History of the African Slave Trade

The Beginning:

At the end of the 14th century Europeans started to take people from Africa against their will. Initially they were mainly used as servants for the rich. The Europeans justified the taking of slaves by arguing that they were providing an opportunity for Africans to become Christians. By the 17th century the removal of slaves from Africa became a holy cause that had the full support of the Christian Church.

When Spanish and Portuguese sea-captains began to explore the Americas they took their African servants with them. Some of these Africans proved to be excellent explorers. The most important of these was Estevanico, who led the first European expedition to New Mexico and Arizona.
The people living in the Americas resisted the attempt by the Europeans to take over their land. One of he most important struggles took place in Cuba in 1512. The Cubans, led by Chief Hatuey, were eventually defeated by the superior weapons of the Spanish.

It is estimated that over a million people lived in Cuba before the arrival of the Europeans. Twenty-five years later there were only 2,000 left. Large numbers had been killed, while others died of starvation, disease, committed suicide or had died from the consequences of being forced to work long hours in the gold mines.
After the arrival of the Europeans there was a sharp decline in the local population of most of the islands in the Caribbean Sea. This created a problem for the Europeans as they needed labour to exploit the natural resources of these islands. Eventually the Europeans came up with a solution: the importation of slaves from Africa. By 1540, an estimated 10,000 slaves a year were being brought from Africa to replace the diminishing local populations.

British merchants became involved in the trade and eventually dominated the market. They built coastal forts in Africa where they kept the captured Africans until the arrival of the slave-ships. The merchants obtained the slaves from African chiefs by giving them goods from Europe. At first, these slaves were often the captured soldiers from tribal wars. However, the demand for slaves become so great that raiding parties were organised to obtain young Africans.

The Height of the Slave Trade:

Between the years 1650 and 1900, historians estimate that at least 28 million Africans were forcibly removed from central and western Africa as slaves (but the numbers involved are controversial). A human catastrophe for Africa, the world African Slave Trade was truly a "Holocaust."

Between 1450 and 1850 at least 12 million Africans were taken across the notorious Middle Passage of the Atlantic - mainly to colonies in North America, South America, and the West Indies

The Middle Passage was integral to a larger pattern of commerce developed by European countries. European traders would export manufactured goods to the west coast of Africa where they would be exchanged for slaves.

While there was slavery throughout World History, never has it reached such an epic proportion as during the Middle Passage/ transatlantic slave trade. At this time, no one knows exactly how many Africans died at sea during the Middle Passage experience. Estimates for the total number of Africans lost to the slave trade range from 25 to 50 million.

The Middle Passage was a term used to describe the triangular route of trade that brought Africans to the Americas and rum and sugar cane to Europe. It was synonymous with pain and suffering. The journey from Africa to the Americas would take as many as 30 to 90 days. Many of the ships were termed 'loose packers' or 'tight packers', describing the maximum capacity of the slave ship. The stench of diseased and decaying bodies and unruly Africans thrown overboard, lured sharks to the ships' course.

European countries participating in the slave trade acccumed tremendous wealth and global power from the capturing and selling of Africans into slavery. Initially, slaves were sold to the Portuguese and Spanish colonies in South and Central Americas to work on sugar cane plantations. This area became known as the 'seasoning stations' for the northern plantations, because of the brutal conditioning that took place there. However, by the 1700's, due to the high demand for African slaves, most Africans were shipped directly from Africa to mainland America.

End of the Slave Trade:

The slave-produced goods were shipped back to Britain - the "Mother Country" - where they were manufactured or refined (if necessary) and then either sold domestically or re-exported at a vast profit. The slave trade brought in huge amounts of money to Britain, and few people even knew what was going on in the plantations, let alone cared. Men who owned plantations in the West Indies, including Sir John Gladstone, formed an important political group which opposed the abolition of the slave trade.

One of the earliest voluntary organizations in Britain which was devoted to a single cause was the anti-slavery movement. In 1787 a committee of twelve was appointed, including six members of the Society of Friends (Quakers). The Quakers had set up a committee of their own in 1783 in order to obtain and publish "such information as may tend to the abolition of the slave trade." Two other members of the committee were Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharp. These men in particular went to great lengths to collect evidence, finding out precisely how little space was allotted to slaves on the ships and similar details. They began to publish pamphlets to stir public opinion against the trade. In parliament, both Charles James Fox and William Pitt the Younger agreed with the aims of the committee but some of the most powerful economic interests of the day opposed them. Consequently the committee had to concern itself with direct political action. Since Quakers were barred from becoming MPs until after 1828, their spokesman in parliament became the EvangelicalWilliam Wilberforce, author of Practical Christianity, one of the century's most widely read devotional works.

In 1793 Britain went to war against the French following the French Revolution and the cause of the slave-traders appeared to be a patriotic cause: the trade was seen as the "nursery of seamen." Abolition of the trade was postponed although Wilberforce regularly continued to propose legislation for abolition. His moral case was very strong and the evils of the trade were generally admitted. In 1807 the slave trade in the British colonies was abolished and it became illegal to carry slaves in British ships. This was only the beginning: the ultimate aim was the abolition of slavery itself.

In 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, European statesmen condemned slavery but nothing was done to improve the conditions of slaves. The campaign to abolish slavery continued in Britain. Wilberforce and his co-workers held meetings all over the country to try to persuade people that abolition should be supported. They discovered that many people were unaware of the horrors of slavery and that others were not interested in something which happened thousands of miles away. They also met opposition from the West India lobby.

After 1830 when the mood of the nation changed in favor of a variety of types of reform, the antislavery campaign gathered momentum. In 1833 Wilberforce's efforts were finally rewarded when the Abolition of Slavery Act was passed. Wilberforce, on his death-bed, was informed of the passing of the Act in the nick of time. The main terms of the Act were:

In the West Indies the economic results of the Act were disastrous. The islands depended on the sugar trade which in turn depended on slave labor. Ultimately, the planters were unable to make the West Indies the thriving centers of trade which they had been in the eighteenth century. However, a moral victory had been won and the 1833 Act marked the beginning of the end of slavery in the New World.

The Civil War ends, and the 13th Amendment outlaws slavery in the United States. Ownership patterns did not change with abolition, for many slaves, liberation only meant the freedom to be hungry, poor and landless. Earning a living in the ruined South turned out to be difficult. Few former slaves could afford to buy land, and even if they could, even fewer White's would sell it to them. The governments promises of '40 acres and a mule' to freed slaves never truly came to fruition.

How Many Africans Were Affected?:

1. Between 10 and 28 million people taken from Africa

2. 17 million Africans sold into slavery on the coast of the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, and North Africa

3. 12 million Africans taken to the Americas

4. 5 million Africans taken across the Sahara and East Africa into slavery in other parts of the world



1. http://www.tmpf.org/1865.htm

2. http://www.cocc.edu/cagatucci/classes/hum211/timelines/htimeline3.htm

3. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1h280.html

4. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1p277.html

5. http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/africa/newsid_1523000/1523100.stm

6. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASafrica.htm


8. http://www.tmpf.org/history.htm