olaudah equiano the middle passage (1788)

This made me fear these people the more; and I expected nothing less than to be treated in the same manner. I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me; but soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me eatables; and, on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands, and laid me across I think the windlass, and tied my feet, while the other flogged me severely. Within these ships, Africans from different countries, regions, cultures and with different languages learned to communicate with each other; many conspired to overthrow their captors together. Today, Olaudah Equiano’s narrative is an important source for how slaves were treated on the slave ships of the Middle Passage. I and some few more slaves, that were not saleable amongst the rest, from very much fretting, were shipped off in a sloop for North America. The African Slave-Trade and its Remedy"...The deck…was so covered with the blood and mucus..." They told me because they lived so very far off. In reading the document do you notice any other motivations for the cruelty of slave drivers? He declared that he would never go with white men…he died of hunger in eight or ten days". I had often with astonishment seen the mariners make observations with it, and I could not think what it meant. In this situation I expected every hour to share the fate of my companions, some of whom were almost daily brought upon deck at the point of death, which I began to hope would soon put an end to my miseries. This produced copious perspirations, so that the air soon became unfit for respiration, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died, thus falling victims to the improvident avarice, as I may call it, of their purchasers. È& The stench of the hold while we were on the coast was so intolerably loathsome, that it was dangerous to remain there for any time, and some of us had been permitted to stay on the deck for the fresh air; but now that the whole ship's cargo were confined together, it became absolutely pestilential.

Often did I think many of the inhabitants of the deep much more happy than myself. Among the sicknessStuck? Happily perhaps for myself I was soon reduced so low here that it was thought necessary to keep me almost always on deck; and from my extreme youth I was not put in fetters.

Not a few in our country fondly imagine that parents here sell their children, men their wives, and one brother the other. --Olaudah Equiano… While I was in this plantation [in Virginia] the gentleman, to whom I suppose the estate belonged, being unwell, I was one day sent for to his dwelling house to fan him; when I came into the room where he was I was very much affrighted at some things I saw, and the more so as I had seen a black woman slave as I came through the house, who was cooking the dinner, and the poor creature was cruelly loaded with various kinds of iron machines; she had one particularly on her head, which locked her mouth so fast that she could scarcely speak; and could not eat nor drink.

The first object which saluted my eyes when I arrived on the coast was the sea, and a slave ship, which was then riding at anchor, and waiting for its cargo. I had never experienced anything of this kind before; and although, not being used to the water, I naturally feared that element the first time I saw it, yet nevertheless, could I have got over the nettings, I would have jumped over the side, but I could not; and, besides, the crew used to watch us very closely who were not chained down to the decks, lest we should leap into the water: and I have seen some of these poor African prisoners most severely cut for attempting to do so, and hourly whipped for not eating. . . "Then," said I, "how comes it in all our country we never heard of them?"

Happily perhaps for myself I was soon reduced so low here that it was thought necessary to keep me almost always on deck; and from my extreme youth I was not put in fetters. The Middle Passage did not begin with the transatlantic voyage, but with the capture and sale of Africans, and ended with their forced ‘adjustment’ to life in the Americas. . What is fascinating about Olaudah Equiano's discussion of the Middle Passage is that, as a man who had been enslaved in Africa prior to being shipped as a slave to the Americas, he was in a unique position to describe slavery in Africa with his introduction to European-influenced slavery in North America. Indeed such were the horrors of my views and fears at the moment, that, if ten thousand worlds had been my own, I would have freely parted with them all to have exchanged my condition with that of the meanest slave in my own country.