Slave Ships & the Atlantic Crossing (Middle Passage)

  • Decks of a Slaving Vessel, 1823-24

    These illustrations (the top one giving a scale in feet; the bottom showing a cross section of the hold and placement of enslaved Africans) accompany an article on the slave trade reporting on a recent discussion in the British parliament dealing with the extinction of this vile traffic. In a House of Commons speech, a member read from a letter which had been sent him by a British naval officer; the drawings of a slave vessel accompanied this letter. The drawings had come into the officer's hands in 1823 and 1824 from a fellow officer who, on board HMS Slaney, had captured a slaver in Cuban waters. When captured, several of the slaves were dead, others dying; and when the remnant was removed into the Slaney, their flesh was found to be mortified, and crawling with maggots, owing to their long confinement and sitting posture (p. 123).
  • Hold of Brazilian Slave Ship, 1845

    Pencil and watercolor by Lt. Francis Meynell, Slave deck of the Albaroz, Prize to the Albatross, 1845, shows Africans liberated by the British Navy. The Albanez (erroneously identified as Albaroz in the National Maritime Museum catalog) was a Brazilian vessel, captured by the Royal Navy ship, Albatross, off the mouth of the Coanza/Cuanza River (in present-day Angola) in 1845. Meynell was mate on the Albatross, captained at the time by Reginald Yorke. According to the NMM records, the Albatross was commissioned in 1842 and cruised African waters until 1849. See image reference E028 for more details.
  • Cross-section of French Slave Ship Aurore, 1784

    Artist's reconstruction of decks aboard the Aurore, which sailed from La Rochelle, France, in 1784, acquired about 500 Africans from West Central Africa, and sold its captives in Saint Domingue. The illustration shows tight packing of captives and storage areas. This illustration was apparently produced expressly for the museum exhibition in Nantes, and was done by Jean Boudriot, a naval architect; it is a composite of two of his earlier drawings which were first published in his Traite et Navire Nègrier líAurore (Paris, 1984), pp. 38-39, 46-47. See also image references E010, F001, H001. For a discussion of this and other late 18th century slaving vessels, see Herbert S. Klein, The Atlantic Slave Trade: Second Edition (Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 146-150. David Moore helped in the identification of this source.
  • French Slave Ship Vigilante, 1822

    Engraved drawing of the French slaving vessel Vigilante, showing cross sections of lower decks where captives were confined; leg and arm shackles are also illustrated. The manuscript caption at the top of the drawing reads: The representation of the brig Vigilante from Nantes, a vessel employed in the slave trade which was captured by Lieutenant Mildmay in the River Bonny, on the coast of Africa, on the 15th of April 1822. She was 240 tons of burden and had on board at the time she was taken 345 slaves. The slaves were found lying on their backs on the lower deck, as represented below; those in the centre were sitting, some in the posture in which they are there shown and others with their legs bent under them, resting upon the soles of their feet. This illustration was published as a foldout facing the title page in a pamphlet, Case of the Vigilante, a ship employed in the slave-trade: with some reflections on that traffic (London, 1826); this pamphlet gives details on the dimensions of each deck and the spaces allotted for the enslaved (copy in the John Carter Brown Library). This drawing was initially published as a large fold out in b/w, with accompanying descriptive text, in Affaire de La Vigilante, batiment nègrier de Nantes (Paris, 1823; see image JCB_01198-1 on this website). Nantes was the major French slave trading port.
  • Top Deck of French Slave Ship, 19th cent.

    Transport des Negres dans les Colonies (transport of blacks to the colonies) shows close-up of top deck of slaver with Africans and European sailors; barrier on deck separates African men and women.
  • Revolt Aboard Slave Ship, 1787

    Shows crowded top deck of slave ship with ship's crew firing guns on captives; some Africans diving overboard. This colored illustration (in a copy of the Fox book located at Widener Library, Harvard University) was first published in black and white in Carl B. Wadstrom, An Essay on Colonization, particularly applied to the Western coast of Africa... in Two Parts (London, 1794, 1795; reprinted New York, A.M. Kelley, 1968).
  • British Naval Vessel Chases a Slave Ship, 1850

    Her Majesty's Steamer 'Rifleman,' in Chase of a Brazilian Slaver. A brief account accompanying this illustration describes how the British ship had been cruising off the coast of Brazil to intercept this slaving vessel. After a chase, the slaver, possibly named the Esmeralda, escaped and landed about 500 slaves not far from Rio de Janeiro. The account reports that this was the first time of a vessel escaping when once observed by the Rifleman (p. 468).
  • Sleeping Position of Africans on Slave Ship, 1857

    Caption, Sleeping position of slaves in the pack, shows two of the liberated Africans with tin or wood identification or registration tags placed on them by the colonial authorities. This is one of a group of five illustrations that accompany a letter to the editor describing the capture by the British Navy of a slave ship, the Zeldina, blown off course near the coast of Cuba. Dated Kingston, Jamaica, May 11, 1857, the letter includes excerpts from two Jamaican newspapers; these provide details on the capture and the condition of the Africans on board. The engravings shown here were made from photographs sent by the writer to the Illustrated London News. In brief, these accounts relate how in April a British naval vessel captured the slave ship and brought it to Port Royal. On board were the 370 survivors of the approximately 500 Africans who had been boarded in Cabinda (Angola) approximately 46 days earlier. A contemporary newspaper describes their condition as follows: The poor captives were in a wretched condition--all of them naked; and the greater part seemed to have been half starved. They were packed closely together, and covered with dirt and vermin . . . The slave-schooner had two decks and between them the captives were packed in such a manner that they had scarcely room to move. During each day of the voyage they sat in a painful posture, 18 inches only being allowed for each to turn in . . . in a deck room of 30 feet in length . . . [they were] brought up in platoons once every day to get a small portion of fresh air. (ILN, pp. 595-596). See also image reference iln595b.
  • Africans Liberated from a Slave Ship, Jamaica, 1857

    Caption, Group of slaves on the parade at Fort Augusta, shows liberated Africans being held at Port Royal, Jamaica. This is one of a group of five illustrations that accompany a letter to the editor describing the capture by the British Navy of a slave ship, the Zeldina, blown off course near the coast of Cuba. Dated Kingston, Jamaica, May 11, 1857, the letter includes excerpts from two Jamaican newspapers; these provide details on the capture and the condition of the Africans on board. The engravings shown here were made from photographs sent by the writer to the Illustrated London News. In brief, these accounts relate how in April a British naval vessel captured the slave ship and brought it to Port Royal. On board were the 370 survivors of the approximately 500 Africans who had been boarded in Cabinda (Angola) approximately 46 days earlier. A contemporary newspaper describes their condition as follows: The poor captives were in a wretched condition--all of them naked; and the greater part seemed to have been half starved. They were packed closely together, and covered with dirt and vermin . . . . The slave-schooner had two decks and between them the captives were packed in such a manner that they had scarcely room to move. During each day of the voyage they sat in a painful posture, 18 inches only being allowed for each to turn in . . . in a deck room of 30 feet in length . . . [they were] brought up in platoons once every day to get a small portion of fresh air . . (ILN, pp. 595-596). Thanks to David Eltis for providing the name of the slave ship.
  • Africans Packed into a Slave Ship, 1857

    Caption, Slaves packed below and on deck, shows how Africans were crammed into a slave ship that was captured. This is one of a group of five illustrations that accompany a letter to the editor describing the capture by the British Navy of a slave ship, the Zeldina, blown off course near the coast of Cuba. Dated Kingston, Jamaica, May 11, 1857, the letter includes excerpts from two Jamaican newspapers; these provide details on the capture and the condition of the Africans on board. The engravings shown here were made from photographs sent by the writer to the Illustrated London News. In brief, these accounts relate how in April a British naval vessel captured the slave ship and brought it to Port Royal. On board were the 370 survivors of the approximately 500 Africans who had been boarded in Cabinda (Angola) approximately 46 days earlier. A contemporary newspaper describes their condition as follows: The poor captives were in a wretched condition--all of them naked; and the greater part seemed to have been half starved. They were packed closely together, and covered with dirt and vermin . . . . The slave-schooner had two decks and between them the captives were packed in such a manner that they had scarcely room to move. During each day of the voyage they sat in a painful posture, 18 inches only being allowed for each to turn in . . . in a deck room of 30 feet in length . . . [they were] brought up in platoons once every day to get a small portion of fresh air . . (ILN, pp. 595-596). Thanks to David Eltis for providing the name of the slave ship.
  • Africans Liberated from a Slave Ship, Jamaica, 1857

    Slaves at Fort Augusta, shows a group of liberated Africans, wearing tin or wood tags around their necks. British officials placed these tags when the Africans were landed for registration and administrative purposes. This is one of a group of five illustrations that accompany a letter to the editor describing the capture by the British Navy of a slave ship, the Zeldina, blown off course near the coast of Cuba. Dated Kingston, Jamaica, May 11, 1857, the letter includes excerpts from two Jamaican newspapers; these provide details on the capture and the condition of the Africans on board. The engravings shown here were made from photographs sent by the writer to the Illustrated London News. In brief, these accounts relate how in April a British naval vessel captured the slave ship and brought it to Port Royal. On board were the 370 survivors of the approximately 500 Africans who had been boarded in Cabinda (Angola) approximately 46 days earlier. A contemporary newspaper describes their condition as follows: The poor captives were in a wretched condition--all of them naked; and the greater part seemed to have been half starved. They were packed closely together, and covered with dirt and vermin . . . . The slave-schooner had two decks and between them the captives were packed in such a manner that they had scarcely room to move. During each day of the voyage they sat in a painful posture, 18 inches only being allowed for each to turn in . . . in a deck room of 30 feet in length . . . [they were] brought up in platoons once every day to get a small portion of fresh air . . (ILN, pp. 595-596). Thanks to Sharla Fett for identifying the tags and to David Eltis for providing the name of the slave ship. Illustrations of archaeologically recovered tags on St. Helena and more details are discussed by Helen MacQuarrie, in A. Pearson et al, Infernal Traffic: Excavation of a Liberated African Graveyard in Rupertís Valley, St. Helena (Council for British Archaeology, Research Report 169; York, England, 2011), pp. 100-102. See also image reference iln 595e.
  • Captured Slave Ship, Jamaica, 1857

    Caption, The slave-schooner at Port Royal. This is one of a group of five illustrations that accompany a letter to the editor describing the capture by the British Navy of a slave ship, the Zeldina, blown off course near the coast of Cuba. Dated Kingston, Jamaica, May 11, 1857, the letter includes excerpts from two Jamaican newspapers; these provide details on the capture and the condition of the Africans on board. The engravings shown here were made from photographs sent by the writer to the Illustrated London News. In brief, these accounts relate how in April a British naval vessel captured the slave ship and brought it to Port Royal. On board were the 370 survivors of the approximately 500 Africans who had been boarded in Cabinda (Angola) approximately 46 days earlier. A contemporary newspaper describes their condition as follows: The poor captives were in a wretched condition--all of them naked; and the greater part seemed to have been half starved. They were packed closely together, and covered with dirt and vermin . . . . The slave-schooner had two decks and between them the captives were packed in such a manner that they had scarcely room to move. During each day of the voyage they sat in a painful posture, 18 inches only being allowed for each to turn in . . . in a deck room of 30 feet in length . . . [they were] brought up in platoons once every day to get a small portion of fresh air . . (ILN, pp. 595-596). Thanks to David Eltis for providing the name of the slave ship.
  • Brazilian Slave Ship Captured by British Navy, 1849

    Captioned, Capture of a Brazilian Slaver by H.M.S. 'Rattler' off Lagos, the brief accompanying article (p. 440) describes the nine hour pursuit and capture, off the coast of present-day Nigeria, of the notorious piratical slave schooner, Andorinha in August 1849. The Rattler is shown on the left. The slaver was manned by a motely crew, consisting of 39 cut-throat looking fellows. The commander was Brazilian. The slaver was a large, American-built schooner, which had frequently made slaving voyages to the Nigerian coast, primarily the Bight of Benin, and was often chased by British vessels stationed in those waters. This was her last voyage. The article says nothing about any slaves that were on board. (see also image iln409).
  • Capture of a Slave Ship, African Coast, 1859

    Caption, Capture of a Large Slave-Ship by the H.M.S. 'Pluto'. Shows a British naval vessel of the West African squadron capturing a large barque off an unnamed section of the west coast of Africa. The capture took place on Nov. 30, 1859. There were 847 slaves on board, the largest number of slaves ever taken in one vessel. . . . On seeing the naval officers look down the main hatch, the liberated slaves sent up a most hearty cheer, which can never be forgotten by those who heard it (p. 410). Although not mentioned in the ILN article, the captured slave ship was, in fact, the Orion, from New York. It took on slaves at Cabinda, went to St. Helena, and from there the Africans were probably trans-shipped to the British Americas as apprentices. (We thank David Eltis for this information.) For a detailed and informative account of another British ship in the West African squadron which deposited its prizes in St. Helena, see A. Pearson, Waterwitch: a warship, its voyage and its crew in the era of anti-slavery (Atlantic Studies, vol. 13 [2016], pp., 99
  • Cross-Section of Slave Ship, 1857

    Caption, Section of the Slaver, 'Abbot Devereux'. Accompanies an article describing the chase and capture of an unidentified slaving vessel. See illustration Capture of a Slave Ship, 1857 on this website. On this illustration, note on the top deck, the ship's copper and the slaves copper the large cauldrons in which food was cooked (see image references cauldron_lg and cauldron_sm on this website).
  • Capture of a Slave Ship, African Coast, 1857

    Caption, H.M. Gun-boat 'Teaser' capturing the slaver 'Abbot Devereux'. Written by the captain or another officer of the British naval vessel, this eyewitness account, dated Aug. 6, 1857 (with accompanying sketches), describes the capture of a slaver off the coast of Whydah (Ouidah), in West Africa. There were 235 enslaved Africans on board, and although the nationality of the slaver is not mentioned, it had a 27 man crew of Spaniards, Americans, Portuguese, and Brazilians. The writer describes the chase in detail and adds: As soon as we boarded her the hatches were opened, and such a scene never was witnessed. The slaves had been battened down all day during our nine hours' chase. They were all seasick and the stench and filth are incredible; perhaps you can imagine 235 human beings shut up in a place 50 feet by 20 feet, and only 3 feet 6 inches high, just room enough to clear the top of their heads when they are in a sitting position. They cried and sang, and those who could danced with delight. The liberated Africans were sent to Sierra Leone, the first full vessel taken to Sierra Leone for upwards of nine years (pp. 283-284).
  • Shackles Used on Slave Ship, 1845

    The article accompanying this illustration reports that these shackles were recovered by divers from a U.S. steamer, the Missouri, which had sunk from fire at Gibraltar. The incident had been reported in the Times of London which wrote that the divers had daily recovered in cartloads . . . slave shackles, of every strength and size, for men and women, old and young . . . . They are such as are used in the slave trade.
  • Slave Ship, East African Coast, 1840s

    Captioned, Batiment négrier de la cote d'Afrique, shows an Arab slave ship (a dhow) off the East African coast, probably near Zanzibar. This illustration accompanies a lengthy eyewitness account by Loarer (no first name given) on slavery on the east coast of Africa (pp. 135-138). The author reports that he witnessed such dhows of sixty tons with about 400 slaves, every cubic meter always holds five or six slaves (p. 135; our translation).
  • Irons and Shackles Used on Slave Ships, late 18th cent.

    Clarkson explains (vol. 1, pp. 375-377) that he purchased these items in a shop in Liverpool and that they had been used on slave ships. A, pair of handcuffs for men (right wrist of one person was padlocked to left wrist of another); B, leg shackles for men (right ankle of one is fastened to left ankle of another); C,D,E, the thumbscrew used for punishing slaves (The thumbs are put into this instrument through the two circular holes at the top of it. By turning a key, a bar rises up by means of a screw from C to D, and the pressure upon them becomes painful. By turning it further you may make the blood start from the ends of them . . .); F,G,H, speculum oris or mouth opener (used by surgeons aboard slave ships for force feeding, in cases of locked jaw or on persons who for one reason or another refused to eat or could not eat). The same illustrations appear in the 1808 Philadelphia edition, but between pp. 300 and 301.
  • Ship's Bell Recovered from Slave Ship Henrietta Marie, 1700

    Photo of archaeologically-recovered ship's bell; although partially encrusted, the name of the ship is clearly shown. The Henrietta Marie transported about 200 slaves from the Bight of Biafra to Jamaica. For details, see David Moore, Site Report: Historical and Archaeological Investigation of the Shipwreck Henrietta Marie (Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, 1997). (slide of photo, courtesy of David Moore, North Carolina Maritime Museum)
  • Slave Ship Henrietta Marie, 1699

    Drawing, artist's reconstruction, profile view of ship. The Henrietta Marie transported about 200 slaves from the Bight of Biafra to Jamaica. For details, see David Moore, Site Report: Historical and Archaeological Investigation of the Shipwreck Henrietta Marie (Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, 1997); slide of drawing, courtesy of David Moore, North Carolina Maritime Museum.
  • Slave Ship Henrietta Marie, 1699/1700

    Drawing; artist's reconstruction; profile view of ship.
  • Slave Ship Henrietta Marie, 1700

    Artists' reconstruction of cross section of hold: top, H. M. converted to carry Africans on the middle passage; bottom, H. M. converted to carry cargo. The Henrietta Marie transported about 200 slaves from the Bight of Biafra to Jamaica.
  • Shackles Recovered from Slave Ship Henrietta Marie, 1700

    Photo of archaeologically-recovered shackles. The Henrietta Marie transported about 200 slaves from the Bight of Biafra to Jamaica. For details, see David Moore, Site Report: Historical and Archaeological Investigation of the Shipwreck Henrietta Marie (Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, 1997). (slide of photo, courtesy of David Moore, North Carolina Maritime Museum)
  • Shackles on Slave Ship Henrietta Marie, 1700

    Drawing by Frank Besse of archaeologically- recovered leg shackles. The Henrietta Marie transported about 200 slaves from the Bight of Biafra to Jamaica. For details, see David Moore, Site Report: Historical and Archaeological Investigation of the Shipwreck Henrietta Marie (Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, 1997). (slide of drawing, courtesy of David Moore, North Carolina Maritime Museum)
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