African-American slavery – American history

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Slave fort: white buildings along a beach

Slave fort in Ghana

Although other people, both white and Native American, have been held as slaves in North America, the experience of the African people who were forced to come to North America as slaves was more unusual, because more than half of the people living in slave states were slaves.

Most of the people who became slaves in North America were from West Africa. You would be living in a village when outsiders attacked and captured you, and then they would sell you to somebody else, who sold you to somebody else, and in the end somebody would sell you to a white man who would keep you in a slave fort on the coast of Africa. Half of the people captured with you died of hunger or sickness, while you were walking to the coast.

A diagram of how to stack people to get hundreds of them on one ship

A diagram of how to stack people to get hundreds of them on one ship

Soon men with guns would force you to get on a ship, and they would take you to North America (or, more often, Brazil or the Caribbean). The ship was terrible – dirty, and stinky, and you were crowded like on a crowded bus, and you had to stay there for two or three months. You wore chains that fastened you to people on either side of you the whole time. You had to lie down because there wasn’t even room to sit up, the ceiling was so low. Almost one out of ten of the people around you got sick and died. Sometimes people gave up and tried to starve themselves to death, but the sailors beat them or tortured them until they ate something. Sometimes people call this horrible trip the Middle Passage.

Selling people to be slaves

Selling people to be slaves

When you got to North America, you got a few weeks to get healthier, and you got a European-style dress or pants to wear, and then the slave trader sold you to whoever would pay the most for you. Most people went to southern states like Mississippi or Alabama to pick cotton, though a few people went further north, to the Carolinas, to plant and pick tobacco and rice and indigo – a blue dye for clothing.

Learn by Doing – Slavery Project
What was it like to be a slave?

Bibliography and further reading about American slavery:


More about slavery
Black people after the Civil War
The Civil Rights movement
American History home

By |2018-04-24T11:04:40+00:00August 14th, 2017|Africa, North America, People|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. African-American slavery – American history. Study Guides, August 14, 2017. Web. January 23, 2019.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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