Exploring the 18th-Century Atlantic Slave Trade

image1 Tenth graders are learning that the Glorious Revolution in England was not so glorious for all involved, as the time period also saw the rise of the brutal Atlantic slave trade. To illustrate this concept, students were assigned to work in teams to research various aspects of slavery, and they presented their findings to their classmates last week.

Cultural History teacher Christina Schlesinger said the projects highlighted the huge injustices of the period: “When people were fighting for liberty and John Locke was writing his famous Treatises on the rights of individuals, millions of people were being kidnapped and sold into slavery.”

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The presentations were insightful and visual, painting a vivid picture of the economic, ethical, and societal facets of the Atlantic Triangular Trade. Students shared details of the route from West Africa, where goods were traded for slaves, to America and the West Indies, where slaves were sold to procure sugar and cotton.

Some teams focused on the Middle Passage, the brutal part of the triangle where millions of slaves were shipped to the New World. Christina made a point of asking the students to consider the cruelty, despair, and sadness experienced on the journey, including the fact that the merchants calculated for the death of a large number of people.

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The presenters detailed the horrid conditions on the boats, from lack of sanitation and disease to starvation and suicides, as well as describing the sad and inhumane slave auctions that awaited those who survived the trip.

As they chronicled the evolution of the Triangular Trade, they also informed their audience about slave rebellions and the rise of the anti-slavery movement. One student noted that John Newton was a key figure on both sides. Newton, who is credited with cowriting the hymn “Amazing Grace,” was a master slaver who later came to deeply regret his involvement in the trade and eventually decried the practice in his role as a Christian preacher.

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The students said their slavery projects had a deep impact on them. “The experience really brought home the sadness and cruelty of such a pivotal point in history,” said Sabrina Liddle ’18. “It brought a very real understanding of what people went through to create the successful economy we enjoy today.”