PASSAGE TO THE NEW WORLD (Illustration) American History Biographies African American History Civil Rights Law and Politics Tragedies and Triumphs Ethics Social Studies Slaves and Slave Owners

A compilation of images, from 1764, illustrates what Africans endured at the hands of slavers. “Marche D'esclaves” means “slave market,” and this is plate XI from Le Commerce de l'Amerique par Marseille by M. Chambon. See the link, at the top right of this chapter's Media Stream, to learn more about the specific images.


Many historians have described what it must have been like for kidnapped Africans to sail across the Atlantic. Olaudah Equiano tells us what it was like:

  • Children were kidnapped from their homes, often when their parents were not there. A similar event happened to Olaudah and his sister. He was eleven years old.

  • At some point, before he sailed, Equiano was separated from his sister. It was a frightening event for both of them.

  • The first time the young lad set eyes on a slave ship, he was terrified.

  • He thought he was brought on board to be eaten by the white men:

    When I looked round the ship too and saw a large furnace of copper boiling, and a multitude of black people of every description chained together, every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow, I no longer doubted my fate and quite overpowered with horror and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck and fainted...I asked if we were not to be eaten by those white men with horrible looks, red faces and long hair?

  • Since he did not live on the African coast, and had never seen a ship, Equiano thought sailing happened by magic.

  • Conditions on board ship were so bad he would have jumped overboard had he been able.

  • Equiano learned he would be taken far away to work for the white men in their country.

  • During the crossing, the stench below deck, nearly unbearable on the coast, became "pestilential."

  • Many of the kidnapped Africans thought death was preferable to living on a slave ship.

  • Some of the captives jumped into the water, committing suicide. More would have followed had the crew not stopped them.

  • Equiano’s ship arrived in Barbados.

  • He, and the other captured Africans, were sold as slaves on the Caribbean island.

Olaudah Equiano spent many years at sea as the slave of a naval man. Although he became a freeman in 1766, for the sum of 40 pounds sterling, he never saw his parents or sister again.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5155stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jun 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: Mar 01, 2015

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