<Standard 5.11........................................................................................................Standard 5.13>

Explain the causes of the establishment of slavery in North America. Describe the harsh conditions of the Middle Passage and slave life, and the responses of slaves to their condition. Describe the life of free African Americans in the colonies.

Bridgetown Boardwalk plaque recognizing the trans-Atlantic slave trade to Barbados
Bridgetown Boardwalk plaque recognizing the trans-Atlantic slave trade to Barbados

Topics on the Page
Overview of the Atlantic Slave Trade
Slavery in the New England Colonies
  • Rhode Island and the Slave Trade
  • Massachusetts and the Slave Trade
Causes of African Slavery in the American Colonies
The Middle Passage
  • Experience of Women
The Triangle Trade
Free African Americans in the Colonies
  • The Dunmore Proclamation
  • Olaudah Equiano
  • Phillis Wheatley
African American Experience after the Civil War

"The African slave who sailed to the New World did not sail alone. People bought their culture, no matter how adverse the circumstances, and therefore part of American is African."
Henry Louis Gates,Jr.

Focus Questions:

  • What were the causes of slavery in North America?

  • What was the experience of African Americans during the Middle Passage and slave life and how did they respond to their condition?

  • What was the experience of free African Americans in the colonies?

Teaching Resources

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  • For more on African slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade, see WHI.20 and USI.29

  • For information on the Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641) and the Massachusetts Bay Colony's legalization of slavery, go to US Government 2.1

United_States-CIA_WFB_Map.pngSee also AP United States History 3 for more colonial America

primary_sources.PNGA Narrative of Uncommon Sufferings, and Surprising Deliverance of Briton Hammon, A Negro Man (1760) is the first slave narrative published by an African American in the New World.

 Percentage of colonial population enslaved, 1770
Percentage of colonial population enslaved, 1770

Click here to learn about the wreck of the Henrietta Marie and slavery in the Americas

Rotating_globe-small.gifClick here for information on slave rebellions in the Americas

News Article from the Virginia Gazette from 1770 which depicts a slave rebellion in Virginia.

Ted Talk discussing the Atlantic Slave Trade

map_icon.jpegClick here for an interactive map of Enslaved Africans Living in Deerfield, Massachusetts in the 18th century.

timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for an interactive timeline that addresses slavery in American history

primary_sources.PNGClick here for The National Museum of American History, which contains primary documents of political cartoons and newspaper ads that were used for purchasing slaves

Slavery in New England Colonies

Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 11.29.04 AM.pngNew England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America. Wendy Warren. Liveright Publishing, 2016
  • Slavery in New England developed through trade networks links New England merchants with West Indian markets.
    • As enslaved Africans came in, New England merchants sent Indian captives out

Rhode Island and the Slave Trade

Teacher Tom Goldscheider provided these notes about Rhode Island and New England's leading role in the slave trade.
  • The DeWolfe family, based in Bristol, Rhode Island, made up the largest slave-holding dynasty in early America. James DeWolfe became the second richest man in America and a U. S. Senator. The family controlled a vertically-integrated business empire that included ships, slaves, sugar plantations, warehouses for storing molasses, distilleries for turning molasses into rum, insurance companies and banks.
  • Nearly everyone living in colonial Rhode Island in the late 1700s was drawn into the slave trading economy.
  • By 1750, there were upwards to 11,000 slaves in New England (in contrast to 800,000 imported to the Caribbean at the time). Slavery had been introduced in New England as early as 1638 and by 1715 one of every five slaves was held in the North. By 1750, one of every nine residents of Rhode Island was a slave; in South Kingston, Rhode Island the ratio was one to three.
  • Four governors, two LT. governors, and numerous assembly members and judges made their fortune in the slave trade as did John Brown, the principal founder of Brown University.
More on Slavery and the Slave Trade in Rhode Island.

masscities.pngMassachusetts and Slavery

  • Massachusetts was the first slave holding colony in America. In 1641, the colonial governor, John Winthrop, helped write the first law legalizing slavery in North America.
  • Slavery continued in Massachusetts well into the 1780's. but it was quickly coming under fire by both abolitionists and slaves themselves. James Otis wrote an influential pamphlet in 1764 stating "The colonists are by the law of nature freeborn, as indeed all men are, white or black." Click here for more information on slavery in Massachusetts.
  • Elizabeth Freeman, better known as Mum Bett, was the first slave to successfully sue for her freedom after her owner beat her with a shovel. The case set in motion the abolition of slavery within Massachusetts.
  • Springfield, Massachusetts has had a long and storied history of abolitionist spirit. Click here for more information that details what exactly the city's role was as it relates to the Underground Railroad.

rotating gif.gifSee Grade 5.31 for more on the abolition of slavery in the northern states after the Revolution

Causes of African Slavery in the American Colonies slavery3.jpg

  • beliefs that Indian slaves were not as good workers as African slaves
  • increase in the trade routes; particularly the triangular trade
  • diseases killed off many Indian populations creating a need for a labor source
  • some colonies were trying to forge alliances with the natives in their colonies
  • African slaves were inexpensive
  • colonists needed more help to keep up with the demand for agriculture and trade

The Middle Passage

  • The Middle Passage is the term given to journey that Africans were forced to make from west Africa to the Americas on slave ships. Some 9 to 15 million Africans were enslaved and taken to the Americas.
  • Many slaves died from malnutrition and disease, both during the passage and once they began their servitude
    • Slaves were packed into ships tightly, more than one million died during the journey
  • Slaves fought back whenever possible, many preferred to die than find out what laid ahead for them
    • Middle passage took close to 5 weeks
  • Slaves would use their chains and shackles to try and overtake the ships crew, but crewman had more advanced weapons, like guns, and did not give up control of the ships
    • Slaves were whipped and beaten once they were on the plantations; families were broken up and slaves were treated like property
  • Slaves were denied education and interactions with each other, anything to keep them weak and spiritless
    • Slave owners sought to rid slaves of anything identifying; names, religion, languages
Video from the History Channel describing the Middle Passage

primary_sources.PNGVisit this website for a comprehensive look at slave trade routes, the people envolved in the slave trade, and resistance measures to slavery.

Rotating_globe-small.gifThis website has detailed information on slave life and slave codes in the Americas

Rotating_globe-small.gifThis website provides information on over 35,000 slave voyages, and serves as a database to learn more about each of them specifically.

*disclaimer this page contains some graphic material*

womens history.jpgFor an analysis of the experience of enslaved African American women during the middle passage, click here

*disclaimer this page contains some graphic material*

Article describing the role of women as slaves during the period.
  • For every 1 women taken from the African continent, 2 men were taken
    • Was roughly equal in population in the Americas.

Triangle Trade

external image Triangular_trade.png

  • The Triangle Trade refers to the way in which slaves were brought to the Americas from the 17th to early 19th century.
  • Ships traveled from European to West African ports, bringing supplies to sell such as metals and weapons.
  • In West Africa, these ships traded their European supplies for slaves, which they then brought across the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean and North America.
  • After selling the slaves in the Caribbean and North America, the ships returned to Europe carrying New World exports, such as sugar, rum, tobacco, and hemp.

Free African Americans in the Colonies

Lesson plan for the "freedom fever" sweeping the colonies prior to the Revolutionary War

  • To gain further understanding on the lives of free African Americans in the Colonies, their individual accomplishments, and collective engagements, click here

  • Learn about freedom and bondage in the colonial era by visiting this PBS page which provides varying perspectives on slavery.

  • Click here to learn about the Dunmore Proclamation which many enslaved African Americans took advantage of in hopes of a chance at freedom.

Crispus Attucks was a free black man. He is considered to be the first American to die in the American Revolution since he was the first to die during the Boston Massacre. He was a runaway slave.
More on Crispus Attucks

Olaudah Equiano, aka Gustavus Vassa, 1789
Olaudah Equiano, aka Gustavus Vassa, 1789

external image Essener_Feder_01.pngOlaudah Equiano

As a boy of 11, Olaudah Equiano was sold into slavery, later acquired his freedom.

primary_sources.PNGIn 1789, wrote his widely-read autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African.

Phillis Wheatley, African American Poet
Phillis Wheatley, African American Poet

primary_sources.PNGLearn more about Amos Fortune, an African American slave who later became a free man who lived in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

African American Experience After the Civil War

For more on the historical development of slavery and white racism toward African Americans,see

  • United States History I.41
  • United States History II.9
  • United States History II.25
    • Had to follow Black Codes, which limited the rights and freedoms of free black people.
    • Were not allowed access to education, voting, and employment.
    • Most free African Americans were once slaves.
    • Free African Americans were not treated equally. Laws were often enacted to keep them weaker than whites. These laws have existed as recently as the 1960s, and were known as Jim Crow laws.
    • After Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to free slaves, many were not released. Those who were freed had no clothing, money, or food and often they had been long separated from their families.

primary_sources.PNG1865 Mississippi Black Codes

Multimedia.pngFor a video, see Jim Crow Museum Documentary on
Shown above is an example of African American opposition to the Jim Crow Laws

Work Cited




2. http://www.antislavery.org/breakingthesilence/main/04/index.shtml

3. http://www.jimcrowhistory.org/history/history.htm3. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/home.html

Image IDs from left to right

1. Slave Auction Ad Wikipedia, "Slave Auction Ad".
2. Middle Passage Map Wikipedia, "Triangular trade".
3. Jim Crow Laws Youtube from user GRCCtv, "Jim Crow Museum Documentary Ferris State".