The Middle Passage: The Experience of Women and Children

Turner-Pewitt, Shawn

The Atlantic Slave trade produced an episode in history never before experienced by any race of people: The Middle Passage. It was the most far reaching episode of the Slave trade. The Africans that journeyed from the coast of the continent to the shores of the unknown Americas were forever changed by their experiences during the Middle Passage. It was an extremely long and intense journey. During this journey Africans began their transformation to being an American, albeit an enslaved one. The African women and children captured for slavery aboard the slave ships had a unique experience during the Middle Passage. The women were usually kept separate from the men. They were allowed (along with the children) near the top deck with the crewmembers. Women slaves were valuable only in the fact that they could potentially produce more slaves. They were actually considered worth half of what males were worth.

Despite the harsh conditions, isolation and uncertain outcome their journey during the Middle Passage, African women were able to build community and forge alliances amongst themselves. Even during the period of being held at the slave castles, the African women used the opportunity to make connections in familiarities of languages, customs and localities. “As they (women) struggled to locate themselves in relation to the violation of their capture, their sense of community would be gendered in various ways.” Their sense of community, culture and survival allowed African women to gain strength and endure the horrors of the Middle Passage and subsequently slavery. Women would treat each other as kin during this time of the slavery process. It was a source of comfort to have a sense of the familiar. The enslaved African women did not allow her circumstance to affect her ability to try to make sense of her ordeal and care for herself and others as best she could. There were some women who would recount their stories of survival. Women who endured the shame and humiliation of being enslaved but still were able to tell their stories.