The Atlantic Slave Trade 1450-1865
Introduction • The Atlantic Slave Trade was the most significant link Africa had to the larger Atlantic World in early modern times. • African peoples received European goods for slaves. • Firearms were the most common.
Europeans • By the 15th and 16thc when the Europeans ventured to Africa, the slave trade was well-established. • European influence caused it to expand dramatically. • Affected the development of Atlantic settlements.
The Early Slave Trade • Earliest European slave traders were Portuguese. • They learned that they could buy slaves instead of capturing them. • Increased the numbers of slaves they brought home.
Cape Verde Sao Tome
Slavery Expands • Meanwhile, disease had reduced the native populations in Spanish territories. • Spanish looked for laborers for the Caribbean and the Americas. • In 1518, the first shipment of slaves went directly from west Africa to the Caribbean where the slaves worked on sugar plantations.
Slavery Expands Continued • By the 1520s, the Spanish had introduced slaves to Mexico, Peru, and Central America where they worked as cultivators and miners • By the early 17th Century, the British had introduced slaves to North America
Triangular Trade Continued • European goods (cloth ,metal wares, and firearms) went to Africa and were exchanged for slaves. • Slaves were then shipped to the Caribbean and Americas where they were sold for cash or sometimes bartered for sugar or molasses. • Then the ships returned to Europe loaded with American products.
“Molasses to rum to slaves Who sail the ships back to Boston Ladened with gold, see it gleam Whose fortunes are made in the triangle trade Hail slavery, the New England dream!” • Song from the play 1776
Capture • The capture of slaves was violent. • As European demand grew, African chieftains raided neighboring societies. • Others launched wars to capture slaves.
The Middle Passage • Slaves were force-marched to holding pens before being loaded on ships • The trans-Atlantic journey was called the “Middle Passage” • The ships were filthy, hot, and crowded
The Middle Passage Continued • Most ships provided slaves with enough room to sit upright, but not enough to stand • Others forced slaves to lie in chains with barely 20 inches space between them
The Middle Passage Continued • Men were “housed” on the right; women on the left; children in the middle. The human Cargo was jammed onto platforms six feet wide often without sufficient headroom for an adult to sit up.
The Middle Passage Continued • Crews attempted to keep as many slaves alive as possible to maximize profits, but treatment was extremely cruel • Some slaves refused to eat and crew members used tools to pry open their mouths and force-feed them
Daily "dancing" was enforced on many slave ships as a form of exercise. People were made to hop in place in their shackles and exercise by swinging their arms. The crew walked among them with whips or cat-o'-nine-tails to compel the forced recreation.
The Middle Passage Continued • People were thrown overboard due to shortages in supplies or an outbreak of disease. • Cargo (human beings) was often insured so that there was no financial loss.
Slaves Left to Die • Often people that were unhealthy or sick were left behind.
Arrival • When the slave ship docked, the slaves would be placed in a pen. • They would be washed and covered with grease or tar to make them look healthy. • They would also be branded with a hot iron to identify them as slaves.
Auctions • Slaves were sold at auctions • Buyers physically inspected the slaves • Auctioneers had slaves perform various acts to demonstrate their physical abilities
Auctions • “We were not many days in the merchant’s custody, before we were sold after their usual manner... On a signal given, (as the beat of a drum), buyers rush at once into the yard where the slaves are confined, and make a choice of that parcel they like best. The noise and clamor with which this is attended, and the eagerness visible in the countenances of the buyers, serve not a little to increase the apprehension of terrified Africans... In this manner, without scruple, are relations and friends separated, most of them never to see each other again. I remember in the vessel in which I was brought over... there were several brothers who, in the sale, were sold in different lots; and it was very moving on this occasion, to see and hear their cries in parting.” • Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano
Plantations • Most African slaves went to the Caribbean or South America. • Plantations produced crops like sugar, tobacco, indigo, and cotton. • Crops were exported for profit.
Caribbean and South America • Disease, brutal working conditions, and poor sanitation and nutrition resulted in high mortality rates. • Owners imported mainly male slaves and allowed few to establish families which resulted in low reproduction.
Between 1501 and the 1860s, at least twelve million African men, women, and children were transported in the transatlantic slave trade. Among them were farmers, fishermen, cattle herders, craftspeople, notables, scholars, slaves, musicians, as well as political and religious leaders.
North America • Diseases took less of a toll in North America and living conditions were usually less brutal • Plantation owners imported large numbers of female slaves and encouraged their slaves to form families and bear children
Forms of Resistance • Work slowly • Sabotage • Runaway • Revolt
Slavery Continues • Abolishing the slave trade did not end slavery • British ships patrolled the west coast of Africa to halt illegal trade • The last documented ship that carried slaves across the Atlantic arrived in Cuba in 1867
Impact of Slave Trade in Africa • Some states like Rwanda largely escaped the slave trade through resistance and geography • Some like Senegal in west Africa were hit very hard • Other societies benefited economically from selling slaves, trading, or operating ports
Impact of Slave Trade in Africa • As abolition took root in the 19th Century some African merchants even complained about the lose of their livelihood • On the whole, however, the slave trade devastated Africa
Impact of Slave Trade in Africa • It deprived Africa of a huge fraction of their population. • It distorted African sex ratios because ~ 2/3 of slaves were male. • The introduction of firearms increased the level of violence