IMPORTANT:This page has used Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia in either a refactored, modified, abridged, expanded, built on or 'straight from' text content! (view authors)


Cross section of decks, "tight packing" of slaves, storage areas. This ship sailed from La Rochelle in 1784, picked up about 500 Africans from north of the Congo River, and sold its slaves in Saint Domingue.

File:La Rochelle slave ship Le Saphir 1741.jpg

La Rochelle slave ship Le Saphir ex-voto, 1741.

Slave ships were large cargo ships specially converted for the purpose of transporting slaves, especially newly purchased African slaves.

The most important routes of the slave ships led from the northern and middle coasts of Africa to South America and the south coast of what is today the Caribbean and the United States of America. The captains and sailors of the boats were allowed to do whatever they wanted with the slaves. This included rape, murder, and torture because the slaves were considered their property.[citation needed] As many as 20 million Africans were transported by ship.[1] The transportation of slaves from Africa to America was known as the Middle Passage. The African slave trade was outlawed in 1807, by a law passed jointly in the United States of America and the United Kingdom, the applicable UK Act was the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act and outlawed slavery throughout the British Empire. The US law took effect on January 1, 1808. After that date all US and English slave ships leaving Africa were legally pirate vessels subject to capture by the American and British navies. In 1815, at the Council of Vienna, Spain, Portugal, France and The Netherlands also agreed to abolish their slave trade. During this time, the slave ships became smaller and more cramped in exchange for improved performance in their new role as smuggling craft and blockade runners.

Atlantic slave trade

Only a few decades after the discovery of America by Europeans, demand for cheap labour to work plantations made slave-trading a profitable business. The peak time of slave ships to the Atlantic passage was between the 17th and 18th century when large plantations developed in the English colonies of North America.

In order to achieve profit, the owners of the ships divided their hulls into holds with little headroom, so they could transport as many slaves as possible. Unhygienic conditions, dehydration, dysentery and scurvy led to a high mortality rate, on average 15%[2] and up to a third of captives. Only the most resilient survived the transport. Often the ships, also known as Guineamen[3], transported hundreds of slaves, who were chained tightly to plank beds. For example, the slave ship "Henrietta Marie" carried about 200 slaves on the long Middle Passage. They were confined to cargo holds with each slave chained with little room to move.[4]


Brookes slave ship plan

List of slave ships


Note: While La Amistad is often called a slave ship, it was in fact a general purpose cargo ship, which occasionally carried slaves. See the article about the ship, and the resulting court case, for more information.

See also

Further reading


Turner's The Slave Ship


  1. Shillington, Kevin (2007). "Abolition and the Africa Trade". History Today 57 (3): 20–27.
  2. Mancke, Elizabeth and Shammas, Carole. The Creation of the British Atlantic World. 2005, page 30-1
  3. Glossary, The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database
  4. History: The Middle Passage
  5. "Brooks Slave Ship". E. Chambre Hardman Archives. Retrieved 2008-02-28.
  6. Gilliland, C. Herbert (2003). "Deliverance from this Floating Hell". Naval History 17 (48-51): 20–27.
  7. Slave Ship Trouvadore Website
  8. Harper's Weekly, June 2, 1860, p344. Online at The Slave Heritage Resource Center accessed 3 July 2006.

External links

de:Sklavenschiff eo:Sklavoŝipo fr:Navire négrier ko:노예선 nl:Slavenschip no:Slaveskip pt:Navio negreiro fi:Orjalaiva

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.