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“The Middle Passage” by Daniel Mannix and Malcolm Cowley

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  • Pages: 2
  • Word count: 493
  • Category: Slavery

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The article “The Middle Passage”, by Daniel Mannix and Malcolm Crowley, is an overview of slave trade from 1507 until it was illegalized in 1808. “The Middle Passage” was specifically the obtaining, transportation, and sell of African slaves in the New World. This article discusses the horrible treatment slaves received during Atlantic slave trading.

“In this essay the literary critic Malcolm Cowley and the historian Daniel Mannix combine their talents to describe what it meant to be wrenched from one’s home and native soil, herded in chains into the foul hold of a slave ship, and dispatched across the torrid mid-Atlantic into the hell of slavery.”(page:26) The authors’ attempt to explain the hideous act of slave trade through the purchasing of slaves as a resource for profit, the unbearable transportation, and unloading and selling of slaves.

The process of obtaining slaves from Africa could take two months or up to two years depending on the location with which the slavers were trading. The salves were often bought two at a time, but sometimes a hundred or more were purchased in one transaction. With the risk of mutiny and escape being so high, as slaves were brought aboard the ship the men were shackled two and two to prevent these actions. “In spite of precautions, mutinies were frequent on the Coast, and some were even successful.”(page:33)

During the sailing of the Atlantic, the main concern of the captains was disease. There were many different diseases, but smallpox was the most feared. The main fear of smallpox was it’s infecting ability. “One man with smallpox infected a whole vessel, unless—as sometimes happened—he was tossed overboard when the first scabs appeared.”(page:39) A ship named the Briton was said to have lost more than half of its cargo of 375 slaves due to smallpox.

When the ships arrived at their destination the slaves were unloaded and sold various ways. One commonly used type of sale was called a “scramble”. The slavers would fire a gun and buyers would rush in and take their pick of the slaves. Slaves that acquired diseases while on the voyage were sold for much less than half price of healthy slaves. “For the slaves, many of whom believed they were about to be eaten, it was the terrifying climax to a terrifying voyage.”(page:42) Many slaves reverted to suicide to avoid being sold into slavery. Common ways of suicide were starvation, jumping over board and drowning, and strangling. One man even went to the extreme that he tried to cut his own throat using his own fingers nails.

“The Middle Passage” presents information about the horrible events involved in slave trade during colonial times. The stories it tells about being torn from your home, chained, and forced on ship. Then transported across the Atlantic and sold into slavery. The article informs us of a dismal event in our history that standard history books do not cover.

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