Media: Slideshow

The Middle Passage

Slave Ship Diagram

A schematic drawing of the slave ship Brooks (also known as the Brookes) portrays the inhumane living conditions that enslaved Africans endured during the Middle Passage. This fold-out engraving was published in the 1808 edition of The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-trade by the British Parliament, a two-volume work published by the English activist Thomas Clarkson. A leading opponent of the international slave trade, he wrote that this "famous print of the plan and section of a slave ship … was designed to give the spectator an idea of the sufferings of the Africans in the Middle Passage." The human cargo are shown lying down with no space between one another, the men segregated from the women. The drawing depicts 482 enslaved men, women, and children, the number permitted by law for a ship of that size; in reality, the Brooks sometimes carried as many as 740 slaves.

Original Author: Thomas Clarkson, author

Created: 1808

Medium: Engraving

Courtesy of University of Virginia Special Collections

The Slave Deck of the Bark "Wildfire," Brought into Key West on April 30, 1860

Captive Africans are shown crowded on the slave bark Wildfire—the men in the foreground, the women on an upper deck behind them—in this engraving published in the June 2, 1860, issue of Harper's Weekly. Though the United States had outlawed the importation of slaves in 1808, an illegal trade in enslaved Africans continued for decades. This vessel was captured by an anti-slaving ship and brought into port at Key West, Florida. The Harper's writer who boarded the ship reported that he saw "about four hundred and fifty native Africans, in a state of entire nudity, in a sitting or squatting posture, the most of them having their knees elevated so as to form a resting place for their heads and arms." The captives, who had come from an area near the Congo River in Africa, were subsequently sent to Liberia.

Created: 1860

Medium: Wood engraving

Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

Zoom In
  • Slave Ship Diagram

    A schematic drawing of the slave ship Brooks (also known as the Brookes) portrays the inhumane living conditions that enslaved Africans endured during the Middle Passage. This fold-out engraving was published in the 1808 edition of The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-trade by the British Parliament, a two-volume work published by the English activist Thomas Clarkson. A leading opponent of the international slave trade, he wrote that this "famous print of the plan and section of a slave ship … was designed to give the spectator an idea of the sufferings of the Africans in the Middle Passage." The human cargo are shown lying down with no space between one another, the men segregated from the women. The drawing depicts 482 enslaved men, women, and children, the number permitted by law for a ship of that size; in reality, the Brooks sometimes carried as many as 740 slaves.

    Original Author: Thomas Clarkson, author

    Created: 1808

    Medium: Engraving

    Courtesy of University of Virginia Special Collections

  • The Slave Deck of the Bark "Wildfire," Brought into Key West on April 30, 1860

    Captive Africans are shown crowded on the slave bark Wildfire—the men in the foreground, the women on an upper deck behind them—in this engraving published in the June 2, 1860, issue of Harper's Weekly. Though the United States had outlawed the importation of slaves in 1808, an illegal trade in enslaved Africans continued for decades. This vessel was captured by an anti-slaving ship and brought into port at Key West, Florida. The Harper's writer who boarded the ship reported that he saw "about four hundred and fifty native Africans, in a state of entire nudity, in a sitting or squatting posture, the most of them having their knees elevated so as to form a resting place for their heads and arms." The captives, who had come from an area near the Congo River in Africa, were subsequently sent to Liberia.

    Created: 1860

    Medium: Wood engraving

    Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division