Surviving Enslavement: Disease and Healing in the Black Atlantic

Sanjana Sharma & Austin Pettay

In the early 1800s, during the midst of global slave trade, the primary goal for the plantations was to create as much profit as possible. Unfortunately, this created extremely harsh health issues for the enslaved people working on these plantations. Genuine illnesses the slaves came down with were viewed as them making excuses, being inherently lazy and simply not wanting to work. In addition to that, they were punished for being sick and were given quick-fix medical help. When the slaves were moved to America, they brought over their native roots, plants, and herbs that were used as natural healing remedies. These native roots and plants were brought over for the white healers. So how did enslaved African healers know what ingredients to use? How were the recipes made? How did the slave healers deal with the sick in secret?  Today we will answer all of these questions along with understanding the legacy of slave healers and the history behind many of their healing remedies. 

Further Readings

Kean, Sam. “Science’s Debt to the Slave Trade.” Science.Org, 5 Apr. 2019,

African American slave medicine of the 19th century. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2022,

 The Georgia Historical Quarterly Vol. 52, No. 4 (December, 1968), pp. 405-413 (9 pages)

Fitzgerald, Colin (2016). African American Slave Medicine of the 19th Century. Undergraduate Review, 12, 44-50. 

Long, Gretchen. Doctoring Freedom: The Politics of African American Medical Care in Slavery and Emancipation. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press. HeinOnline,

Bouie, Jamelle, and Rebecca Onion. “How Doctors Justified Slavery.” Slate Magazine, Slate, 3 Sept. 2015,

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