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An African slave in chains. Source:  colnihko / Adobe Stock.

Tragedy at Sea: The Brutal Reality of Slave Ships (Video)


During the transatlantic slave trade, life aboard a slave ship was a nightmarish ordeal. European merchants built vessels to transport enslaved Africans, subjecting them to horrifying conditions. Enslaved individuals were stripped, shaved, and confined to the ship's deck before boarding. Below deck, they were crammed into low-ceiling compartments, enduring extreme heat, filth, and disease. Dysentery, malaria, and other illnesses plagued both captives and crew members. Gender segregation and reinforced barricades maintained control and suppressed rebellions. The crew inflicted brutal punishments, including the cruel cat o' nine tails, on disobedient captives.

Women, though unshackled, suffered sexual abuse and rape. Despite their dire circumstances, women often coordinated mutinies against their captors. The infamous Zong trial exposed the horrors of the Middle Passage, where sick and dying captives were thrown overboard to maximize profit. Although the court ruled in favor of the ship's owners, the trial shed light on the atrocities and fueled abolitionist movements. It took decades of struggle before the international slave trade was abolished, followed by the official end of slavery. The history of life aboard a slave ship serves as a grim reminder of the inhumane treatment endured by millions during this dark period in history.

Top image: An African slave in chains. Source: colnihko / Adobe Stock.

By Robbie Mitchell

Robbie Mitchell's picture


I’m a graduate of History and Literature from The University of Manchester in England and a total history geek. Since a young age, I’ve been obsessed with history. The weirder the better. I spend my days working as a freelance... Read More

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