History in the Making

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Approximately twelve million enslaved African people were uprooted from their homes and sent to the New World to work as free forced labor on plantation fields. Meanwhile, African plants also made their own triangular voyage across the Atlantic as slave ship captains gathered provisions for the seafaring journey or Africans stowed away food as they embarked on an unknown and horrifying journey. While attention on the transatlantic trade nexus often focuses on food and cash crops traveling between Europe and the Americas, several different produce of African origins were transplanted in America and often found in enslaved people’s provision gardens. These provision gardens provided enslaved men and women a mild form of independence as they cultivated their own food, often consisting of produce from Africa, and sold the surplus locally to the community. Examining the history of enslaved people’s provision gardens is an overlooked but significant aspect of slavery as it adds to the discourse on the Columbian Exchange, enslaved Black culture, and the botanical knowledge of enslaved African men and women.