Life on board slave ships

Slave ships spent several months travelling to different parts of the coast, buying their cargo. The captives were often in poor health from the physical and mental abuse they had suffered. They were taken on board, stripped naked and examined from head to toe by the captain or surgeon.

Conditions on board ship during the Middle Passage were appalling. The men were packed together below deck and were secured by leg irons. The space was so cramped they were forced to crouch or lie down. Women and children were kept in separate quarters, sometimes on deck, allowing them limited freedom of movement, but this also exposed them to violence and sexual abuse from the crew.

The air in the hold was foul and putrid. Seasickness was common and the heat was oppressive. The lack of sanitation and suffocating conditions meant there was a constant threat of disease. Epidemics of fever, dysentery (the ‘flux’) and smallpox were frequent. Captives endured these conditions for about two months, sometimes longer.

In good weather the captives were brought on deck in midmorning and forced to exercise. They were fed twice a day and those refusing to eat were force-fed. Those who died were thrown overboard.

The combination of disease, inadequate food, rebellion and punishment took a heavy toll on captives and crew alike. Surviving records suggest that until the 1750s one in five Africans on board ship died.

Some European governments, such as the British and French, introduced laws to control conditions on board. They reduced the numbers of people allowed on board and required a surgeon to be carried. The principal reason for taking action was concern for the crew and not the captives.

The surgeons, though often unqualified, were paid head-money to keep captives alive. By about 1800 records show that the number of Africans who died had declined to about one in eighteen.


I just wanted to know why there is a whole topic of History of slavery as if this magazine did not put enough efforts to research on History and Kingship!It simply gives the impression that the African people where just born SLAVES. Well, they were not!So please, stop feeding us with Slavery, start researching just like your colleagues did in this month issue of the New African Magazine, it will be more beneficial to us all.

    Black History Month magazine is a resource used for a number of schools across the country who are teaching slavery to many children for the first time. It is more than just Black History, it is American and European history too.
    Now whilst we will be moving onto topics like the great Ghanaian Empires, Pre-colonial African history, the Wealth Africa had to offer to the Middle and Far East on the Silk Road and the Migration of Africans over the course of 500 years; we do have to address the elephant in the room so that when we do cover more interesting topics, nobody can complain that we didn’t cover the most obvious and well taught aspect of Black History so far. So please bear with us, we will cover the better things soon.


@ Saran Keita, no human being was born slave, not even the slaves captured by the Keita or Diallo and sold to the European merchant slave traders!!! However all those embarked from the Gore island and other infamous slave ships point of departure became immediately slaves irrespective of whether they were Keita, Diallo or something else… I’m sick and tired of some African continuing to express their kingship or superiority to other African.. I always repeat it to my grand parents..
Diallo, your next door neighbour:)

this website is really good, and this bit of info about the slave ship told me all i needed to know for my school project.
thanks u guys

I think that this website is good and we should support it!

you did not do enough research for this to be an actual article. my advice is to research more accurate and just more facts in general. blacks were not the only slaves. slaves were all races and genders the location that the majority of the slaves came from was Africa that is why there were more blacks than any other race. but the first slaves were strong men(any race) stolen from their families and sent to work for people who didn’t pay them. life on the slave ships was gruesome and horrible. they were fed slop like pigs from a ladle. water was so scarce that when they were given water, they would do anything for it even if it meant fighting for it.

i think blacks was picked more often because there more stronger and healthy. there was women slaves and children and the ships and they abused the women more. they picked children more because they are faster at putting seed at the farms they go to.

just yesterday i was telling my friend about this website that talk about the passion of every pan African around the globe

i really feel for them

Why is everyone here rambling on. I think that this is a good website and if you think that they didn’t do enough research then go to a new website.

This really helped! Thanks! 🙂


wow. must have been a very horrid way of life. poor them. I’m glad this shit was abolished

This article doesn’t tell me what they did during the day though.

the whole point was that they didn’t do anything in the day and it was very miserable

The heart is deceitful, and desperately wicked, these slave ships were an abomination, that prove that point.

I am not a slave anymore ok.

This article taught me so much and made my heart hurt without this article I wouldn’t know this much and I wouldn’t understand as much thank you for making this article

This is really well made image and I was hoping to use it in a project for my university class and I was wondering if you had any information on the artist or when it was created?


I am a white American who comes from a long line of Hungarian peasants. No wealthy land owners. My ancestors lived on cabbage and onions. But at least they had that. As I write this I am watching a TV show on slavery and I feel sickened. The inhumanity of mankind to those who look or act different is amazing. Sometimes I’m actually embarrassed to be Caucasian.


I find this really interesting


Yet we are still slave in Africa, not physically but mental. After all the disaster and horrors of the slavery for more than 300 years, in our schools they don’t teach us much more about impacts of slavery and colonization, and how to rebuild confidence in ourselves.
We still do things like we depend on others (the masters). Sad reality…..

this is just what i need for a school project

Reading this is truly heartbreaking. Also considering the fact that they expected them to work after being held in such a non sanitary and disease threatening area. It also makes me sad how some even committed suicide when they were allowed on deck.

Humans have been enslaving each other since the dawn of civilization. Although the Atlantic slave trade was probably the largest and the most brutal exchange of slaves in history. However in other parts of the world some were able to successfully liberate themselves and defeat their captors (see: Haitian Revolution). Modern slavery still exists in the US in the form of mass incarceration. Many prisoners serving time are innocent and were simply present at the wrong place at the wrong time. This includes people of all races however the most vulnerable and marginalized people are affected the most such as racial minorities like black people. As in history, the most unfortunate are taken advantage of the most. This is unlikely to ever change universally.

Slavery just sucks I cannot believe people thought it was okay like I am embarrassed to be white also this is a good article some people just are desperate for something to complain about. So don’t pay attention to rude comments.

I saw a picture from that time, which shows blacks of my ancestors walking in a column one by one, connected one after the other with chains around their necks, and with chains on their arms. They were almost naked. They only had a piece of white cloth around their thighs like white underpants. And of course barefoot.

Not enough information.

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