How Were Slaves Treated During the Middle Passage?


From 1450 to roughly 1810, from the 15th century to the early 19th century, a slave trade was established. During this essay, I will give information and opinions on the Middle Passage of the “Triangular Trade”, so called as the shape the journey took formed a triangle. The Middle Passage stretched from Africa, where the slaves were captured, to America, where the slaves were auctioned. I will give information on the treatment, punishment, food, exercise, loading, conditions below deck, and the health of the slaves that occurred during the Middle Passage.


Slaves were captured in Africa and then squashed into wooden crates where they were clamped in chains. They were then loaded onto the ships and there were two ways in which they could be loaded. There was “tight pack”- where they would be laid on their sides like sardines, therefore you could fit more slaves in a ship, and there was “loose pack” where they were allowed to lay on their backs with just 14 inches of space each, so neither was particularly comfortable especially as they were lain on rough wooden shelves and clamped together so none could move without moving the rest of their row with them.


The conditions below deck on the slave’s ships were appallingly unhealthy. During the average 4-7 week journey below deck was cleaned only once every few weeks averaging around being cleaned around 3 times in a journey-This took place whilst the slaves were exercised. The smell below deck was of vomit, sweat, urine, excrement, and was described as a “bile puking smell”. This was also made worse by the hot dense conditions. The noise was also awful – there was screams of agony, retching of people being sick, moaning, crying as people were scared of what lay ahead of them, chains clattering as people squirmed on the rough benches, and the sound of the waves battering against the ships sides. There was very little light in the slave hold as the trapdoor was shut and there could be no candles as the ships were wooden and the swaying of the ship could’ve knocked the candles over and set the ship alight. The air in the hold was dusty and humid, as there was very little fresh air, as there were no windows. It was also polluted from all the bacterial coughing going on and all the germs being passed around. It was at an average of 94degrees Fahrenheit. All these elements mixed together, it was extremely unpleasant and unhealthy place to spend between 4-7 weeks.


The health of the slaves was very poorly, as they had no energy as they had little food and were cooped up a lot of the time. Their eyesight was also very poor as they were locked in the dark for such a long time. They had nasty friction burns and sores from the rough wooden shelves and the whip, which was rarely used yet left a mark when it was. These burns and sores could quickly become infected through the lack of hygiene. Other things which could affect the health of the slaves was the diseases carried onboard by already unwell slaves – some of the diseases were fatal – these diseases included the bloody flux, yellow or white fever, scurvy, and dysentery. When some of these diseases occurred slaves died of it and when this happened they were simply thrown overboard into the sea.


The exercise that was done by the slaves was what the sailors referred to as “dancing”. What it really was was the sailors whipping at the slaves feet causing them to jump up and down in a bouncing motion. This happened every 10-14 days and usually happened 3 or 4 times during a journey which, considering the length and conditions of the journey is not much. The slaves were exercised on deck and at the same time were cleaned with salt water from the sea, which was poured over their cuts, causing them excruciating pain.


The food the slaves received was in very small portions – they were fed just 1 small bowlfull of rice or pulses per day and 1 cup of water. They were fed rice or pulses, as these foods were cheap,