The Middle Passage was the voyage between Africa and the colonial slave markets in the Caribbean and America. The journey was long and difficult, usually lasting six to eight weeks. The slaves had very little space and no toilets or washing facilities.
Vinegar was used to disinfect the slave quarters, but was insufficient to prevent disease. Infections spread quickly in the ship's hot, cramped hold. Many of the slaves died during the crossing.
While the Lancastrian slave traders generally preferred swifter journeys with less tightly-packed ships, they too lost many slaves during the Middle Passage.
In 1756, Henry Laurens, a Charleston merchant, reported that a Lancaster trader arrived with a cargo of only 49 slaves, having lost 22 during his voyage. The trip was equally dangerous for the ship's crew. The following year Laurens reported that Captain John Holden of Lancaster had lost 18 of 24 white men aboard his ship, alongside 30 black slaves.
Faced with the difficult conditions on ship and fearful of their unknown future, some slaves chose to jump overboard to an almost certain death. Others refused to eat. Since slaves were considered a valuable commodity, the Captains ordered their crews to beat, torture and force-feed those on hunger-strike to keep them alive for sale in the New World.