)

    Artist's reconstruction of decks aboard L'Aurore, which sailed from La Rochelle, France, in 1784, acquired about 500 Africans at Malembo in the Kwanza North region; and sailed to Saint Domingue. The illustration shows the tight packing of captives and storage areas. The naval architect, Jean Boudriot (1921-2015), extensively researched naval artilleries from 1650 to 1850. Although these are not historical images, they accurately represent the conditions on board slave ships.
  • Untitled Image (Revolt on a Slave Ship)

    This imagined depiction of a slave revolt shows Africans and Europeans fighting with weapons on the top deck of an unidentified slave ship leaving an unknown region in West Africa. There is some discrepancy surrounding the origins of this image. The same image also appeared in Albert Laporte, Recits du Vieux Marins (Paris, 1883), p. 267. The two variations suggest that LaPorte is not the original source for the image, although it is the earliest known and slightly cropped published version, which Aguet did not cite. For more details, please refer to image LCP-13.
  • U.S. Brig Perry, American Slave Ship Martha Off Ambriz

    This lithograph depicted the USS Perry captureing the American slave ship, Marth, off Ambriz in the Kwanza North region. Foote described how "no slaves were on board at the time, but the vessel was equipped with 176 casks of water (each holding 150 gallons), 150 barrels of farine, several sacks of beans, 4 iron boilers for cooking slave provisions, iron bars with the necessary woodwork, for securing slaves to the deck, and 400 spoons for feeding them" (p. 285). Andrew Hull Foote (1806–1863) was an American naval officer and abolitionist who commanded USS Perry off the African coast to suppress the slave trade between 1849 and 1851.
  • Prospect of the Coast from El Mina to Mowri

    In the foreground, European slave ships waited for the arrival of several canoes carrying enslaved people from the mainland. Places identified, from left to right: El Mina, Jago, Cape Corse, Fort Royal at Manfrow and Mowri - all in the Voltaic region. Astley provided a description based on various contemporary accounts. With respect to this illustration, Astley quoted Barbot to describe how "Moorish merchants do not trade only in gold but also in slaves, whom they bring to the ships in fairly large numbers when there are wars. . . You can see in this drawing a canoe containing slaves who are to board a vessel, and other canoes arriving to trade in gold" (p. 518). Thomas Astley (d. 1759) was a British bookseller and publisher. His Voyages and Travels described localities in Africa and Asia, which he compiled from a wide-array of travel books. See also image reference Barbot001 on this website.
  • Fers pour négres

    "Irons for Negroes" (caption translation). Boudriot's artistic interpretation shows how shackles were employed on slave ships. His drawings of the individual objects are based on the originals held in various French museums. The naval architect, Jean Boudriot (1921-2015), extensively researched naval artilleries from 1650 to 1850. Although these are not historical images, they accurately represent the conditions on board slave ships. See also image F001.
  • Carlisle Bay and Bridgetown, Barbadoes

    John A. Waller, a surgeon in the British Navy, lived in Barbados for a year in 1807-08, but it is not known if this scene is based on his sketches. Carlisle Bay was the island's major port. Of the scene he witnessed when he first arrived in April, 1807, Waller wrote "the bay was covered with boats, conveying backwards and forwards the merchants of the place, rowed by their slaves. . . A number of slave ships too, just arrived, were lying close to us, whose owners were taking all possible advantage of the last weeks of their expiring commerce [Britain was to abolish the slave trade in 1807]. The poor wretches were going on-shore by hundreds from the slave-ships, in large barges, for the purpose of being exposed to sale. Barbados had no deep water harbor and ocean going vessels had to transfer their cargoes (human and non-human) to barges or lighters" (p. 3).
  • Plan of the British Slave Ship Brookes, 1789

    Titled Plan and Sections of a Slave Ship, this detailed and famous drawing shows cross-sections of the ship, and how Africans were stowed in the holds. The inset drawing depicts a revolt aboard a slave ship, showing the crew shooting insurrectionists. Wadstrom includes a very lengthy and detailed description of the Brookes. This was first published in 1789, the proprieters [of the engraving] favoured him with the original plate. The Brookes carried 609 slaves (351 men, 127, women, 90 boys, and 41 girls) crammed into its decks. See also image E014 for more details.
  • Revolt Aboard Slave Ship, 1787

    Title and caption, Representation of an Insurrection on board a Slave-Ship. Shewing how the crew fire upon the unhappy slaves from behind the Barricado, erected on board all slave ships, as a security whenever such commotions may happen. Enlarged section from Plan and Sections of a Slave Ship, a fold out drawing included in the Wadstrom volume. Wadstrom notes It was taken from a sketch which, with the explanation attached, was communicated to him [Wadstrom] at Goree in 1787.
  • Shipping Slaves through the Surf, West-African Coast. A Cruiser Signalled in Sight

    The illustration shows slaving operations in the Bight of Benin, with its treacherous surf (see p. 252). An unidentified slave merchant made this sketch. The Church Missionary Intelligencer was published by the Church of England's Church Missionary Society. This illustration accompanies a long article on the continuing slave trade in Africa, particularly West Africa's role in providing slaves to Cuba. It was later also published in The Quiver: An Illustrated Magazine of Social, Intellectual, and Religious Progress (London, 1865), vol. 2, p. 44, with the caption Shipping Slaves on the Coast of Africa. See also Robert Smith, The Lagos Consulate, 1857-1861 (London, 1978), between pp. 36-37.
  • Slave Ship Fredensborg II, 1788

    Caption, The Fredensborg II heading for St. Croix with a cargo of slaves. This painting, dated 1788, does not depict the Fredensborg described in the Svalesen book, but a later ship of the same name and design. In 1767-68, the Fredensborg I, a Danish slave ship, sailed the triangular trade from Copenhagen to the Gold Coast to the Danish West Indies and return. Note, the three-cylindrical structures hanging above the deck. These slave frigates had some special equipment which distinguished them from ordinary merchant vessels. First, there were the funnels (or so-called 'windsails') with openings in the direction of the wind. They were made of canvas and their function was to funnel fresh air down to the slaves in the hold. . . . The two foreward funnels provided fresh air down to the male slaves, while the funnel closest to the stern sent air to the women and children. Every evening the funnels were hoisted up and the hatches closed and bolted for security reasons (Svalesen, p. 106). Details relating to the voyage of the Fredensborg I can be found in the Svelesen book. (Permission to place this image on website, courtesy of Leif Svalesen and the Danish National Archives; we are grateful to Erik Gobel for his assistance.)
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