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Slave trade

Slave trade

The Atlantic slave trade, also known as the transatlantic slave trade, was the trade of African people supplied to the colonies of the "New World" that occurred in and around the Atlantic Ocean. It lasted from the 16th century to the 19th century. Most slaves were shipped from West Africa and Central Africa and taken to the New World (primarily Brazil). Some slaves were captured by European slave traders through raids and kidnapping, but most were obtained through coastal trading with Africans. Most contemporary historians estimate that between 9.4 and 12 million Africans arrived in the New World, although the number of people taken from their homestead is considerably higher. The slave-trade is sometimes called the Maafa by African and African-American scholars, meaning "holocaust" or "great disaster" in Swahili. The slaves were one element of a three-part economic cyclethe Triangular Trade and its Middle Passagewhich ultimately involved four continents, four centuries and millions of people.

Slavery was practiced in Africa before the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade. The African slave trade provided a large number of black slaves to Europeans and their African agents.
When the first Africans were shipped to the New World, relying on African slaves to keep a plantation economy running wasnt new to the Europeans.

There are two main eras of the Atlantic system.

The First Atlantic system was the trade of African slaves to mostly South American colonies of the Portuguese and Spanish empires; it accounted for only slightly more than 3% of all Atlantic slave trade. It started (on a significant scale) in about 1502 and lasted until 1580, when Portugal was temporarily united with Spain. While the Portuguese traded slaves themselves, the Spanish empire relied on the asiento system, awarding merchants (mostly from other countries) the license to trade slaves to their colonies. During the first Atlantic system most of these traders were Portuguese, giving them a near-monopoly during the era, although some Dutch, English, Spanish and French traders also participated in the slave trade. After the union, Portugal stayed formally autonomous, but was weakened, with its colonial empire being attacked by the Dutch and English.
The Second Atlantic system was the trade of African slaves by mostly English, Brazilian, French and Dutch traders. The main destinations of this phase were the Caribbean colonies, Brazil and North America, as a number of European countries built up economically slave-dependent colonial empires in the New World. Amongst the pioneers of this system were Francis Drake and John Hawkins.

Only slightly more than 3 percent of the slaves exported were traded between 1450 and 1600, 16% in the 17th century. More than half of them were exported in the 18th century, the remaining 28.5% in the 19th century.

European colonists initially practiced systems of both bonded labor and Indian slavery, enslaving many of the natives of the New World. For a variety of reasons, Africans replaced Indians as the main population of slaves in the Americas. In some cases, such as on some of the Caribbean Islands, warfare and diseases such as smallpox eliminated the natives completely. In other cases, such as in South Carolina, Virginia, and New England, the need for alliances with native tribes coupled with the availability of African slaves at affordable prices (beginning in the early 18th century for these colonies) resulted in a shift away from Indian slavery.

A burial ground in Campeche, Mexico, suggests slaves had been brought there not long after Hernán Cortés completed the subjugation of Aztec and Mayan Mexico. The graveyard had been in use from about 1550 to the late 1600s.

The first side of the triangle was the export of goods from Europe to Africa. A number of African kings and merchants took part in the trading of slaves from 1440 to about 1900. For each captive, the African rulers would receive a variety of goods from Europe. Many of them were confronted with the dilemma of trading with Europe or becoming slaves themselves. The second leg of the triangle exported enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to South America, the Caribbean islands, and North America. The third and final part of the triangle was the return of goods to Europe from the Americas. The goods were the products of slave-labor plantations and included cotton, sugar, tobacco, molasses and rum.

However, Brazil (the main importer of slaves) manufactured these goods in South America and directly traded with African ports, thus not taking part in a triangular trade.
Shortage of labor was one of the issues the Atlantic Slave Trade was made to deal with. Native peoples were the first used by Europeans as slaves until a large number died from overwork and Old World diseases. Later, African slaves were available in quantity at affordable prices. Other incentives, such as indentured servitude also failed to provide a sufficient workforce.

Many crops could not be sold for profit or even grown in Europe. It was also cheaper to import many crops and goods from the New World than from regions in Europe. Huge amounts of labor were needed for the plantations in the intensive growing, harvesting and processing of these prized tropical crops. Western Africa (part of which became known as 'the Slave Coast') and later Central Africa became the new source for slaves to meet the demand for labor.

The basic reason for the constant shortage of labor was that, with large amounts of cheap land available and lots of landowners searching for workers, free European immigrants were able to become landowners themselves after a relatively short time, thus increasing the need for workers.

The Atlantic slave trade was not the only slave trade taking a toll on Africa, although it was one of the largest in volume and intensity. As Elikia Mbokolo wrote in Le Monde diplomatique: "The African continent was bled of its human resources via all possible routes. Across the Sahara, through the Red Sea, from the Indian Ocean ports and across the Atlantic. At least ten centuries of slavery for the benefit of the Muslim countries (from the ninth to the nineteenth). ... Four million slaves exported via the Red Sea, another four million through the Swahili ports of the Indian Ocean, perhaps as many as nine million along the trans-Saharan caravan route, and eleven to twenty million (depending on the author) across the Atlantic Ocean."

Europeans usually bought slaves who were captured in tribal wars between African kingdoms and chiefdoms, or from Africans who had made a business out of capturing other Africans and selling them. Europeans provided a large new market for an already-existing trade, and while an African held in slavery in his own region of Africa might escape or be traded back to his own people, a person shipped away was sure never to return. People living around the Niger River were transported from these markets to the coast and sold at European trading ports in exchange for muskets and manufactured goods such as cloth or alcohol.

The Atlantic slave trade peaked in the late 18th century, when the largest number of slaves were captured on raiding expeditions into the interior of West Africa. These expeditions were typically carried out by coastal African kingdoms, such as the Oyo empire (Yoruba) and the kingdom of Dahomey.

Europeans rarely entered the interior of Africa, due to fear of disease and moreover fierce African resistance. The slaves would be brought to coastal outposts where they would be traded for goods. Enslavement became a major by-product of war in Africa as nation states expanded through military conflicts in many cases through deliberate sponsorship of benefiting Western European nations. During such periods of rapid state formation or expansion (Asante or Dahomey being good examples), slavery formed an important element of political life which the Europeans exploited: As Queen Sara's plea to the Portuguese courts revealed, the system became "sell to the Europeans or be sold to the Europeans". In Africa, convicted criminals could be punished by enslavement and with European demands for slaves, this punishment became more prevalent. Since most of these nations did not have a prison system, convicts were often sold or used in the scattered local domestic slave market.

The majority of European conquests occurred toward the end or after the transatlantic slave trade. One exception to this is the conquest of Ndongo in current day Angola where Ndongo's slaves, warriors, free citizens and even nobility were taken into slavery by the Portuguese conquerors after the fall of the state.

The trade of enslaved Africans in the Atlantic has its origins in the explorations of Portuguese mariners down the coast of West Africa in the 15th century. Before that, contact with African slave markets was made to ransom Portuguese that had been captured by the intense North African Barbary pirate attacks to the Portuguese ships and coastal villages, frequently leaving them depopulated. The first Europeans to use African slaves in the New World were the Spaniards who sought auxiliaries for their conquest expeditions and laborers on islands such as Cuba and Hispaniola, where the alarming decline in the native population had spurred the first royal laws protecting the native population (Laws of Burgos, 1512-1513). The first African slaves arrived in Hispaniola in 1501. After Portugal had succeeded in establishing sugar plantations (engenhos) in northern Brazil ca. 1545, Portuguese merchants on the West African coast began to supply enslaved Africans to the sugar planters there. While at first these planters relied almost exclusively on the native Tupani for slave labor, a titanic shift toward Africans took place after 1570 following a series of epidemics which decimated the already destabilized Tupani communities. By 1630, Africans had replaced the Tupani as the largest contingent of labor on Brazilian sugar plantations, heralding equally the final collapse of the European medieval household tradition of slavery, the rise of Brazil as the largest single destination for enslaved Africans and sugar as the reason that roughly 84% of these Africans were shipped to the New World.

Merchants from various European nations were later involved in the Atlantic Slave trade: Portugal, Spain, France, England, Scotland, Brandenburg-Prussia, Denmark, Holland. As Britain rose in naval power and settled continental North America and some islands of the West Indies, they became the leading slave traders. At one stage the trade was the monopoly of the Royal Africa Company, operating out of London, but following the loss of the company's monopoly in 1689, Bristol and Liverpool merchants became increasingly involved in the trade. By the late 17th century, one out of every four ships that left Liverpool harbour was a slave trading ship. Other British cities also profited from the slave trade. Birmingham, the largest gun producing town in Britain at the time, supplied guns to be traded for slaves. 75% of all sugar produced in the plantations came to London to supply the highly lucrative coffee houses there.

The first slaves to arrive as part of a labor force appeared in 1502 on the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Cuba received its first four slaves in 1513. Slave exports to Honduras and Guatemala started in 1526. The first African slaves to reach what would become the US arrived in January of 1526 as part of a Spanish attempt at colonizing South Carolina near Jamestown. By November the 300 Spanish colonist were reduced to a mere 100 accompanied by 70 of their original 100 slaves. The slaves revolted and joined a nearby native population while the Spanish abandoned the colony altogether. Colombia received its first slaves in 1533. El Salvador, Costa Rica and Florida began their stint in the slave trade in 1541, 1563 and 1581 respectively.

The 17th century saw an increase in shipments with slaves arriving in the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. Irish immigrants brought slaves to Montserrat in 1651. And in 1655, slaves arrive in Belize.

In Britain and in some parts of Europe, opposition developed against the slave trade. Led by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and establishment Evangelicals such as William Wilberforce, the movement was joined by many and began to protest against the trade, but they were opposed by the owners of the colonial holdings. Denmark, which had been active in the slave trade, was the first country to ban the trade through legislation in 1792, which took effect in 1803. Britain banned the slave trade (but not slavery itself) in 1807, imposing stiff fines for any slave found aboard a British ship. The Royal Navy, which then controlled the world's seas, moved to stop other nations from filling Britain's place in the slave trade and declared that slaving was equal to piracy and was punishable by death. The United States outlawed the importation of slaves on January 1, 1808, the earliest date permitted by the constitution for such a ban.

On Sunday 28 October 1787, William Wilberforce wrote in his diary: God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the Reformation of society. For the rest of his life, William Wilberforce dedicated his life as a Member of Parliament to opposing the slave trade and working for the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire. On 22 February 1807, twenty years after he first began his crusade, and in the middle of Britains war with France, Wilberforce and his teams labors were rewarded with victory. By an overwhelming 283 votes for to 16 against, the motion to abolish the slave trade was carried in the House of Commons.

After the British ended their own slave trade, they felt forced by economics to press other nations to do the same, or else the British colonies would become uncompetitive. With peace in Europe from 1815, and British supremacy at sea secured, the Navy turned its attention back to the challenge and established the West Coast of Africa Station, known as the preventative squadron, which for the next 50 years operated against the slavers. By the 1850s, around 25 vessels and 2,000 officers and men were on the station, supported by nearly 1,000 Kroomen, experienced fishermen recruited as sailors from what is now the coast of modern Liberia. Service on the West Africa Squadron was a thankless and overwhelming task, full of risk and posing a constant threat to the health of the crews involved. Contending with pestilential swamps and violent encounters, the mortality rate was 55 per 1,000 men, compared with 10 for fleets in the Mediterranean or in home waters. Between 1807 and 1860, the West Africa Squadron seized approximately 1,600 ships involved in the slave trade and freed 150,000 Africans who were aboard these vessels. The last recorded slave ship to land on American soil was the Clotilde, which in 1859 illegally smuggled a number of Africans into the town of Mobile, Alabama. The Africans on board were sold as slaves, however slavery was abolished 5 years later following the end of the civil war. The last survivor of the voyage was Cudjoe Lewis who died in 1935.

Action was also taken against African leaders who refused to agree to British treaties to outlaw the trade, for example against the usurping King of Lagos, deposed in 1851. Anti-slavery treaties were signed with over 50 African rulers. The British campaign against the slave trade by other nations was an unprecedented foreign policy effort.

Although the slave trade had become illegal, slavery remained a reality in British colonies. Wilberforce himself was privately convinced that the institution of slavery should be entirely abolished, but understood that there was little political will for emancipation. In parliament, the Emancipation Bill gathered support and received its final commons reading on 26 July 1833. Slavery would be abolished, but the planters would be heavily compensated. Thank God, said William Wilberforce, that I have lived to witness a day in which England is willing to give twenty millions sterling for the Abolition of Slavery.

The last country to ban the Atlantic slave trade was Brazil in 1831.


Barbados, 2007, Emancipation Statue

Barbados, 2007, William Wilberforce

Barbados, 2007, Slave hut

Barbados, 2007, Freedom celebretion

Barbados, 2007, Slave ship

Belize, 2007, Slave

France, 1998, Slave wearing Cap of Liberty

Great Britain, 2007, William Wilberforce

Great Britain, 2007, Olaudah Equiano

Great Britain, 2007, Granville Sharp

Great Britain, 2007, Thomas Clarkson

Great Britain, 2007, Hannah More

Great Britain, 2007, Ignatius Sancho

Guyana, 1985, Leaders of 1763 Rebellion

Guyana, 1985, Damon's execution, 1834

Guyana, 1985, Quamina and Demerara

Guyana, 1985, Slave ship Den Arendt

Guyana, 1988, Leaders of 1763 Rebellion

Guyana, 1988, Damon's execution, 1834

Guyana, 1988, Quamina and Demerara

Guyana, 1988, Slave ship Den Arendt

Liberia, 2000, Slave Trade

Senegal, 1998, Mother, child and slave ship

St. Lucia, 1984, Slaves preparing Manioc

St. Lucia, 1984, Cooking cassava flour

St. Lucia, 1984, Preparing tobacco

St. Lucia, 1984, Preparing tobacco

St. Lucia, 1984, Working slaves

St. Lucia, 1994, The Pitons

St. Lucia, 1994, The Pitons, Slaves

Trinidad & Tobago, 1984, Slave Schooner and Shakles

Trinidad & Tobago, 1984, Slave and Slave Trangle map

Trinidad & Tobago, 2004, Slave ship

Trinidad & Tobago, 2004, Rada community, Belmont

Trinidad & Tobago, 2004, Daaga, Prince of Popo

Trinidad & Tobago, 2004, Slaver signing freedom song

Trinidad & Tobago, 2004, Providence Estate Aqueduct

Trinidad & Tobago, 2004, Sandy's escape

Venezuela, 1995, Gregorio Monagas, Slaves

Great Britain, 2007.03.22, Balls Park, Hertford "Am I not a man and a brother?"

Great Britain, 2007.03.22, Dean's Yard, London SW1. Bicentenary Abolition of the Slave Trade

Great Britain, 2007.03.22, Freeland, Witney. Abolition of the Slave Trade

Great Britain, 2007.03.22, Freeman Street, Birmingham. William Wilberforce

Great Britain, 2007.03.22, Garrison Close, London SE18. Abolition of Slavery

Great Britain, 2007.03.22, High Street, Hull. Abolition of the Slave Trade

Great Britain, 2007.03.22, Hull. Abolition of the Slave Trade

Great Britain, 2007.03.22, Hull. Abolition of the Slave Trade

Great Britain, 2007.03.22, Hyde Park London. Memorial 2007

Great Britain, 2007.03.22, Liverpool. Abolition of the Slave Trade

Great Britain, 2007.03.22, Parliament Square, London SW1. Bicentenary Abolition of the Slave Trade

Great Britain, 2007.03.22, The Wilberforce Arms, Hull. Abolition of the Slave Trade

Great Britain, 2007.03.22, Wisbech capital of the Fens, birthplace of Thomas Clarkson

France, 2002, Slave wearing Cap of Liberty

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