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African Slave Trade. The Spanish and Portuguese had enslaved Africans to work in the sugar plantations on the islands off the coast of Africa. As the rich lands of the Americas fell into their hands they extended the practice westward by transporting slaves across the Atlantic.

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African Slave Trade

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The Spanish and Portuguese had enslaved Africans to work in the sugar plantations on the islands off the coast of Africa.
  • As the rich lands of the Americas fell into their hands they extended the practice westward by transporting slaves across the Atlantic.

When the French, British and Dutch developed their own

Sugar Plantations they followed this example.


As the major European powers, Portugal, Britain, France and the

Netherlands looked for ways to exploit the fertile lands of the

New World. They looked to Africa for a steady supply of labor.

Soon enslaved Africans had become absolutely vital to the

Cultivation of sugar, tobacco, cotton, and rice plantations.

As European demand for sugar began to increase plantations

Began to spring up throughout Brazil and the Caribbean. Sugar

Cultivation created a huge demand for slave labor from Africa

Many plantations produced additional crops such as indigo,

Rice, tobacco and coffee.

capturing of slaves
Capturing of slaves
  • Slaves were hunted and captured by European

merchants as well as by their own people. Stronger

African tribes would capture weaker tribes and sell them into slavery.

Slaves would be captured and put into make-shift jails called Barracoons. Once enough slaves were captured they would be marched to permanent jails called factories located along the coast.

The journey from the interior to the factories might be as far as

1,000 miles. Shackled and underfed, only half the people survived

These death marches. Those to sick to make it were killed or

Left for dead. Those who reached the factories were put in jails for

As long as a year before they were boarded on ships.


A slave boat captain could buy a slave for around

$20.00 and could be sold for up to $125.00 depending

on the physical appearance.

Men, Women and Children were all captured and

sold into slavery.


The Factor, or owner of the factory would sell the African to

Slave ship captains. In order to get a better price the ships

Captain would often offer a dash or bribe to the factor.

The factor would try anything to get a better price for slaves.

Slaves heads were shaved, bodies oiled, and even drugs were

Given to make their bodies bloat. A healthier slave would bring

A better price.

Once purchased by a slaver, the slave was usually branded with the owners initials to ensure ownership
Kruuman rowed boats out to the slavers where the slaves would be put on to the ships for the passage over to the New World.

Ship Captains became know for their reputations as

“Tight Packers” or “Loose Packers” this referred to

the amount of slaves a captain was willing to put on

his ship. Most vessels at this time could hold up

To 400 persons. It was not uncommon to put 600-

700 slaves on a ship.

middle passage
Middle Passage
  • The middle passage to the New World usually took anywhere from 50-90 days.
  • Slaves were packed like cargo in the tween decks. They often had to lie in each others feces, urine and blood.
  • The heat often unbearable and the air unbreathable

During periods of good weather, the slaves would be brought up on

the deck in the morning. At this time the men would be shackled

together with iron chains, while the women and children roamed

free. At about 9:00 am they were given their first meal, usually some

type of beans in a sauce. Sometimes a few lumps of raw meat would

be added to their food to keep them healthy. It was also at this time

the slaves would be given their ration of a half-pint of water in a

small pan called a pannikin.

The slavers needed to keep the slaves in acceptable physical shape so

each morning after breakfast they were “danced” on the deck for

exercise. Still shackled together, the men were forced to jump up

and down until often the flesh of their ankles were raw and bleeding.

The slaves were otherwise kept miserably in the tween decks.


The slaves were often beaten or whipped with a device called the

cat-o-nine-tails. This consisted of nine cords coated with tar, each

with a not at the end. The Cat-O-Nine-Tails could lash the skin

of a slaves back to ribbons with only a few lashings.


Men were often chained in pairs, shackled wrist to wrist or ankle

to ankle. In such cramped quarters, disease such as smallpox and

yellow fever spread like wildfire. The diseased were usually

thrown overboard to prevent the entire cargo from getting the



Trouble making slaves were often placed in an iron muzzle.

Slaves were often whipped and beaten, sometimes to the death

The conditions were so poor that it was not uncommon for a

slave to try to escape by jumping overboard. Many would

risk a watery death or being eaten by sharks rather than endure

the passage


Eventually, after a 3,700 mile voyage, the slave ship would reach

North America. In order to strengthen them before sale, the slaves

were normally fed better in the days directly before their arrival.

Before they could be sold, the slaves would be oiled again, and any

imperfections, such as scars from whipping, would be filled with

hot tar in order to improve appearance and get the best market



Slavers would insure their cargo, however insurance could not

bought against disease. On its way to Jamaica in 1781, the ship

Zong was nearing the end of its voyage. It had been 12 weeks

since it had sailed from West African coast with its cargo of 417

slaves. Water was running out. Then compounding the problem,

there was an outbreak of disease. The ships captain, wanting to

minimize the owners losses threw any slave who was diseased

overboard. The voyage was insured, but the insurance would not

pay for sick slaves or even those killed by illness. However, it

would cover slaves lost by drowning.

The captain gave the order; 54 Africans were chained to-

gether, then thrown overboard. Another 78 were drowned over

the next two days. By the time the ship had reached Jamaica

132 persons had been murdered.


The buying and selling of slaves was made illegal in the

late 1800’s. It was enforced by military ships patrolling the

waters. This didn’t end slavery. Because slaves were much

harder to come by, the price for a slave sky-rocketed and

made slave ship captains more willing to take a chance on

the voyage.