Slaves began being transported directly to the Americas from Africa in August of 1518 on the edict of Charles the 1st. These transatlantic slave voyages differed from earlier trips by bypassing ports in Europe, traveling to America to Africa without stop.

Recent discoveries

Such long trips were brutal affairs even for the sailors on the ships and absolutely nightmarish for the unfortunate slaves. Historical researchers have recently discovered new details that make the plight of those slaves clearer than ever.

David Wheat and Marc Eagle, historians and researchers of the early slave trade to America, identified 18 voyages that transported slaves directly from Africa to the Caribbean colony in America. While these slaves were not the first to be sent to the Caribbeans from Africa, they were the first unfortunates to make the trip directly.

A long, crowded nightmare

Earlier transports going to America might have had onboard only one or two slaves, sometimes up to three or four dozen. After the edict allowing slave ships to make the transatlantic voyage directly, those numbers quickly increased to 200 or 300 slaves packed into a single vessel.

Slaves and sailors were stuck onboard the ship for one to six months of travel time, depending mostly upon weather conditions during the crossing. Most of the voyages in the 16th century took several months.

Starvation and depredation

Conditions on the slave transports were brutal. Slaves died of malnutrition and dehydration, suffered diseases, threw themselves overboard and were at the mercy of the crew.

Slaves were fed and given water once a day, if at all. Slaves were rarely permitted to move around, often spending the entire voyage shackled together at the ankles and sometimes wrists. As many slaves as possible were kept on deck, but those below were trapped in even worse conditions. The boats’ crew rarely ventured into the hold, so slaves were often left chained to dead bodies.