Slave Ships & the Atlantic Crossing (Middle Passage)

  • Africans Rescued from a Slave Ship, East Africa, 1869

    Caption, Group of Negro men and boys taken out of captured Dhow in state of starvation. About 156 men and boys were rescued from this dhow by the Daphne, a British naval vessel cruising the East African coast. The original of this photo was taken in 1869 and is located in the The National Archives, London ( Public Record Office), FO 84/1310. The brief Graphic article accompanying this image, taken from Sulivan's book, describes how on the bottom of the dhow was a pile of stones as ballast, and on these stones, without even a mat, were twenty-three women huddled together, one or two with infants in their arms; these women were literally doubled up, there being no room to sit erect; and on a bamboo deck, about three feet above the keel, were forty-eight men, crowded together in the same way, and on another deck above, there were fifty-three children. Some of the slaves were in the last stages of starvation and dysentery (p. 218). Although dealing with the East African slave trade, this illustration is evocative of scenes that occurred on Atlantic slaving ships.
  • Africans Liberated from a Slave Ship, East Africa, 1869

    Caption, Group of slave -children on board the 'Daphne' shows some of the 95 children taken from a slaving vessel in the waters off Zanzibar. The Daphne was a British naval vessel assigned to intercept slavers along the east African coast. Although dealing with the East African slave trade, this illustration is evocative of scenes that occurred on Atlantic slaving ships. The original of this photo was taken in 1869 and is located in The National Archives, London (formerly, Public Record Office), FO 84/1310.
  • Africans Rescued from a Slave Ship, East Africa, 1869

    Caption, Group of 322 liberated Africans on the deck of the 'Daphne'; these Africans were taken from several different slaving vessels. The Daphne was a British naval vessel assigned to intercept slavers along the east African coast. Although dealing with the East African slave trade, this illustration is evocative of scenes that occurred on Atlantic slaving ships. The original of this photo was taken in 1869 and is located in the The National Archives, London (formerly, Public Record Office), FO 84/1310.
  • Punishment Aboard a Slave Ship, 1792

    Engraved colored print by Isaac Cruikshank (the Scottish caricaturist), captioned, The Abolition of the Slave Trade, Or the inhumanity of dealers in human flesh exemplified in Captn. Kimber's treatment of a young Negro girl of 15 for her virjen [sic] modesty. Shows John Kimber with a whip in his hand and an African girl suspended by her ankle from a rope over a pulley. An anti-slave trade drawing, reflecting an important and well-documented episode in the British campaign against the slave trade. John Kimber was the captain of a slave ship, the Recovery, owned by Bristol merchants, which had left New Calabar (present-day Nigeria) bound for the West Indies in 1791. In a speech before the House of Commons in 1792, William Wilberforce, the abolitionist leader, accused Kimber of having caused the death of the girl by inflicting injuries on her because she had refused to dance naked on the deck of his ship. As a result of Wilberforce's speech, Kimber was arrested and tried before the High Court of Admiralty in June 1792; he was also charged with having murdered another girl on his ship. Kimber was quickly acquitted of all charges, the jury having concluded that disease, not maltreatment, had caused their deaths. See, Peter Marshall, 'The Anti Slave Trade Movement in Bristol', in Patrick McGrath (ed.), Bristol in the Eighteenth Century (Newton Abbot, 1972), pp.206-207; cf. Madge Dresser, Slavery Obscured: The Social History of the Slave Trade in an English Provincial Port (London: Continuum, 2001), p. 163; S. Swaminathan, Reporting Atrocities: A comparison of the Zong and the trial of Captain John Zimber, Slavery & Abolition 31 (2010): 483-499.
  • Slave Ship Taking on Enslaved Africans, West Africa, Early Nineteenth Century

    Caption, The Celebrated Piratical Slavery, L'Antonio with others of the black craft lying in the Bonny River; shows slave ships with canoe in foreground laden with slaves destined for the L'Antonio or L'Antonia. The Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, MA) purchased a photo of this illustration in 1941, but has no record of where the original illustration is located; however, it may be located in the National Maritime Museum, London. The PEM photo of this illustration gives no date and the bottom of the caption has been cut off. The Bridgeman Art Library website shows this illustration with its caption, indicating that it was a separately published lithograph published by Edward Ranesden (London), ca. 1830.
  • Canoes Battling the Surf, Dahomey, 1890s

    Caption, la barre a Kotonou (the bar at Cotonou). Although this illustration does not depict slaving activities, it illustrates the type of surf that canoes confronted as they transported their human cargo to the waiting slave ships.
  • Africans Thrown Overboard from a Slave Ship, Brazil, ca. 1830s

    This woodcut was originally published in The Liberator, the American abolitionist newspaper, 7 January 1832 (vol. 11, p. 2) and appeared in several later issues in that year. It accompanied a brief article on Brazil which describes how sickly captive Africans were thrown overboard alive in the port of Rio so that slave captains, knowing they could not be sold, would avoid paying import duties on them. This woodcut was later published in various 19th century abolitionist works, without identifying the Liberator as the original source and without any explanation of the illustration. One of these works is The Slave's Friend (New York: Anti-slavery Office, 1836), an abolitionist pamphlet designed for children. The image shown here is from the copy in the Library Company of Philadelphia (see also Library of Congress photo, LC-USZ62-30833); however, the image is not found in all copies of this book (for example, it is absent in the Library of Congress and the University of Virginia Library copies). This image is sometimes reproduced in modern publications on the slave trade, but is never properly identified (see Jerome Handler and Annis Steiner, Identifying Pictorial Images of Atlantic Slavery: Three Case Studies, Slavery and Abolition 27 [2006], 54-56). Modern works on the slave trade sometimes erroneously and misleadingly use this image to illustrate the famous Zong incident. In 1781, the British slaving vessel, Zong, jettisoned 132 or 133 captive Africans, men, women, and children, into the Caribbean sea, provoking a famous court case in which the vesselís owners attempted to claim insurance compensation for lost property; the incident helped galvanize British public opinion against the slave trade.
  • Cooking Cauldron from the Slave Ship Henrietta Marie

    Moore's reconstruction of a large copper cauldron recovered from the site of the English slave ship, Henrietta Marie (ca. 1697-1700). This cauldron was undoubtedly used for preparing meals for the ship's captive Africans. It had a capacity of approximately 85 gallons. The Henrietta Marie transported about 200 slaves from the Bight of Biafra to Jamaica. For details, see David Moore, Site Report: Historical and Archaeological Investigation of the Shipwreck Henrietta Marie (Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, 1997). Olaudah Equiano, kidnapped from his natal village around 1757 was transported from the Bight of Biafra to Barbados. He describes a large furnace of copper boiling aboard the ship which took him across the Atlantic. See The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavas Vassa, the African. Written by Himself (London, 1789). Illustration courtesy of David D. Moore.
  • Cooking Cauldron from the Slave Ship Henrietta Marie

    Moore's reconstruction of a small copper cauldron recovered from the site of the English slave ship, Henrietta Marie. The container is divided into two chambers and has a total capacity of approximately 16 and a half gallons. This cauldron was undoubtedly used for preparing meals for the ship's crew. The Henrietta Marie transported about 200 slaves from the Bight of Biafra to Jamaica. For details, see David Moore, Site Report: Historical and Archaeological Investigation of the Shipwreck Henrietta Marie (Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, 1997). Illustration courtesy of David D. Moore, North Carolina Maritime Museum.
  • Cross-Section of Slave Ship, 1829

    Caption, sections of a slave ship. Walsh was a clergyman who went to Brazil in 1828, accompanying the new British ambassador. He left in 1829, on board a British trading vessel bound for England. After his ship had been at sea for about 2 or 3 weeks, it accosted a Brazilian slave ship which it captured. The slaver had acquired 562 slaves (336 male and 226 female) in Africa and by time she had been out to sea for seventeen days, 55 had died of dysentery and other complaints, and had been thrown overboard. When the slaver was boarded, the British found that all of the slaves were enclosed under grated hatchways, between decks. The space was so low, that they sat between each otherís legs, and stowed so close together, that there was no possibility of their lying down, or at all changing their position, by night or day. They were all branded, like sheep, with the ownersí marks of different forms [included are small sketches of these brands]. The brands, made with a red-hot iron were impressed under their breasts, or on their arms . . . . The space between decks was divided into two compartments, 3 feet 3 inches high; the size of one was 16 feet by 18, and of the other 40 by 21; into the first were crammed the women and girls; into the second, the men and boys: 226 fellow-creatures were thus thrust into one space 288 feet square; and 336 into another space 800 feet square, giving to the whole an average of 23 inches, and to each of the women not more than 13 inches, though many of them were pregnant . . . . The heat of these horrid places was so great and the odour so offensive, that it was quite impossible to enter them. The author could only measure the rooms after the slaves were taken out, and it is impossible to conceive the effect of this eruptionó517 fellow-creatures of all ages and sexesö all in a state of total nudity, scrambling out together to taste the luxury of a little fresh air and water . . . After enjoying for a short time the unusual luxury of air, some water was brought; it was then that the extent of their sufferings was exposed in a fearful manner. . . . they shrieked and struggled and fought with one another, for a drop of this precious liquid. . . . There is nothing which slaves, in the mid-passage, suffer from so much as want of water (pp. 479-83). Thanks to Peter Fay for assistance.
  • Revolte sur un bâtiment négrier

    "Revolt on a Slave Ship" (caption translation). 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. Laporte described a revolt aboard a French slaver, whereby a sailor "was asleep when he heard a big noise on the bridge; he went up only to discover the slaves had started a revolt. A slave revolt is terrible because one cannot fire on them, since each man is worth at least 1,000 francs. One has to resort to other methods of force. The crew finds refuge on the upper deck to escape the screaming mass of slaves who broke through their chains and evaded the deck barrier by throwing anything they could get their hands on at our heads. . . The carnage was horrible. Even though the enemy was beaten, the victory didn't seem to belong to us yet, and the danger became even greater in front of the resistance of the slaves and our exhaustion" (p. 265). There is some discrepancy surrounding the origins of this image. A larger version of the same image is also in Isabelle Aguet, A Pictorial History of the Slave Trade (Geneva: Editions Minerva, 1971), plate 64, p.71. 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 E006.
  • Revolt Aboard Slave Ship, 19th cent.

    Based on the account of an old sailor who had participated in the Atlantic slave trade; this illustration, however, is not based on observations, but on artistic imagination. Conditions aboard a French slaver are described (pp. 252 ff.), and the old sailor describes how one night he was asleep when he heard a big noise on the bridge; he went up only to discover the slaves had started a revolt. A slave revolt is terrible because one cannot fire on them, since each man is worth at least 1,000 francs. One has to resort to other methods of force. The crew finds refuge on the upper deck to escape the screaming mass of slaves who broke through their chains and evaded the deck barrier by throwing anything they could get their hands on at our heads. . . . The carnage was horrible. Even though the enemy was beaten, the victory didn't seem to belong to us yet, and the danger became even greater in front of the resistance of the slaves and our exhaustion . . . ( (p. 265; our translation).
  • Deck of Slave Ship, Jamaica, 19th cent.

    Caption reads: Of this mixture [gunpowder, lemon-juice, and palm oil,] the unresisting captive received a coating, which by the hand of another sailor, was rubbed into the skin, and then polished with a 'danby-brush,' until the sable epidermis glistened like a newly-blacked boot (p. 28). A novel written many years after the end of the slave trade, the scene depicted here shows the deck of a slave ship as it anchors in Jamaica, when the slaves were being prepared for sale. They were brought up on the top deck. Each individual, as he came up the hatchway, was rudely seized by a sailor, who stood by with a soft brush in his hand and a pail at his feet; the latter containing a black composition of gunpowder, lemon-juice, and palm-oil. Of this mixture the unresisting captive received a coating which, by the hand of another sailor, was rubbed in the skin, and polished with a danby-brush until the sable epidermis glistened like a newly-blacked boot. . . . . It was not the first time those unfeeling men had assisted at the spectacle of a slaver's cargo being made ready for market (p. 28).
  • Fishing Cannoes of Mina 5 or 600 at a Time; Negro's Cannoes, Carrying Slaves on Board of Ships at Manfroe

    The top engraving depicts dozens of fishing canoes interspersed among slave ships. The bottom engraving depicts enslaved people being transported to slave ships by canoe. In the background various forts from the Voltaic region are depicted, including Elmina and Cabo Corso [Cape Coast]. Awnsham Churchill (1658–1728) was an English bookseller and radical Whig politician who sat in the English and British House of Commons from 1705 to 1710. With his brother, John, he built a successful bookselling business. They never went to Africa and compiled their images based on collections of travel accounts. This image derived from Jean Barbot (1655-1712), who was a French explorer and merchant. Employed by the Compagnie du Senegal, Barbot documented two voyages along the coast of West Africa between the Senegambia and Voltaic regions, then across the Atlantic to the Caribbean in 1678-1679 and 1681-1682. Barbot described how "the Blacks of Mina are commonly handsome, lusty, and strong men. . . Their usual employments are trade, husbandry and fishery. I have often seen seven or eight hundred canoes come out from thence. . . to fish with hooks and lines. . . each canoe having, some two, some three, some four paddlers. I was so pleas'd with the sight of such a number of canoes thus plying about, that I could not forebear representing them in the print here adjoin'd. . . the Mina Blacks drive a great trade along the Gold Coast. . . and are the fittest and most experienc'd men to. . . paddle the canoes over the bars and breakings which render this coast. . . so perilous. . . the waves in the ocean rising in great surges" (p. 156-157).
  • Africans Liberated from a Captured Slave Ship, 1846

    Caption: They were Free. This image is found in a lengthy chapter on the Atlantic slave trade. The scene illustrates a detailed description of Africans liberated from a Brazilian slaving vessel, the Paqueta de Rio, by a British naval vessel, the Cygnet, off Sherbo/Sherbro island, Sierra Leone. The account initially appeared in the Sierra Leone Watchman (November 15, 1846) which reported that there were 547 Africans on board. They were, according to the Watchman (p. 442), all stowed together, perfectly naked . . . The slaves who were confined in the hold--it being utterly impossible for the whole of them to remain on deck at one time--were in profuse perspiration . . . The smell on board was dreadful . . . . the greater part of the slaves were chained together with pieces of chain, which were passed through iron collars round their necks; iron shackles were also secured round their legs and arms . . . .[After they were freed, the captives] set to work, and, with the billets of wood which had hitherto formed their bed, knocked off each other's shackles . . . . They were branded like sheep. Letters were burnt in the skin two inches in length. Many of them, from the recent period it had been done, were in a state of ulceration. The illustration is a late nineteenth century artist's rendering and is a complete fabrication; sometimes reproduced in modern secondary sources on slavery which erroneously give the impression the image is based on an eye-witness drawing.
  • Africans Escaped from Slave Ship, 19th cent.

    Caption: Left to Die. Included in a lengthy chapter on the slave trade, this scene illustrates an incident from a novel wherein an illegal slaving vessel was consumed by fire before it could be boarded by British sailors who intended to liberate the slaves. The fire spread rapidly and many of the slaves drowned; others were swept into the sea and ultimately made it to the shore (pp. 443-44). Although this illustration is sometimes reproduced in secondary sources on slavery which erroneously give the impression it is based on an eye-witness drawing, the illustration is the late nineteenth century artist's imaginative rendering and is a complete fabrication.
  • Revolt Aboard Slave Ship, late 18th cent.

    Caption: Stabbed One of the Negroes. Included in a lengthy chapter on the slave trade, this scene illustrates a description given by a surgeon on board a British slaving vessel, the Delight; the surgeon, a Mr. Boulton, describes a revolt that broke out on board the ship in 1769 (pp. 432-34). Although this illustration is sometimes reproduced in secondary sources on slavery which erroneously give the impression it is based on an eye-witness drawing, the illustration is the late nineteenth century artist's imaginative rendering of the revolt and is a complete fabrication.
  • Chains and Other Instruments Used by Slave Traders, 19th cent.

    Caption: Implements Used by Slave-Traders (by permission of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Material objects employed by slave traders, such as the wooden neck yokes (or Goree), chains, manacles, and leg fetters, whip, and helmet used for gagging slaves, with pieces of iron to force tongue down (h). (For the Goree, see images LCP-12, PRO-4 on this website)
  • Captured Africans Liberated from a Slaving Vessel, East Africa, 1884

    Caption: The African Slave-Trade - Slaves Taken from a Dhow Captured by H.M.S. 'Undine' . The brief article accompanying this illustration of Africans rescued by the British navy notes that the engraving is from a photograph of some slaves captured by H.M.S. Undine in July last. They had been kidnapped 200 miles south of Madagascar, brought down to the coast . . . In all there were 120 of them; and, as the slave dhow was only 63 tons, they had to be packed like sardinesö. (p. 546). Although from East Africa, this scene is evocative of the Atlantic slave trade.
  • Africans Thrown Overboard from a Slave Ship, Early 19th cent.

    Caption: Negrier Poursuivi, Jetant ses Negres a la Mer (Slave Ship being Pursued, Throwing its Blacks into the Sea). Within a strongly abolitionist discussion of the slave trade (pp. 224-39), this illustration accompanies a dramatic description of an incident that occurred at an unspecified date, but sometime after the slave trade was abolished, near the Indian ocean French- island colony of Bourbon (present-day Reunion). A slave ship was fired upon by an unspecified vessel that was chasing it, causing severe damage. The ocean waters rushing in threatened to sink the ship despite the efforts of the crew. The vessel's captain decided to take the desperate measure of jettisoning its human cargo. The manacled captives were brought to the top deck in pairs under a pretext, and cannon balls were attached to their chains; they were then cast overboard (pp. 228-29). The engraving, the account ends, shows this barbarous act, at the moment the slave ship is being pursued (p. 229; our translation). The illustration is not based on an eyewitness drawing, but is an artist's fabrication; also the incident's description is not based on the author's observations. The illustration sometimes appears in secondary historical and other works which give a misleading impression that it is based on an eyewitness drawing (and do not cite the original source), and erroneously use it to illustrate the famous Zong incident. In December 1781, the British slaving vessel, Zong, sailing out of Liverpool, jettisoned 132 or 133 captive Africans, men, women, and children, into the Caribbean sea. This incident provoked a famous court case in which the vessel's owners attempted to claim insurance compensation for lost property; the incident helped galvanize British public opinion against the slave trade.
  • Canoes Battling the Surf, West Africa (Senegambia?), late 19th century

    Caption, Brandung (Talema [or Galema]) an der Guinea (Surf [Talema] on the Guinea Coast). Although this illustration does not depict slaving activities, it shows the type of surf that canoes confronted as they transported their human cargo to the waiting slave ships. The caption also states this image was taken from the Graphic, presumably the Illustrated Weekly Newspaper published in London. But no specific reference is given (e.g., volume no., year), and the original image could not be located.
  • Capture of Slave Ship by British Navy, 1824

    Artist's depiction of an event that was reported around 1824. A British naval vessel pursued a French ship, the Jeune-Estelle (commanded by Olympe Sanguines), which had just loaded 14 Africans for transportation to the French Antilles; the incident is described on p. 50.
  • The Decks of a Slave Ship, early 19th cent.

    Titled simply Navire Negrier (Slave Ship), this image gives several perspectives of a slaving vessel, particularly cross-sectional views of the decks holding the enslaved. The image appears in a booklet published by a French society against the slave trade but was derived from the well-known image of the British slave ship, Brookes (see E014; also Wad-1). However, at the left of this illustration, there is a hand-written description of the extraordinarily cramped conditions on the ship, perhaps written by someone who had observed such conditions first-hand. Examining the illustration closely, one can notice that in the male compartments (lower deck right side; middle deck right side), men are shown manacled by the wrists as well as the ankles. The description reads as follows (we loosely translate): The Negroes are chained two by two, the right leg of one to the left leg of the other. They fill up the hold, the deck, the between decks, as well as the platforms specially built between the decks. The enslaved lay nude on planks, without being able to change their position, and so cramped that sometimes they have to lie on their side. The motion of the vessel chafes their bodies and the irons tear their legs . . . . when they are permitted to come on the top decks for a few moments, a long chain is passed through their irons so that they don't attack the ship's crew or throw themselves into the sea. But when bad weather forces the hatchways to be closed, then the suffering of the Blacks, deprived of air in the hold and the between decks, becomes horrible. The vapors issuing from their bodies seem to come out of a scorching furnace; many among them are brought half dead; or are entirely suffocated on the deck. Insurrections, suicides, depression, the foul smell, the lack of air, and the barbarous treatment they receive combine to increase mortality to a frightening degree. It has been calculated that for 7084 negroes exported under those conditions from Africa, 2053, one out of four, died during the ocean crossing.
  • Shackles, Manacles, and Padlocks Used in the Slave Trade, early 19th cent.

    This illustration appears in a booklet published by a French society against the slave trade. The various implements used by slave traders are identified by letter: A, the metal bar onto which were attached manacles that held the feet of the enslaved. Each bar was about six feet long with eight manacles. Eight captives could be attached to each bar if only one foot of each was attached, or four persons if both feet were attached. This illustration only shows half of the bar, called the barre de justice; the other half was pierced with a hole so that a padlock (B) could be placed through it to hold the manacles. C, a hinged iron collar that could be placed around a captive's neck; metal rings could be inserted into the small holes and a chain passed through these rings so that captives could be linked to one another and thus be secured on board ship or before their embarkation [see image JCB_01203-5]; D, wrist manacles; E, thumbscrew; and F, a key for the wrist manacles and the metal collar (pp. 3-4). See also image JCB_01203-4.
  • Shackles and Padlocks Used on Slave Ships, early 19th cent.

    A blacksmith in Nantes, the major slaving port in France when this booklet was published, provided an explanation for this illustration which notes this bar/rod should be soldered in such a way that the big padlock can pass through a hole drilled in one of its ends, before fastening the manacles. As many men as there are manacles can be attached to this bar if only one man is attached to each manacle; or half that number if only one foot of each is attached (p. 16; our translation). The image appears in a booklet published by a French society against the slave trade. See also, image JCB_01203-2.
Advanced search