THE MIDDLE PASSAGE MYTH (Illustration) Civil Rights Famous People Film Geography Law and Politics Social Studies Visual Arts World History Slaves and Slave Owners

In this image we see “Musicians, Kingdom of Kongo, 1670s,” a seventeenth-century drawing by Father Giovanni Antonio Cavazzi da Montecuccolo and included in his Araldi Manuscript.  The image (Reference Bassani-19) is online via Slavery Images.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite; sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.


In July of 1788, as MPs (Members of Parliament) debated the issue of African slave-trading, pro-slave-trade members summoned individuals, like Robert Norris, to testify.

From Liverpool, Norris insisted that Africans were treated fairly and their transatlantic passages were comfortable. His book on the subject - at pages 171 and 172 - reveals his general position:

That the opinion...of these ships being unequal to the numbers which were said to be crowded in them, is groundless...That on the voyage from Africa to the West Indies, the Negroes are well fed, comfortably lodged, and have every possible attention paid to their health, cleanliness, and convenience.

Thomas Clarkson, in chapter 23 of his history, summarizes Norris' testimony to the privy council. The captive Africans, Norris said:

had sufficient room, sufficient air, and sufficient provisions. When upon deck, they made merry and amused themselves with dancing. As to the mortality, or the loss of them by death in the course of their passage, it was trifling. In short, the voyage from Africa to the West Indies  "was one of the happiest periods of a Negro's life."

Norris, like others, wanted to maintain slave-trading for economic reasons. He knew slave labor was "the connecting medium of our foreign with our domestic commerce." British manufacturing depended on it. If that connection were removed:

The export of British manufactures, which to Africa and the Colonies amount to nearly three millions sterling annually, would soon be reduced to nothing...From the inevitable decrease of the import of West Indian productions, there would be such a deficiency of the national revenue, as the imposition of fresh taxes, upon a people deprived of their accustomed resources of opulence and industry, could not possibly replace ... Our national importance would quickly decline, and be known to the next generation, only by the page of history. (Norris, pages 182-183)

Anti-slave MPs were unimpressed. Their withering cross examination drew out actual facts about the gruesome Middle Passage (and the "savage legacy" racism would ultimately produce).

0 Question or Comment?
click to read or comment
3 Questions 2 Ponder
click to read and respond
0 It's Awesome!
vote for your favorite

Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jan 01, 2007

Updated Last Revision: Mar 16, 2017

To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"THE MIDDLE PASSAGE MYTH" AwesomeStories.com. Jan 01, 2007. Jan 18, 2020.
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Show tooltips