The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Advanced Placement United States History Study Guide

The death of slaves on a voyage, 1725

Stephen Bayard to Robert Livingston, November 12, 1725. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)Slavery in English America underwent profound changes during the first two centuries of settlement. During the early seventeenth century, some black servants were permanently unfree; others, however, were treated like white indentured servants and were freed after a term of service.

As early as the late 1630s, however, English colonists began to make a sharper distinction between the status of white servants and black slaves, and merchants began importing slaves to the thirteen North American colonies. The passage in the holds of ships was a horrific experience, and many did not survive.

This matter-of-fact letter written in 1725 by Stephen Bayard in New York to Robert Livingston (1654–1728), a wealthy and influential landowner and trader from Albany, New York, reports that “30 [negroes] dyed in the passage” on a seventeen-week voyage to New York due to a shortage of food.

A full transcript is available.


Since your Departure is arrived here from Amsterdam Robert Linnerd in Wch ship Onckell Phillip is Concerned, & Gerrittsen from Gersey with 60 negroes 30 dyed in the passage, they ware trough the fatige of a 17 weeks Voyage obliged to Divide their bread 14 Days – before they came in; Each man then having 12 Bisketts for their share & Just so much meath Left as Served them the Day they Came in –;

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