a surgeon aboard slave ships and later the governor of a British
colony for freed slaves in Sierra Leone, gives this account
of the Middle Passage.
the time of the arrival of the ships to their departure,
which is usually about three months, scarce a day passes
without some Negroes being purchased and carried on board;
sometimes in small and sometimes in large numbers. The whole
number taken on board depends on circumstances. In a voyage
I once made, our stock of merchandise was exhausted in the
purchase of about 380 Negroes, which was expected to have
men Negroes, on being brought aboard the ship, are immediately
fastened together, two and two, by handcuffs on their wrists
and by irons riveted on their legs. They are then sent down
between the decks and placed in an apartment partitioned
off for that purpose. The women also are placed in a separate
apartment between the decks, but without being ironed. An
adjoining room on the same deck is appointed for the boys.
Thus they are all placed in different apartments.
at the same time, however, they are frequently stowed so
close, as to admit of no other position than lying on their
sides. Nor with the height between decks, unless directly
under the grating, permit the indulgence of an erect posture;
especially where there are platforms, which is generally
the case. These platforms are a kind of shelf, about eight
or nine feet in breadth, extending from the side of the
ship toward the centre. They are placed nearly midway between
the decks, at the distance of two or three feet from each
deck. Upon these the Negroes are stowed in the same manner
as they are on the deck underneath.
each of the apartments are placed three or four large buckets,
of a conical form, nearly two feet in diameter at the bottom
and only one foot at the top and in depth of about twenty-
eight inches, to which, when necessary, the Negroes have
recourse. It often happens that those who are placed at
a distance from the buckets, in endeavoring to get to them,
tumble over their companions, in consequence of their being
shackled. These accidents, although unavoidable, are productive
of continual quarrels in which some of them are always bruised.
In this distressed situation, unable to proceed and prevented
from getting to the tubs, they desist from the attempt;
and as the necessities of nature are not to be resisted,
ease themselves as they lie. This becomes a fresh source
of boils and disturbances and tends to render the condition
of the poor captive wretches still more uncomfortable. The
nuisance arising from these circumstances is not infrequently
increased by the tubs being too small for the purpose intended
and their being emptied but once every day. The rule for
doing so, however, varies in different ships according to
the attention paid to the health and convenience of the
slaves by the captain. . . .
the Negroes refusing to take sustenance, I have seen coals
of fire, glowing hot, put on a shovel and placed so near
their lips as to scorch and burn them. And this has been
accompanied with threats of forcing them to swallow the
coals if they any longer persisted in refusing to eat. These
means have generally had the desired effect. I have also
been credibly informed that a certain captain in the slave-
trade, poured melted lead on such of his Negroes as obstinately
refused their food. . . .
board some ships the common sailors are allowed to have
intercourse with such of the black women whose consent they
can procure. And some of them have been known to take the
inconstancy of their paramours so much to heart as to leap
overboard and drown themselves. The officers are permitted
to indulge their passions among them at pleasure and sometimes
are guilty of such excesses as disgrace human nature....
hardships and inconveniences suffered by the Negroes during
the passage are scarcely to be enumerated or conceived.
They are far more violently affected by seasickness than
Europeans. It frequently terminates in death, especially
among the women. But the exclusion of fresh air is among
the most intolerable. For the purpose of admitting this
needful refreshment, most of the ships in the slave trade
are provided, between the decks, with five or sick air-
ports on each side of the ship of about five inches in length
and four in breadth. In addition, some ships, but not one
in twenty, have what they denominate wind- sails. But whenever
the sea is rough and the rain heavy is becomes necessary
to shut these and every other conveyance by which the air
is admitted. The fresh air being thus excluded, the Negroes'
rooms soon grow intolerable hot. The confined air, rendered
noxious by the effluvia exhaled from their bodies and being
repeatedly breathed, soon produces fevers and fluxes which
generally carries of great numbers of them. . . .
Alexander Falconbridge, An Account of the Slave Trade
on the Coast of Africa (London, 1788).