British archaeologists have unearthed a slave burial ground containing an estimated 5,000 bodies on the remote South Atlantic island of Saint Helena. The island is part of the British overseas territory of St. Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha. The bodies belonged to slaves who were taken off ships embarking on the Middle Passage route to trade African workers and other commodities. According to the article, the slaves were taken to refugee camps as part of the British Royal Navy’s efforts to crack down on Caribbean slave trade.
The corpses were found on tiny St Helena, 1,000 miles off the coast of south-west Africa. Those who died were slaves taken off the ships of slave traders by the Royal Navy in the 1800s, when Britain was suppressing slavery in the Caribbean. Many of the captives died after being kept on the slavers’ ships in appalling conditions, and later in refugee camps when they reached the island.
According to Britain’s National Archives, between 1808 and 1869 the Royal Navy seized more than 1,600 slave ships and freed about 150,000 Africans. The dig, held in advance of the construction of a new airport on the island, revealed the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade. The Middle Passage was the name of the route taken by ships transporting slaves from Africa to the new world. It was the second leg of a triangular journey undertaken by European ships. The first leg would involve taking manufactured goods to Africa, which they would trade for slaves. After the Africans were delivered to the West Indies and Brazil (and, until the abolition slavery in 1809, the US [sic*]), the ships would take raw materials back to Europe. [*Note by Repeating Islands: the U.S. abolished slave trade in 1808 with the “Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves,” but did not abolish slavery in the country until 1865.]