From the 1600s
to 1800s, large sailing ships, owned by British businessmen, set sail from
England en route to the west coast of Africa. There, kidnapped Africans,
taken from their villages and families, were forced into extremely overcrowded
quarters in the ships and sailed to the Caribbean, North America, and South
America – a journey that took from five to twelve weeks. If you look
at a map, you can see how this forms a triangle. Between 30 and 60 million
Africans made the trip from Africa to America in this way, many of them
dying during from the long journey and horrible conditions.
Have students read Tom Feelings' book The Middle Passage, including
the introduction. For an online version, students can see Feelings' art and
read his introductory words at: http://www.juneteenth.com/middlep.htm.
Talk with students about distance. How far is it from the school building
to the public library? Perhaps a few miles. How far is it from your town to
the state capitol? What about from one side of the country to the next, such
as New York City to San Francisco? After students have made some guesses and
then you've shared the right answers with them, locate the Ivory Coast and
South Carolina on the world map. Ask students to estimate how far this is;
write their estimates on the board.
Break students into pairs. Ask each pair to find exact locations of these
points of the triangle trade: Bristol, England; Ivory Coast, Africa; Charleston,
South Carolina. To do this, start at the National Geographic Interactive Map: http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/mapping/interactive-map/?ar_a=1. Have a volunteer
tell in which continent the first location, Bristol, England, is located.
After the desired answer of Europe is elicited, have students click
on that continent's name on the top of the page. Direct them to select United
Kingdom to get the appropriate map for this area. Have students zoom in to find
Bristol, England on this map. Then direct them to find the approximate location
of Bristol on their paper map and plainly mark it. Do the same for the location
of Ivory Coast, Africa (note that this is referred to as "Cote d'Ivoire"
on the map; the main port is called Abidjan) and Charleston, South
Once students have marked all three sites on their maps, have them connect
the points, forming a triangle. Tell the students they now need to find three
How far did the ships travel from England to the Ivory Coast? [Bristol, England to Ivory Coast – 2,997 miles/4823 kilometres]
How far did the Africans travel from the Ivory Coast to Charleston? [Ivory Coast to Charleston, S.C. – 5,051 miles/8129 kilometres]
How far did the trips have to travel to return to England? [Charleston, S.C. to Bristol, England – 3,978 miles/6402 kilometres]
Using the "How far is it?" device at this URL, http://www.infoplease.com/atlas/calculate-distance.html, have students figure the three
distances from each point to each point of the triangle. Have them type
each location and destination into the mileage finder – Bristol
to Ivory Coast, Ivory Coast to Charleston, and Charleston to Bristol –
and jot down the distance on the paper world map. When students are finished,
redirect them to their original estimates on the board; how close were
Using the approximate average rate of speed of thirty miles traveled per
hour, have the students calculate how long each leg of the trip took and round to the nearest hour.
Bristol, England to Ivory Coast = 100 hours
Ivory Coast to Charleston, S.C. = 168 hours
Charleston, S.C. to Bristol, England = 133 hours
the discussion of time and distance back to The Middle Passage and
a broader study of slavery by talking with students about what that journey
might have been like for a kidnapped person, chained to another person,
confused and afraid. Be careful to use the lesson as a way for the students
to better understand the time and distance that contributed to an incredibly
difficult, traumatic event.
Collect and evaluate students' map sheets.
Call on students to discuss their reaction to the tutorial they just read.
Infoplease.com also has a Latitude and Longitude Finder (http://www.infoplease.com/atlas/latitude-longitude.html). Choose other ports in the triangular trade and have students
locate their longitudes and latitudes and then locate the distances this way.
Also have the students make estimates again to see how close they come.
Use maps, the map legend, and pieces of string to calculate various
Discuss ways in which the kidnapped Africans might have tried to keep their
spirits alive during the journey, such as through singing or storytelling. In
several cases, such as with the celebrated Amistead, they tried to mutiny
Understands and applies basic and advanced concepts of statistics and data
Understands how the values and institutions of European economic life took
root in the colonies and how slavery reshaped European and African life in the