Throwing Slaves Overboard to Drown and Other Dark Moments From History

Diagram of a slave ship delivered to the House of Commons in 1791, illustrating how slaves were packed to maximize human cargo volume. Lilly Library of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana University

39. Passages of the Slaves’ Journey

The journey of Africans from what the Europeans referred to as the Dark Continent to the New World was broken into three stages, often referred to as passages. Each passage was marked by its own cruelties and challenges, but it was the Middle Passage that was most infamous for the depths of inhumanity in that stage of the slaves’ journey.

The First Passage saw the marching of captives to African ports for loading onto ships. The Middle Passage saw the Africans loaded onto slave ships, packed like sardines to maximize the number of human cargo units, and chained in place in horrific conditions. The Final Passage was the surviving slaves’ journey from the port of disembarkation in the New World, such as Charleston, South Carolina, to the plantation or other destination where they would be put to work.