Slavery at Sea

Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage
Author: Sowande' M. Mustakeem
How slave ships manufactured bondage from the raw material of humanity
Cloth – $95
Paper – $24.95
eBook – $14.95
Publication Date
Cloth: 10/24/2016
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About the Book

Most times left solely within the confine of plantation narratives, slavery was far from a land-based phenomenon. This book reveals for the first time how it took critical shape at sea. Expanding the gaze even more deeply, the book centers how the oceanic transport of human cargoes--infamously known as the Middle Passage--comprised a violently regulated process foundational to the institution of bondage.

Sowande' Mustakeem's groundbreaking study goes inside the Atlantic slave trade to explore the social conditions and human costs embedded in the world of maritime slavery. Mining ship logs, records and personal documents, Mustakeem teases out the social histories produced between those on traveling ships: slaves, captains, sailors, and surgeons. As she shows, crewmen manufactured captives through enforced dependency, relentless cycles of physical, psychological terror, and pain that led to the the making--and unmaking--of enslaved Africans held and transported onboard slave ships. Mustakeem relates how this process, and related power struggles, played out not just for adult men, but also for women, children, teens, infants, nursing mothers, the elderly, diseased, ailing, and dying. Mustakeem offers provocative new insights into how gender, health, age, illness, and medical treatment intersected with trauma and violence transformed human beings into the world's most commercially sought commodity for over four centuries.

About the Author

Sowande' M. Mustakeem is an assistant professor in the Department of History and the African and African American Studies Program at Washington University in St. Louis.



"Slavery at Sea does an excellent job describing the importance of the Middle Passage, as well as forcefully rejecting the notion that slave subjugation began upon arrival in America. . . . Excellent research, a clear and engaging literary style, and an appropriate use of primary source material recommend this book for the student of the Atlantic slave trade or the historian who desires new insights into the manufacturing process of slavery."--Civil War News

"Mustakeem's groundbreaking study. . . . offers provocative new insights into how gender, health, age, illness, and medical treatment intersected with trauma and violence and transformed human beings into the world's most commercially sought commodity for over four centuries."--Huffington Post

"An intensely social history of the transatlantic slave trade . . . Mustakeem consciously centers her narrative on the very young and old, women, and the infirm to demonstrate the ways in which there was no one Middle Passage."--The Junto

"A compelling and original argument that makes a fundamental contribution to the history of slavery in colonial British America."--William and Mary Quarterly

"Slavery at Sea is a welcome book because it provides a more sustained account of the deprivations and indignities inflicted upon enslaved Africans by European capitalists and their collaborators in Africa. . . than virtually any other book."--Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Book Reviews

"In Slavery at Sea, Mustakeem writes with power and heart, offering a deeply intimate narrative of the experience of dehumanization and the undeniable awareness that nothing good came from this history."--Journal of American Culture

"Mustakeem does a remarkable job exploring the untold and overlooked stories of the most marginalized of the Africans. . . . Her work challenges many prevailing assumptions and offers an insightful, alternative contribution to our understanding of slavery at sea." --The Journal of American History

"Mustakeem's command of sources and methodology is remarkable. . . . Slavery at Sea is an outstanding intervention in the history of slavery." --Journal of African American History


"A tremendously important contribution to understandings of the Middle Passage. This work will shift the ways scholars frame the history of slavery in the Americas by extending the terrain of enslavement across the Atlantic and centering the lives and deaths of enslaved African women and men in the Middle Passage."--Barbara Krauthamer, author of Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South

"It is not easy to say new things about the slave trade, but Mustakeem does so, again and again. She strikes a mighty blow against the 'violence of abstraction' that has long governed the study of the subject. She makes us understand the slave trade in a new, visceral way."--Marcus Rediker, author of The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom

"Slavery at Sea includes heartbreaking stories of capture, breathtaking vignettes of torture, and harrowing tales of the Middle Passage that bring to life the terror that many enslaved people experienced at sea. This well-researched study also pays critical attention to how age, gender, and health informed the economic development of the international slave trade."--Jim Downs, author of Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction


• Wesley-Logan Prize, American Historical Association (AHA), 2017
• Dred Scott Freedom Award in the category Historical Literary Excellence, Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, 2020