Kidnapped: The Middle Passage

"From the 1400s to the mid-1800s, the voyages known as the “Triangular Slave Trade.” The "Middle Passage was the middle leg of the journey, when kidnapped people were shipped as cargo from Africa to the New World.

Over 12.5 million Africans were taken in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Some four million of these men, women, youth and children died in the capture, on the voyage, or soon after their arrival.

The Triangular Slave Trade was part of a complex system of commerce.  It involved:

  • capturing, selling, buying, and forcing adults and children into grueling unpaid labor as prisoners for their lives – and the lives of their offspring;
  • the importation of advanced agricultural technologies and other skills (like iron-working) from West Africa to the Americas;
  • highly profitable businesses in sugar, wine, tobacco, coffee, tea, flour, grains, ship-building, and timber – as well as in human beings; and
  • advanced economic practices, such as financing and insuring the trading expeditions and the human cargo.

An early driving force behind this trade was Europe’s desire for sugar. Later it was the global desire for cotton.

Many people in both the South and North were employed in this business. For example, the cotton grown in the South was made into textiles in North factories. Most US slaving ships were built in the state of Rhode Island. Many of the banks and insurance companies involved were located in the North. All around the country, many white families made fortunes that have enriched their descendants for generations.

All ABHM history galleries are works-in-progress (see Exhibits to Come below). Please visit periodically to see new exhibits as we add them. 


Eyewitness Account: The Kidnapping of Africans for Slaves

Slaves captured in the interior being marched to the coast for sale

In this exhibit Dr. Alexander Falconbridge describes what he saw and heard about how slaves were captured inland and sold on the coast to slave traders.

What I Saw Aboard a Slave Ship in 1829

Slaveship Stowage Plan

The importation of slaves was outlawed by England in 1807 and by the USA in 1808. Slaves could still be held and bred in the two countries, but no new slaves could be brought from Africa. The British and American navies patrolled the west coast of Africa. They stopped suspected slave traders and took hold of ships where slaves were found. Then they returned their human cargo to Africa. Rev. Robert Walsh served on one of the patrol ships. This is his eyewitness report.