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Shipboard insurrections in the Atlantic slave trade

Eric Robert Taylor

Subject History
Social Movements » Collective Behaviour

Place World » Atlantic world

Key-Topics abolitionism, freedom, rebellion, revolution, slavery

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184649.2009.01350.x


Beginning with the first Portuguese expeditions down the West African coast in the 1440s and stretching more than 400 years into the midnineteenth century, the Atlantic slave trade was one of the defining events in world history. During these four centuries, tens of millions of Africans were forcibly transported by ship to toil in the homes, mines, shops, and plantations of the slaveholding aristocracy throughout the western hemisphere. This seaborne experience–the Middle Passage, as the voyage to the Americas has become known–is well documented. Its horrors are widely known. Substantially less understood, however, is the degree to which the African captives engaged in various forms of resistance during the Middle Passage and the effect that their resistance had on minimizing, limiting, and ultimately helping to end the slave trade once and for all. Countless scholars have shown in no uncertain terms that Africans and their descendents in the Americas waged an unrelenting battle against their enslavement, and yet the underlying presumption has been that this tradition of resistance really only started once Africans set foot on the shores of the Americas. The Middle Passage was long presumed to have been simply too traumatic, too debilitating, and too heavily weighted in favor of ship captains and crews to have allowed anything more than infrequent and ineffectual resistance onboard. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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