From Africa to the Caribbean
Updated: Apr 30
The images that are shown below help us to visualize how the enslaved Africans were transported across the Atlantic to the New World. The artists who created them were often trying to show the most efficient way to place the men, women, and children into the ship. They wanted to maximize the profits of trading these people when they got to the Americas. Later, abolitionists, those who were trying to ban the slave trade and eventually slavery itself, used images like these to show the inhumanity of treating fellow human beings in this way. It is very hard to imagine what it must have been like for the actual people represented by these little images on a piece of paper. You can read more about these images at the website” slaveryimages.com.
The following description is taken from our ebook/lesson plan entitled, The Not-So-Sweet History of Caribbean Sugar.
“Once onboard the ships the traumatized prisoners were kept chained below the decks in stifling conditions. Sometimes the ships' captains allowed them to eat their meals on the deck and to move around for short periods to get exercise. The Africans had no way of knowing what was happening to them and some of them used the opportunity of being on deck as a chance to jump overboard into the sea. They preferred to drown near their own country than being taken to an unknown fate. The journey across the Atlantic during the early colonial period could take from one month to as long as six months depending on the kind of weather the ships encountered. During the journey, the Africans endured the horrible conditions of being packed into a small, dark space with no fresh air to breathe. The smell from people being sick filled the hot air. If someone died they were thrown overboard for the sharks to eat. When the ship arrived in the Caribbean, the Africans were lined up and sold like farm animals. Those who were purchased by sugar planters began their new lives in the harsh world of Caribbean slavery.”
Some of the ships traveling from the African continent to the Americas did not complete the journey. The sunken wreckages reveal evidence of the gruesome ordeal of African families torn from their homes. Watch this short video of one such find: https://insider.si.edu/2015/10/slave-ship-artifacts-recovered/
The National Museum of African American History has fascinating information and images relating to the experiences of enslaved Africans: https://nmaahc.si.edu/slavery-and-freedom