The Middle Passage is remembered as one of the most atrocious periods in human history. African slaves were transported alongside other cargo in ships across the Atlantic Ocean, to be sold off in the New World. During the voyages, which took between two to eight months, the slaves underwent great suffering. The ships were overcrowded, and the slaves were either stacked on shelves or chained in rows on the floor for the entire journey with no room to turn. Due to poor ventilation, diseases spread easily, and casualties were thrown overboard.
The slaves were ill-fed and suffered malnutrition and starvation. In fact, when food supplies and drinking water dwindled, the ships' crews were given priority, and some slaves were thrown overboard to relieve pressure on the limited resources. In addition, they were brutally flogged if they showed any signs of rebellion. The female slaves were coerced into sexual servitude and raped continuously by the crew members.
The deplorable conditions did not only strip the slaves of their human dignity but also caused depression. Many contemplated suicide and actualized it through starvation or jumping overboard. Over two million slaves lost their lives during this period.
Besides gaining profits, the slave owners suffered negatively because they lost their humanity due to the brutality they showed the slaves. The ship's crew encountered the hardships of the voyages albeit to a lesser extent compared to slaves, and many of them died. Some slave owners made loses because insurance companies refused to compensate them for slaves lost during the voyages.
The Middle Passage was part of the triangular slave-trading route that began in Europe (often Spain or Portugal but also England), went to Africa, and then crossed the Atlantic to the New World. Europeans traded manufactured goods on arrival in Africa, which allowed them to purchase Africans for the slave markets in the New World. When the ships arrived in the New World, the slaves were sold for raw materials, and the ships returned to Europe to begin the cycle again.
Because Africans were considered to be something less than human, they were treated as animals on the Middle Passage, packed tightly into the lower decks and rarely allowed on the main deck for air. Their food was substandard and conditions led to severe diseases such as scurvy and dysentery. Most historians believe that 15% to 20% of the African passengers died on each Middle Passage, and the total number of dead Africans from the Middle Passage is probably 2 to 2.5 million.
Even the crew of ships transporting slaves lived a substandard ship-board life. The companies investing in this trade cared little more for the crew of these ships than they did for the Africans, and many of the crew genuinely disliked the trade. The brutality with which they treated the Africans also had a brutalizing effect on the sailors themselves.
The Middle Passage was so horrific that it became a cultural memory for thousands of African slaves in the New World.