Middle Passage (novel)
|Middle Passage 1|
Front cover of first edition
|Author||Charles R. Johnson|
|Preceded by||Being and Race|
|Followed by||Dreamer: A Novel|
Middle Passage (1990) is a historical novel by Charles R. Johnson about the final voyage of an illegal American slave ship. Set in 1830, it presents a personal and historical perspective of the illegal slave trade in the United States, telling the story of Rutherford Calhoun, a freed slave who unknowingly boards a slave ship bound for Africa in order to escape a forced marriage.
The protagonist is Rutherford Calhoun, a freed slave, who flees from New Orleans on a ship called the Republic to escape being blackmailed into marriage by Isadora Bailey, a schoolteacher who convinces Calhoun's creditor to whom he owes large sum of money, Papa Zeringue, to demand Calhoun pays him all he owes if he will not consent to marry Isadora. After meeting the drunken cook of the Republic while drinking to forget his troubles, Calhoun stows away aboard the ship (and is later found after the voyage begins). The ship travels to Africa to capture members of the Allmuseri tribe to take back to America to sell as slaves. Although an educated man, Rutherford is at first self-absorbed and thus initially unable to grasp the hardships of slave life. During the voyage, Rutherford becomes humbled, learning lessons that teach him to value and respect humanity which includes identification with his own country, America.
The ship eventually sinks due to various factors, including the sailing inexperience of the ship's passengers, following the Allmuseri take over. There are many survivors, and a nearby ship named the Juno rescues them. Rutherford discovers that Isadora is aboard the Juno and is about to marry Papa Zeringue, who has partial ownership of the Republic. Papa learns that Rutherford has the ship's log, documenting Papa Zeringue's immoral and illegal dealings,and he bargains with Rutherford to get possession of it. Rutherford brings up the fact that the ship was illegally dealing in slave trade and uses his Santos', Papa's black servant, ties to the Allmuseri to get what he wants, namely Isadora in marriage. Isadora, who is knitting booties for her cats and dogs whom Papa is making her give up, leaves Papa and marries Rutherford.
Characters in "Middle Passage"
- Captain Ebenezer Falcon: Captain of the Republic, involved in illegal slave trading.
- Rutherford Calhoun: Protagonist of the story; a freed slave who stows away aboard a ship called the Republic.
- Ngonyama: Allmuseri tribesman on the Republic, being transported to America in the illegal slave trade, who takes charge of the ship after the mutiny.
- Isadora Bailey: Schoolteacher whom Calhoun escapes being blackmailed into marrying. Nevertheless, they plan to marry by the end of the story.
- Papa: Creditor of Rutherford Calhoun. He is also part owner of the Republic.
- Peter Cringle: The First Mate of the ship. He is considered by Calhoun to be a very moral man.
- Josiah Squibb: The ship's cook. Calhoun is his assistant.
- Baleka: An Almuseri girl that Calhoun has come to care for.
Johnson, Charles R. Middle Passage. New York, NY: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1998.