Trading Slaves

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Christine Sink

San Marcos, CA

Jan. 2011
Trading Slaves”

What were the emotional and physical effects of the trans-Atlantic slave trade?

National History Standards Met:

  • Historical Comprehension

  • Historical Analysis and Interpretation

  • Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision Making

Historical Background:

Ships carried enslaved Africans from their homelands to the Caribbean islands or North and South America on a journey, which is historically known as the Middle Passage – the second stage in the transatlantic slave trade. The journey could take up to more than two months. Conditions on the slave ships were completely dehumanizing and oppressive.

By the time Africans on board ship they may have been marched for months from the interior, or ferried down rivers in canoes, held in slave forts or in the holds of ships, which sailed along the African coast, often for months, filling up with captives. They were already physically weakened, dispirited and often separated from loved ones and people from their own communities. They had no possessions with them. The second part of the triangular journey took between 4 to more than 8 weeks depending on the route ‘I was soon put down under the decks, and there I received such a salutation in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life: so that with the loathsomeness of the stench and crying together, I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat, nor had I the

least desire to taste anything’ Olaudah Equiano When Equiano was bundled on to a slave ship he saw ‘a multitude of black people of every description chained together, every one of their countenance expressing dejection and sorrow’. These African people, torn from their homeland were not given any indication of what was to happen to them. There was a strong belief that Europeans were cannibals and they were fearful of being eaten. From this point on these people were defined as slaves by the Europeans.

  • Given the print “Trait de Negres” students will make observations and list five inferences about the physical and emotional impact of being enslaved

  • Given the print “Trait de Negres” students will make observations and list five inferences about the European’s role in enslaving Africans

  • Students will validate or disprove their inferences through primary documents

  • Students will compare the writings of both an enslaved African and a European and recognize bias and point of view in primary documents

  • Students will state five resources that will provide information to validate the accuracy of their inferences

  • Students will discuss facts about the slave ships and role-play the space allotted to a slave


  • Print of “Trait de Negres”

  • Chart paper

  • Diary entries of Olaudah Equiano

  • Letters from Dr. George Pinckard

  • Entry from Thomas Phillips’ Journal

  • Entry from An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa by Alexander Falconbridge

  • Graphic Organizer A

  • Group Directions

  • Student Worksheet B

  • Teacher Information Sheet

  • The Ship’s Size Information Sheet

  • Slave ship images

Introduction: What is a slave?

  • Write the word “SLAVE” in the middle of chart paper. Ask students to brainstorm all the ideas that they know about slavery.

  • If students need prompting ask the following leading questions.

  1. How do you think a slave lived?

  2. Where did slaves come from?

  3. What kind of word did a slave do?

  4. What kind of clothing did slaves wear?

  5. How did a person become a slave?

  6. How did slaves get to America?

  • Next make a list of questions that students have slaves

  • Keep both the brainstorming and the questions to refer back to at the end of the lesson.

Activity 1: Images of slaves and Europeans

  • Project the image of “Trait de Negres” onto a large screen or white paper.


  • Explain to students they are going to make only observations. They may only describe what can be physically seen in the image.

  • Ask one student to come to the front of the room and select one person in the image and describe the person.

Example: The student may select the African in the boat. The student may answer: He is black. He has a cloth around his waist. He has chains on his wrists. He looks as if he is crying.

  • Ask another student to come to the image. Have them do the same activity as the first student. Continue until all characters have been selected.


  • Ask students to make inferences about what is happening in the slide.

  • Students will make thoughtful educated guesses or draw relationships from the original observations.

  • As students make their inferences, write them on chart paper.

  • Students should support their inferences with observations.

  • Consider questions such as:

  1. Who are the people?

  2. How does each of them feel?

    • Make sure students defend their answers.


Europeans fear the Africans.

The man in the boat is in chains.

The woman is being taken away from her

husband and child.

Africans are afraid to leave their country.
Activity 2: The Middle Passage

      1. Background information on Equiano, Pinckard and Phillips

      2. Two travel documents from Olaudah Equiano

      3. Two travel documents from Dr. George Pinckard

      4. Two selling slave documents from Olaudah Equiano

      5. Two selling slaves documents from Dr. George Pinckard

      6. Journal entry from Thomas Phillips

  • Give each group a direction sheet and go over all directions.

  • Distribute Graphic Organizer A (one for each student.

  • Give enough time for groups to complete the graphic organizer.

  • After students have finished go back to the chart paper where you listed the inferences they made about slaves.

  • Go over each inference and have students support or disprove their inferences according to the point of view of their writers

  • Students should also tell what document gave them that evidence.

  • When all inferences have been reviewed ask students for other information they obtained from any of the documents.

  • Lead a discussion with the following questions:

  1. Who were the journals and letters written?

  2. We ideas mostly the same or different? Why?

  3. Talk about bias and point of view.

Activity Three: The Slaves’ Ship

  • Distribute a copy of Dr. Alexander Falconbridge’s The Ships Size.

  • Read the background of Dr. Alexander Falconbridge to the students

  • Read the article aloud as a class, stopping to discuss any questions

  • Explain “loose pack” and “tight pack”.

  • Have students turn article over to Student Worksheet B.

  • Complete together. (Teacher has a copy of answers.)

  • Figure out a space on the floor of the classroom that would be approximately 3.2 square feet and have a student show the class that would be how much space one African would have.

  • Show pictures of the middle passage.


  • Explain that the middle passage was just one part of the African Triangular Trade.

The triangle was from America (New England) where they made rum, to Africa to purchase slaves to take to the Caribbean to work on the sugar plantations, and then send the sugar back up to New England to make the rum

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