"Saltwater Africans" are African slaves who survived the dangerous and terrifying "Middle Passage," or the middle part of the Atlantic triangle trade in which slaves were transported from Africa to the New World and traded for raw materials such as sugar and tobacco. These goods were then brought back to Europe. In the first phase of the trade, manufactured goods such as guns, iron, and cloth were brought to the western coast of Africa to trade for slaves. In contrast to many types of immigration, in which members of communities arrived in the New World together, African slaves were deliberately separated from people they knew during the Middle Passage. The poor and crowded conditions on board the slave ships resulted in a mortality rate among slaves of about 15%. Once "Saltwater Africans" arrived in the New World, they disseminated their culture throughout the Americas, despite the horrific restrictions and conditions of slavery.
The term “saltwater Africans” is one that is sometimes used to refer to African slaves who were actually taken from Africa and brought to the Americas across the “Middle Passage.” They are distinguished from slaves who were born in the Americas and had never had firsthand contact with Africa.
The saltwater Africans are significant for two main reasons. First, they had not been born and raised as slaves and were generally seen as more rebellious. They had not been raised in a slave system so as to be more accustomed to it. Whites who worked with slaves tended to claim that the saltwater Africans were harder to deal with than the “native” slaves. Second, saltwater Africans were an important source of African ways. As time went by and more slaves were African Americans (rather than Africans brought to America), an African American culture developed. Saltwater Africans were important in that they kept on infusing an African influence into this hybridized culture.