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Captive Passage: The Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Making of the Americas

Captive Passage
has been made
possible in part by:
National Endowment for the Humanities
Recognition of
additional sponsors
for this exhibition
can be found by
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Middle PassageSailing and StormsStowageIllness and Death
Ships and CrewsProvisionsEnduring the Middle PassageResistance



A ship that takes in five hundred slaves must provide above 100,000 yams, which is very difficult, because it is hard to store them, by reason that they take up so much room; and yet no less ought to be provided, the slave being of such a constitution that no other food will keep them: Indian corn, beans and mandioca disagreeing with their stomachs.

Jean Barbot, from A description of the coasts of north and south Guinea, and of Ethiopia...account of the western maritime countries of Africa, London, 1732

Food taken on the Middle Passage was by necessity simple. Amounts and types of food varied, but by about 1780, a daily ration for a slave was yams, a biscuit, beans, flour, and salted beef. To avoid scurvy, slaves were sometimes given a swig of vinegar or lime juice.

Water casks for a lengthy voyage took up a good deal of space. Sailing close to the equator in a crowded ship, even those not suffering from dysentery became badly dehydrated. When the voyage took longer than planned, rations were reduced, and this increased the misery, sickness, and death below deck.