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Franklin Research Center - Teaching with Primary Sources

This guide contains modules for remote learning with primary sources held in the Rubenstein Library with collections from the John Hope Franklin Research Center

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

This module focuses on the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the system which forced the enslavement of Africans who were transported to the western world. Enslaved Africans faced some of the most brutal treatment in human history, enduring a journey across the Atlantic Ocean that lasted anywhere between 4-10 weeks on ships with two hundred to eight hundred people packed into the bottoms of the vessels’ holds. Some revolted, some took their own lives, some fell sick and died on the journey. But for those that survived, arriving in ports and trading cities in the Caribbean, South America, and the US was only the first step of the rest of their lives. 


Learning Objectives

These three documents in the boxes below are a small sample of the Rubenstein Library's archives of the trade but provide an important window into understanding the legacy of the trade and the people involved. Follow the instructions accompanied with each document and use the Document Analysis Worksheet (located in the Analysis and Evaluation box on the left) to reflect on what you observed.


Goals for this exercise:

  • Analyze three different documents from the period of trans-Atlantic trade
  • Interpret accounts of people involved in the trade of African people
  • Identify economics/prices related to the trans-Atlantic trade in each document  

Guiding Questions:

  • What geographic locations are mentioned in each document?
  • How are the experiences of enslaved people articulated in each document?
  • How are the experiences of the participants in the trade articulated in the documents?

Key Historical Dates:

  • 1807 - England abolishes the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in its colonies in the western world
  • 1808 - The United States abolishes the Trans-Atlantic slave trade

Documents of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

Document #1

Ascention Insurance Account, 1793 - (pay close attention to page 3)

Context/Summary: Account detailing the value of the ship Ascention and its cargo including 52 slaves. Apparently, the ship was lost in the slaves' insurrection in 1793. Information was gathered for the purpose of collecting insurance.

Citation: Ascention Insurance Account, 1793, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

Document #2 -

Archibald Boyd Papers (go to page 5) 

Context/Summary: Personal and business correspondence of Boyd and his son, James E. Boyd, attorney and political leader. Include letters of Samuel R. Browning, a slave trader, commenting on the health of various slaves on the condition of the slave market.


Citation: [description of item], Archibald Boyd Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

Document #3 -

George and Christopher Champlin Letter, 1773 (go to page 1)

Contect/Summary: Collection consists of a letter by Champlins' agents, Threlfall and Anderson, to the Champlins, reporting on the slave market.


Citation: Letter from Threlfall and Anderson to George and Christopher Champlin, George and Christopher Champlin Letter, 1773, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University