J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Boston’s Middle Passage Port Ceremony, 23 Aug.

The campaign against the Stamp Act wasn’t the only fight over liberty in British North America in 1765, just the most popular. Hundreds of thousands of people in the colonies had lost their freedom to the practice of chattel slavery, fed by the transatlantic slave trade. But the colonial elite weren’t ready to give up their human property.

By the late eighteenth century, British authors were referring to the voyage from Africa to the Americas as “the middle passage.” The Rev. James Ramsay, a vicar from Kent, defined that term in his pamphlet An Inquiry into the Effects of Putting a Stop to the African Slave Trade (1784):
That the African trade is in itself destructive to our seamen, is known to every person who has an acquaintance with it. Indeed a mortality among his crew in the middle passage (from Africa to the West Indies) is a pleasant thing to a Guinea Captain, of which he is not often disappointed. It saves the ship a great expence in wages…
Thomas Clarkson used it in An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species (1788 edition):
The receivers…obtain the number of slaves, for which they are said to go. When this is accomplished, they weigh anchor, and begin what is termed the middle passage, to carry them to their respective colonies.
The term “Middle Passage” achieved new currency after 1990 from Charles Johnson’s novel of that name.

On Sunday, 23 August, the National Parks of Boston and the Boston Middle Passage Port Ceremony Committee will host “an intergenerational, interfaith ceremony” at Faneuil Hall recognizing Boston as a Middle Passage port site.

This event is part of a larger effort by the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project to “research, identify, and facilitate remembrance ceremonies at all ports of captive Africans’ entry during the 350 years of the transatlantic human trade in North, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Europe.” The United Nations has recognized 23 August as “an international day of remembrance for the transatlantic slave trade” because that was the date in 1804 when Haiti achieved independence.

Boston’s Middle Passage commemoration is scheduled to begin at 3:00 P.M. It is free and open to the public.

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