Elderly Slaves on the Middle Passage

For my data analysis this week, I utilized the Trans-Atlantic Slave Database and encountered an unusual outlier in the data that I thought I would share for feedback and thoughts.

I used the African Name Database (so only any slaves who were transported that had recorded names) and searched by ship. I originally looked at the data for the ship Fabiana. There was a total of 131 named individuals, of which 103 also had recorded ages. The oldest person was a woman Ebodko who was 72 years old. This age does not fit the pattern of the data set (the next oldest person was a man of 31 years) nor the overall pattern of the trans-atlantic slave trade which prioritized young able-bodied men.

Going back into the African name database, I looked at four other ships: Virginie, Esculos, Nossa Senhora Victoria, and Trifunte. The first ship, Virginie, had a similar sized dataset as Fabiana with 123 people, all with recorded ages. The other ships all had between 424 and 522 people recorded with names in their registers. All the ships had ages recorded with names a majority of the time with the exception of the Esculos, which had less than a quarter of the ages recorded (only 109).

Thus the data has been winnowed several times. First by the presence of a recorded name, then by association with a ship, and finally by the presence of recorded age attached to name and person. Although the data is therefore inconclusive, the oddities it does present are still relevant for thinking through the generally accepted knowledge of slaves’ ages in the trans-atlantic slave trade and questioning the meanings/reasons of the presence of elderly Africans aboard the ships of the Middle Passage.

The data that I have pulled together:

Virginie: Oldest person is 42 and male. Of those with recorded ages, 2.4% were over 30. Of all persons, 2.4% were over 30.

Esculos: Oldest person is 33 and male. Of those with recorded ages, 45.9% were over 30. Of all persons, 10.2% were over 30.*

Nossa Senhora da Victoria: Oldest person is 60 and male. Of those with recorded ages, 11.2% were over 30. Of all persons, 10.8% were over 30.**

Trifunte: Oldest person is 40 and male. Of those with recorded ages, 5.7% were over 30. Of all persons, 5.6% were over 30.

Fabiana: Oldest person is 72 and female. Of those with recorded ages, 2.9% were over 30. Of all persons, 2.3% were over 30.

Thus, although Fabiana is still an outlier in the data, with the oldest African at age 72, its overall numbers of people over the age of 30 is relatively low compared to other ships.

Thinking about an issue Matt encountered, I checked the height recorded wherever available for people over 30. It was always above 60 inches, suggesting that the numbers in the ages were not transposed. Do you have any thoughts on the meaning of this data? Potential errors that may account for it? Knowledge about similar cases of elderly Africans being enslaved through the Middle Passage?


*The discrepancy in percentages is so great due to the low numbers of recorded ages.

**Nossa Senhora da Victoria had a total of 46 people over the age of 30, 11 over 40 years, and 5 people who were 50 years or older. No other ship had so many in these older age groups, not even other ships with larger numbers of recorded names and ages.

Student in the World History M.A. program with interests in the intersections of imperialism and gender in the Atlantic World.

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