Nickolas Radburn

  • Fellowship year:2015-2016
  • University: Johns Hopkins University
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Atlantic
  • Dissertation Title: The Long Middle Passage: The Enslavement of Africans and the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, 1640-1807
  • My dissertation studies the trans-Atlantic slave trade by focusing on the experiences of the captive Africans who were dragged into its vortex.  Consisting of three sections, the first describes how political and social changes in the dynamic interior of Africa determined who was enslaved and marched to the coast, with important implications for the later creation of African-American cultures.  I then use the records of ship captains trading on the coast to describe how Europeans selected healthy adult prisoners for transportation to the Americas, and rejected others who they deemed too old, young, or unhealthy to survive the Atlantic crossing.  The second sections casts new light on the African experience of the Middle Passage by demonstrating that captains deliberately allocated their prisoners much less space aboard ships than historians have previously believed.  These dire shipboard conditions debilitated a large portion of the captives and so, when a ship dropped anchor in the Americas, the prisoners who limped down the gang-plank typically ranged enormously in health.  In the final section, I explore how American colonists purchased arriving Africans, a harrowing process through which captives were sorted according to their health, age, and sex, and then sold to American buyers from across the social spectrum.  Affluent planters purchased healthy adult prisoners early in the sale, and then forced them through a brutal multi-year process of "seasoning."  Merchants and speculators then bought the unhealthy, old, or adolescent captives, and either attempted to restore them back to health and later re-sell them to planters, or embarked them on vessels destined for neighboring colonies.  My dissertation thus shows that Africans experienced their enslavement as a "Long Middle Passage," a several year process that powerfully shaped their ultimate and frequently divergent fates in the Americas.