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Women and the Middle Passage

Africans forcibly brought to North American were sold at auction. Library of Congress.
Africans forcibly brought to North American were sold at auction.

Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/resource/cph.3a17645/

From the 16th to the 19th centuries, approximately 12 million Africans were transported across the Atlantic as human property. Men, women, and children were packed together on or below decks without space to sit up or move around. Those that survived the journey were sold without consideration for their families. The practiced occurred in both northern and southern colonies and continued even after the United States was founded.

Many who endured this journey 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. At the age of seven, Wheatley was forcibly taken from Africa and brought to Boston. She was sold to the Wheatley family who taught her to read and write. While she did not write about her journey on the Middle Passage, she authored a number of poems that were published in a book. Others such as Olaudah Equiano and Alexander Falconbridge did write about the long journey from Africa to North America. Learn more about their stories by exploring the links below. Or discover more women’s migration and immigration stories.

Last updated: September 24, 2019