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Wed, 07.08.1440

The ‘Middle Passage’ a story

Slave Trade Routes

*On this date in 1440 the Middle Passage is briefly described.  The Middle Passage was the stage of the white organized triangular trade in which millions of Black Africans were kidnapped and transported to the New World.  

Sometimes referred to as the Atlantic Slave Trade or transatlantic slave trade involved the transportation by slave traders of enslaved African people.  Ships departed Europe for African markets with manufactured goods, which were traded for purchased or kidnapped Africans, who were transported across the Atlantic as slaves; the slaves were then sold or traded for raw materials, which would be transported back to Europe to complete the voyage. The First Passage was the transportation of captives (slaves) by the Portuguese, in the 15th century. The Treaty of Tordesillasor Tratado de Tordesilhas in 1494 made the Middle Passage official   

In the 1520’s, their first  destination of the Middle Passage was Brazil, the closest western land of colonization for Portugal the western hemisphere or the “New World” and other Europeans soon followed.  Shipowners regarded the slaves as cargo to be transported to the Americas as quickly and cheaply as possible, there to be sold to work on coffee, tobacco, cocoa, sugar, and cotton plantations, gold and silver mines, rice fields, the construction industry, cutting timber for ships, in skilled labor, and as domestic servants.  Moving up the coast of what would become South America white-Europeans invaded the Caribbean and central America. Final Passage was the journey from the port of disembarkation, such as St. Augustine, Florida and Charleston, South Carolina to plantations or other destination where they would be put to work.

Voyages on the Middle Passage were large financial undertakings, generally organized by companies or groups of investors not individuals. While the first Africans kidnapped to the English colonies were classified as indentured servants, with a similar legal standing as contract-based workers coming from Britain and Ireland, by the middle of the 17th century, slavery had hardened as a racial caste, with Black African slaves and their future offspring being legally the property of their owners, as children born to slave mothers were also slaves. As property, the people were considered merchandise or units of labor, and were sold at markets with other goods and services.  The major Atlantic slave trading nations, ordered by trade volume, were Portugal, England, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Denmark. Several had established outposts on the African coast where they purchased slaves from local African leaders.  African ports, such as Elmina, Goree Island and Bance island are where they would be loaded onto ships.  

These slaves were managed by a factor, who was established on or near the coast to expedite the shipping of slaves to the New World. Slaves were imprisoned in a factory while awaiting shipment.   Other white-European powers such as Norway, Sweden, and Brandenburg, as well as traders from South and North America, took part in this business.  This was viewed as crucial by those Western European Monarchies which, in the late 17th and 18th centuries, were vying with each other to create overseas empires.  The Middle Passage was considered a time of in-betweenness for Black Africans traded from Africa to the Americas. The close quarters and intentional division of established African communities by the ship crew motivated captive Africans to forge bonds of kinship which then created forced transatlantic communities. Traders (now) in the Americas and Caribbean received the enslaved Blacks.  The enslaved Africans came mostly from eight regions: Senegambia, Upper Guinea, Windward Coast, Ghana-Gold Coast, Bight of Benin, Bight of Biafra, West Central Africa and Southeastern Africa. 

An estimated 15% of the Africans died at sea, with mortality rates considerably higher in Africa itself in the process of capturing and transporting Black people to the ships. The conservative estimate of the total number of African deaths at sea, directly attributable to the Middle Passage voyage is estimated at up to two million. For two hundred years, 1440–1640, Portuguese slavers had a near monopoly on the export of slaves from Africa. During the 18th century, when the slave trade transported about 6 million Africans, British slavers carried almost 2.5 million more.  Current estimates are that about 12 million to 12.8 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic over a span of 400 years, although the number purchased by the traders was considerably higher, as the passage had a high death rate during the voyage and millions more died in seasoning camps in the Caribbean after arrival to the New World.  Millions of slaves also died as a result of slave raids, wars and during transport to the coast for sale to European slave traders. Near the beginning of the 19th century, various governments acted to ban the trade, although illegal smuggling still occurred. In the early 21st century, several governments have issued formal apologies for the transatlantic slave trade. 

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Poetry Corner

The Harlem Advocate fell between his legs. The story was incredible! Taking off his glasses, Uncle Rufus rubbed the lenses and thought…though. Yes, his son had always been a prodigal son, Drinking home brew... UNCLE RUFUS by Melvin B. Tolson.
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