As property, the people were considered merchandise or units of labour, and were sold at markets with other goods and services. The major Atlantic slave trading nations, ordered by trade volume, were: the Portuguese , the British , the French , the Spanish , and the Dutch Empires. Several had established outposts on the African coast where they purchased slaves from local African leaders.
Slaves were kept in a factory while awaiting shipment. Current estimates are that about 12 million to In the early 21st century, several governments issued apologies for the transatlantic slave trade. For centuries, tidal currents had made ocean travel particularly difficult and risky for the ships that were then available, and as such there had been very little, if any, maritime contact between the peoples living in these continents.
Between and , approximately , sailors engaged in the slave trade visited West Africa. Historian John Thornton noted, "A number of technical and geographical factors combined to make Europeans the most likely people to explore the Atlantic and develop its commerce". In particular, European traders wanted to trade for gold , which could be found in western Africa, and also to find a maritime route to "the Indies" India , where they could trade for luxury goods such as spices without having to obtain these items from Middle Eastern Islamic traders.
Although many of the initial Atlantic naval explorations were led by Iberians, members of many European nationalities were involved, including sailors from Portugal, Spain, the Italian kingdoms, England, France and the Netherlands. This diversity led Thornton to describe the initial "exploration of the Atlantic" as "a truly international exercise, even if many of the dramatic discoveries were made under the sponsorship of the Iberian monarchs". That leadership later gave rise to the myth that "the Iberians were the sole leaders of the exploration".
Slavery was prevalent in many parts of Africa  for many centuries before the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade. There is evidence that enslaved people from some parts of Africa were exported to states in Africa, Europe, and Asia prior to the European colonization of the Americas. The Atlantic slave trade was not the only slave trade from Africa, although it was the largest in volume and intensity.
As Elikia M'bokolo wrote in Le Monde diplomatique :. The African continent was bled of its human resources via all possible routes. At least ten centuries of slavery for the benefit of the Muslim countries from the ninth to the nineteenth Four million enslaved people 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.
According to John K. Thornton, Europeans usually bought enslaved people who were captured in endemic warfare between African states. Upon discovering new lands through their naval explorations, European colonisers soon began to migrate to and settle in lands outside their native continent. Off the coast of Africa, European migrants, under the directions of the Kingdom of Castile , invaded and colonised the Canary Islands during the 15th century, where they converted much of the land to the production of wine and sugar.
Along with this, they also captured native Canary Islanders, the Guanches , to use as slaves both on the Islands and across the Christian Mediterranean. As historian John Thornton remarked, "the actual motivation for European expansion and for navigational breakthroughs was little more than to exploit the opportunity for immediate profits made by raiding and the seizure or purchase of trade commodities".
By , the Portuguese king had entered agreements with the rulers of several West African states that would allow trade between their respective peoples, enabling the Portuguese to "tap into" the "well-developed commercial economy in Africa For instance, Portuguese traders attempted to conquer the Bissagos Islands in Although Kongo later joined a coalition in to force the Portuguese out, Portugal had secured a foothold on the continent that it continued to occupy until the 20th century.
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In , the Kongolese king, Afonso I , seized a French vessel and its crew for illegally trading on his coast. Historians have widely debated the nature of the relationship between these African kingdoms and the European traders. The Guyanese historian Walter Rodney has argued that it was an unequal relationship, with Africans being forced into a "colonial" trade with the more economically developed Europeans, exchanging raw materials and human resources i. He argued that it was this economic trade agreement dating back to the 16th century that led to Africa being underdeveloped in his own time.
Africans had great influence on the continent itself, but they had no direct influence on the engines behind the trade in the capital firms, the shipping and insurance companies of Europe and America, or the plantation systems in Americas. They did not wield any influence on the building manufacturing centers of the West. The Atlantic slave trade is customarily divided into two eras, known as the First and Second Atlantic Systems. It started on a significant scale in about  and lasted until when Portugal was temporarily united with Spain.
While the Portuguese were directly involved in trading enslaved peoples, the Spanish empire relied on the asiento system, awarding merchants mostly from other countries the license to trade enslaved people to their colonies. During the first Atlantic system, most of these traders were Portuguese, giving them a near-monopoly during the era. Some Dutch, English, and French traders also participated in the slave trade.
It became a target for the traditional enemies of Spain, losing a large share of the trade to the Dutch, English, and French. The main destinations of this phase were the Caribbean colonies and Brazil , as European nations built up economically slave-dependent colonies in the New World. It is estimated that more than half of the entire slave trade took place during the 18th century, with the British, Portuguese and French being the main carriers of nine out of ten slaves abducted in Africa.
Following the British and United States' bans on the African slave trade in , it declined, but the period after still accounted for The graveyard had been in use from approximately to the late 17th century. 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 enslaved people from to about For each captive, the African rulers would receive a variety of goods from Europe.
These included guns, ammunition, and other factory-made goods. The second leg of the triangle exported enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas and the Caribbean Islands. 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-labour plantations and included cotton , sugar , tobacco , molasses and rum. The Atlantic slave trade was the result of, among other things, labour shortage , itself in turn created by the desire of European colonists to exploit New World land and resources for capital profits. Native peoples were at first utilized as slave labour by Europeans until a large number died from overwork and Old World diseases.
Many crops could not be sold for profit, or even grown, in Europe. Exporting crops and goods from the New World to Europe often proved to be more profitable than producing them on the European mainland. A vast amount of labour was needed to create and sustain plantations that required intensive labour to grow, harvest, and process prized tropical crops.
Western Africa part of which became known as "the Slave Coast " , Angola and nearby Kingdoms and later Central Africa , became the source for enslaved people to meet the demand for labour. The basic reason for the constant shortage of labour 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. Thomas Jefferson attributed the use of slave labour in part to the climate, and the consequent idle leisure afforded by slave labour: "For in a warm climate, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him.
This is so true, that of the proprietors of slaves a very small proportion indeed are ever seen to labour. Conversely, many enslaved Africans were taken from regions of Africa which hosted particularly potent strains of the disease, so the Africans had already developed natural resistance to malaria. This, Esposito argued, resulted in higher malaria survival rates in the American south among enslaved Africans than among European labourers, making them a more profitable source of labour and encouraging their use.
Africans played a direct role in the slave trade, selling their captives or prisoners of war to European buyers. Sometimes criminals would be sold so that they could no longer commit crimes in that area. Most other slaves were obtained from kidnappings, or through raids that occurred at gunpoint through joint ventures with the Europeans.
King Jaja of Opobo , a former slave, refused to do business with the slavers completely. Africans also participated in the slave trade through intermarriage, or cassare , meaning "to set up house". It is derived from the Portuguese word "casar", meaning "to marry". Cassare created political and economic bonds between European and African slave traders. Cassare was a pre-European practice used to integrate the "other" from a differing African tribe. Powerful West African groups used these marriages as an alliance used to strengthen their trade networks with European men by marrying off African women from families with ties to the slave trade.
Early on in the Atlantic Slave trade, these marriages were common. The marriages were even performed using African customs, which Europeans did not object to, seeing how important the connections were.
Although Europeans were the market for slaves, Europeans rarely entered the interior of Africa, due to fear of disease and fierce African resistance. Since most of these nations did not have a prison system, convicts were often sold or used in the scattered local domestic slave market. As of , Thomas Kitchin estimated that Europeans were bringing an estimated 52, slaves to the Caribbean yearly, with the French bringing the most Africans to the French West Indies 13, out of the yearly estimate.
Forms of slavery varied both in Africa and in the New World. This was connected to another distinction: slavery in West Africa was not reserved for racial or religious minorities, as it was in European colonies, although the case was otherwise in places such as Somalia , where Bantus were taken as slaves for the ethnic Somalis. The treatment of slaves in Africa was more variable than in the Americas.
At one extreme, the kings of Dahomey routinely slaughtered slaves in hundreds or thousands in sacrificial rituals, and slaves as human sacrifices were also known in Cameroon. The slaves in Africa, I suppose, are nearly in the proportion of three to one to the freemen.
They claim no reward for their services except food and clothing, and are treated with kindness or severity, according to the good or bad disposition of their masters Those of the first description are by far the most numerous In the Americas, slaves were denied the right to marry freely and masters did not generally accept them as equal members of the family.
New World slaves were considered the property of their owners, and slaves convicted of revolt or murder were executed. There were eight principal areas used by Europeans to buy and ship slaves to the Western Hemisphere. The number of enslaved people sold to the New World varied throughout the slave trade. As for the distribution of slaves from regions of activity, certain areas produced far more enslaved people than others. Between and , Although the slave trade was largely global, there was considerable intracontinental slave trade in which 8 million people were enslaved within the African continent.
There were over city-states and kingdoms in the African regions affected by the slave trade between and , when Brazil became the last Atlantic import nation to outlaw the slave trade. Of those , no fewer than 68 could be deemed nation states with political and military infrastructures that enabled them to dominate their neighbours.
Nearly every present-day nation had a pre-colonial predecessor, sometimes an African empire with which European traders had to barter. The different ethnic groups brought to the Americas closely corresponds to the regions of heaviest activity in the slave trade. Over 45 distinct ethnic groups were taken to the Americas during the trade.
Of the 45, the ten most prominent, according to slave documentation of the era are listed below. The transatlantic slave trade resulted in a vast and as yet still unknown loss of life for African captives both in and outside America. Approximately 1. The number of lives lost in the procurement of slaves remains a mystery but may equal or exceed the number who survived to be enslaved.
The savage nature of the trade led to the destruction of individuals and cultures. The following figures do not include deaths of enslaved Africans as a result of their labour, slave revolts, or diseases suffered while living among New World populations. Historian Ana Lucia Araujo has noted that the process of enslavement did not end with arrival on the American shores; the different paths taken by the individuals and groups who were victims of the Atlantic slave trade were influenced by different factors—including the disembarking region, the kind of work performed, gender, age, religion, and language.
Estimates by Patrick Manning are that about 12 million slaves entered the Atlantic trade between the 16th and 19th century, but about 1. About Besides the slaves who died on the Middle Passage, more Africans likely died during the slave raids in Africa and forced marches to ports. Manning estimates that 4 million died inside Africa after capture, and many more died young. Manning's estimate covers the 12 million who were originally destined for the Atlantic, as well as the 6 million destined for Asian slave markets and the 8 million destined for African markets.
According to Kimani Nehusi, the presence of European slavers affected the way in which the legal code in African societies responded to offenders. Crimes traditionally punishable by some other form of punishment became punishable by enslavement and sale to slave traders. The slave trade was largely a by-product of tribal and state warfare as a way of removing potential dissidents after victory or financing future wars.
He requests the King of Portugal to stop sending merchandise but should only send missionaries.
In one of his letters he writes:. Each day the traders are kidnapping our people—children of this country, sons of our nobles and vassals, even people of our own family. This corruption and depravity are so widespread that our land is entirely depopulated. We need in this kingdom only priests and schoolteachers, and no merchandise, unless it is wine and flour for Mass. It is our wish that this Kingdom not be a place for the trade or transport of slaves Many of our subjects eagerly lust after Portuguese merchandise that your subjects have brought into our domains.
To satisfy this inordinate appetite, they seize many of our black free subjects They sell them. After having taken these prisoners [to the coast] secretly or at night As soon as the captives are in the hands of white men they are branded with a red-hot iron. Before the arrival of the Portuguese , slavery had already existed in Kongo. Afonso believed that the slave trade should be subject to Kongo law. The kings of Dahomey sold war captives into transatlantic slavery; they would otherwise have been killed in a ceremony known as the Annual Customs.
As one of West Africa's principal slave states, Dahomey became extremely unpopular with neighbouring peoples. A family's status was indicated by the number of slaves it owned, leading to wars for the sole purpose of taking more captives. This trade led the Khasso into increasing contact with the European settlements of Africa's west coast, particularly the French. The Bight of Benin's shore soon came to be known as the "Slave Coast". The slave trade is the ruling principle of my people. It is the source and the glory of their wealth In , the UK Parliament passed the Bill that abolished the trading of slaves.
The King of Bonny now in Nigeria was horrified at the conclusion of the practice:. We think this trade must go on. That is the verdict of our oracle and the priests. They say that your country, however great, can never stop a trade ordained by God himself. After being marched to the coast for sale, enslaved people were held in large forts called factories.
After being captured and held in the factories, slaves entered the infamous Middle Passage. Meltzer's research puts this phase of the slave trade's overall mortality at Measures were taken to stem the onboard mortality rate, such as enforced "dancing" as exercise above deck and the practice of force-feeding enslaved persons who tried to starve themselves. Other fatalities were suicides, slaves who escaped by jumping overboard. Before the African slave trade was completely banned by participating nations in , Raymond L. Cohn, an economics professor whose research has focused on economic history and international migration ,  has researched the mortality rates among Africans during the voyages of the Atlantic slave trade.
He found that mortality rates decreased over the history of the slave trade, primarily because the length of time necessary for the voyage was declining.
American slavery: Separating fact from myth
In the nineteenth century, 2 months appears to have been the maximum length of the voyage, and many voyages were far shorter. Fewer slaves died in the Middle Passage over time mainly because the passage was shorter. Despite the vast profits of slavery, the ordinary sailors on slave ships were badly paid and subject to harsh discipline. A high crew mortality rate on the return voyage was in the captain's interests as it reduced the number of sailors who had to be paid on reaching the home port. The slave trade was hated by many sailors and those who joined the crews of slave ships often did so through coercion or because they could find no other employment.
Dysentery was the leading cause of death. Notable diseases not originally known as present in Americas before include those such as smallpox, malaria, bubonic plague, typhus, influenza, measles, diphtheria, yellow fever, and whooping cough. Smallpox was one of the epidemics that surrounded the Atlantic slave trade from the 15th to the 18th centuries. Diseases like smallpox were known for causing a significant decrease in the indigenous population of the New World. An explanation to aid in understanding the logistics behind the extensive population decrease includes the topic of immunity.
The native population was not immune to this disease in that they did not have the pathogen required to resist the disease. Those such as the European colonizers and the African slaves brought to the New World, however, did possess this pathogen due to having been previously exposed to smallpox. It was known to be a common illness many underwent as children, which in turn built up their immunity to withstand this disease. As a result of the Native Americans no longer being able to work the lands as the labor required them to mine gold and silver , European colonizers, such as the Portuguese took advantage of their access to regions of the African continent such as Angola from which to extract another source of labor in which Africans had proven to be prime candidates in that they survived this case of the disease- also known as variola intermedius- while the Natives had continued to fall to the various illnesses.
Effects of smallpox included fever, bodily eruptions, and was very noticeable in the disfigurement seen of the face, hands, and feet. This illness is a viral disease, contracted through contact with an exposed individual and through the air, and no drug treatments for it were available. Some Europeans, who believed the plague of syphilis in Europe to be the fault of the Amerindians, saw smallpox as the European revenge against the Natives.
For many diseases, the African and Eurasian population were able to have already acquired immunity- being able to resist an infection- due to prior exposure as children in which they were less likely to receive the same illness again. Upon arrival, these diseases were transmitted to the Native populations who did not have immunity due to no prior exposure having been from climates in which these germs, and pathogens surrounding these diseases were not common.
Having been exposed to the illness as an adult, some effects would prove to be more enhanced than if they were to be at an adolescent age. Evolutionary history also played a role in being immune to the diseases of the slave trade. Compared to African and Europeans, New World populations did not have a history of exposure to the disease, and therefore, no genetic resistance could be maintained as a result of adaptation through evolution. Levels and extent of immunity varies from disease to disease. For smallpox and measles for example, those who survive are equipped with the cellular immunity to combat the disease for the rest of their life in that they cannot contract the disease again.
There are also diseases in which immunity does not guarantee that an individual is not susceptible to becoming reinfected. Due to a limited knowledge on the causation and range of effects of diseases surrounding the event of the slave trade, there were few to no methods for inoculation present during the time. In the late 16th century with the increased presence of smallpox, there existed some forms of inoculation or sometimes referred to as variolation in Africa and the Middle East.
One practice features Arab traders in Africa "buying-off" the disease in which a cloth that had been previously exposed to the sickness was to be tied to another child's arm to increase immunity. Another practice involved taking pus from a smallpox scab and putting it in the cut of a healthy individual in an attempt to have a mild case of the disease in the future rather than the effects becoming fatal.
As epidemiology advances, causes and effective treatments are being discovered to combat historically destructive diseases such as syphilis—which in today can be treated with simple antibiotics such as penicillin and other medications that can inhibit and rid the body of harmful bacteria. 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 who had been captured by the intense North African Barbary pirate attacks on Portuguese ships and coastal villages, frequently leaving them depopulated. The alarming decline in the native population had spurred the first royal laws protecting them Laws of Burgos, — The first enslaved Africans arrived in Hispaniola in While at first these planters had relied almost exclusively on the native Tupani for slave labour, after they began importing Africans, as a series of epidemics had decimated the already destabilized Tupani communities.
By , Africans had replaced the Tupani as the largest contingent of labour on Brazilian sugar plantations. Elaine Larson, National Geographic Society. Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society. For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about licensing content on this page, please contact ngimagecollection natgeo. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please visit our FAQ page.
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Economists and historians have examined detailed aspects of the enslaved experience for as long as slavery existed.
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My own work enters this conversation by looking at the value of individual slaves and the ways enslaved people responded to being treated as a commodity. They were bought and sold just like we sell cars and cattle today.
Slavery in America
They were gifted, deeded and mortgaged the same way we sell houses today. They were itemized and insured the same way we manage our assets and protect our valuables. Enslaved people were valued at every stage of their lives, from before birth until after death. Their values decreased on a quarter scale from three-fourths hands to one-fourth hands, to a rate of zero, which was typically reserved for elderly or differently abled bondpeople another term for slaves. For example, Guy and Andrew, two prime males sold at the largest auction in U.
Slavery was an extremely diverse economic institution, one that extracted unpaid labor out of people in a variety of settings — from small single-crop farms and plantations to urban universities. This diversity was also reflected in their prices. And enslaved people understood they were treated as commodities. Those in bondage understood their status.
Today, from grassroots initiatives such as the interactive Slave Dwelling Project , where school-aged children spend the night in slave cabins, to comic skits on Saturday Night Live , slavery is front and center. The elephant that sits at the center of our history is coming into focus.
American slavery happened — we are still living with its consequences. I believe we are finally ready to face it, learn about it and acknowledge its significance to American history. A contemporary Robinsonade — York, York. The polar oceans and global climate — Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. Edition: Available editions United Kingdom.