If the Atlantic were to dry up, it would reveal a scattered pathway of human bones, African bones marking the various routes of the Middle Passage.
-Dr. John Henrik Clarke (1915-1998)
From 1502 to 1860, the trans-Atlantic slave trade brought over 10 million Africans to North and South America. For the persons enslaved, this journey began with capture in the African interior, followed by transport to the coast, sale to slave traders, and an ocean voyage packed in a ship's hold. The Middle Passage, as it came to be called, proved a brutal ordeal. An estimated one and one half million persons died along its various routes, their bodies committed to the ocean.
The first Africans brought to Virginia landed at Point Comfort n 1619, ten years after the Jamestown Colony had been established. Between then and 1808, when the U.S. government banned further importation of African slaves, hundreds of ships brought thousands of captured Africans to the Chesapeake Bay region. They were brought directly to river plantations on the James, York, and Rappahannock rivers as well as to ports at Yorktown, Jamestown, Richmond, and Fredericksburg.
Transporting human cargo entailed a cold calculation of inevitable losses against ultimate profits.
The trans-Atlantic slave trade was
a huge and complex endeavor that created unprecedented wealth, but at an enormous human cost.