From the 16th to the 19th centuries, approximately 12 million Africans were transported across the Atlantic as human property. The most common routes formed what is now known as the “Triangle Trade” connecting Europe, Africa, and the Americas. From 1560 to 1850, about 4.8 million enslaved people were transported to Brazil; 4.7 million were sent to the Caribbean; and at least 388,000, or 4% of those who survived the Middle Passage, arrived in North America.
During the 1720s and 1730s, Peter Faneuil, a prominent Boston merchant of French Huguenot descent, helped grow transatlantic trade in Boston. His surviving business records, such as a day book and invoice book, illustrate his standing in this mercantile class by recording the wide range of items he dealt and the comprehensive control he possessed within specific trade networks.
Slavery in Massachusetts began shortly after the Pequot War of 1637. Boston in particular benefited from the Atlantic trading empire. Learn more about Boston’s and Massachusetts’s 17th century connections to slavery.
Seven-year-old Phillis Wheatley of Gambia, an area on the Western coast of Africa near Senegal, was one of the slaves traded in exchange for “2,640 gallons of rum and other goods.”
Peter Faneuil connected Boston to every corner of the Atlantic by trading with any business that could draw a profit. Explore this map that shows Faneuil’s immense trading empire of sugar, salt cod, manufactured goods, grain, and enslaved people.
Many who endured the Middle Passage were unable to record their stories, and their names are lost from historical records. But historians do know about some of the women and men who survived the perilous journey, including Phillis Wheatley. Learn more about her story.
Stories from the slave trade’s Middle Passage, by the people who were there.
While the massive transport of millions of human beings is something which does not occur openly today, a smaller, more deeply hidden, and yet no less insidious Middle Passage occurs today.The kidnapping, transport, and sale of thousands of people, many of them women and children occur every day all over the world.
The first successful newspaper in the colonies, The Boston News-Letter was published in Boston, Massachusetts in 1704. Barely a month after the weekly began, an advertisement appeared in the newsletter on June 5th in which local merchant John Colman was selling “Two Negro Men” along with a “Negro Woman and Child.” This marked the beginning of a 77-year period in which advertisements for slaves appeared in local Boston newspapers.