Skip to main content
Create interactive lessons using any digital content including wikis with our free sister product
. Get it on the
Pages and Files
Democratic Teaching Methods
Hidden Histories, Dramatic Events
, Historical Biographies & Special Topic Pages
AP World History
AP United States History
AP Government & Politics
AP Art History
Grades 1 & 2
Grades 3 & 4
Grade 5 (United States History)
Grade 6 (World Geography)
Grade 7 (Ancient/Classical Civilizations)
World History I & II
United States History I & II
Influential Men: World
Infuential Men: U.S.
Influential Women: U. S.
Influential Women: World
Primary Sources: U.S.
Primary Sources: World
Public Domain and Copyright Information
Large Visitor Globe
Feedjit Live Blog Stats
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.
A plaque along the Bridgetown Boardwalk to recognize the trans-Atlantic slave trade to Barbados
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?
Topics on the Page
and the Slave Trade
"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.
For more on African slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade, see
See Dramatic Event page
Origins of the Atlantic Slave Trade
For information on the Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641) and the Massachusetts Bay Colony's legalization of slavery, go to US Government
AP United States History 3
for more colonial America
A 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
A Slave Ship Speaks: The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie
from the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society in Key West, Florida.
Click here for
More on the wreck of the Henrietta Marie and slavery in the Americas
Short video describing the
history of American slavery
Click here for information on
slave rebellions in the Americas
Click here for an interactive map of
Enslaved Africans Living in Deerfield, Massachusetts
in the 18th century.
Click here for an
that addresses slavery in American history
Click here for The National Museum of American History, which contains
primary documents of political cartoons and newspaper ads
that were used for purchasing slaves
The Sugar and Slave Trade
from the European Voyages of Exploration at the University of Calagary.
New 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.
For more, see Slavery and the Slave Trade in Rhode Island
from the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.
Massachusetts 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
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
for more information that details what exactly the city's role was as it relates to the Underground Railroad.
for more on the abolition of slavery in the northern states after the Revolution
Causes of African Slavery in the American Colonies
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
Harsh Conditions of 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.
Click on the following link for a
closer look at a slave ship
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
This website has detailed information on
slave life and slave codes in the Americas
This website provides
information on over 35,000 slave voyages
, and serves as a database to learn more about each of them specifically. There are also a variety of
made to work through the database.
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.
Olaudah Equiano, aka Gustavus Vassa, 1789
As a boy of 11, Olaudah Equiano was sold into slavery, later acquired his freedom.
In 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
Learn more about
, an African American slave who later became a free man who lived in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
For more on the historical development of slavery and white racism toward African Americans, see
and the resources below.
Free African Americans
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.
1865 Mississippi Black Codes
For a video, see
Jim Crow Museum Documentary
Shown above is an example of African American opposition to the Jim Crow Laws
Image IDs from left to right
Slave Auction Ad
Wikipedia, "Slave Auction Ad".
Middle Passage Map
Wikipedia, "Triangular trade".
Jim Crow Laws
Youtube from user GRCCtv, "Jim Crow Museum Documentary Ferris State".
help on how to format text
Turn off "Getting Started"