The Atlantic slave
, also known as the transatlantic slave
, was the trading, primarily of African people, to
of the New World
that occurred in and around the Atlantic
Ocean. It lasted from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Most enslaved
people were shipped from West Africa
and taken to North and
South America to work as unpaid labor
sugar, coffee, cocoa and cotton plantations, in gold and silver
mines, in rice fields, or in houses to work as servants. The
shippers were, in order of scale, the Portuguese (and Brazilians),
the English, the French, the Spaniards, the Dutch, and the North
Americans. Enslaved people were generally obtained through coastal
trading with Africans, though some were captured by European slave
traders through raids and kidnapping. 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
" or "great disaster" in
was one element of a three-part economic cycle
—the Triangular Trade
and its Middle Passage
—which ultimately involved four
, four centuries
and millions of people.
was practiced in Africa
before the beginning of the Atlantic slave
trade. Slavery and the slave trade were an integral part of African
societies and states which supplied the Arab world with enslaved
people for centuries before the arrival of the Europeans. The
African slave trade
large number of slaves to Europeans
and their African
The Atlantic slave trade is customarily divided into two eras,
known as the First and Second Atlantic Systems.
The First Atlantic system was the trade of enslaved Africans to,
primarily, 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.
Portuguese traded enslaved people themselves, 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, although some Dutch
traders also participated in the slave
trade. After the union, Portugal was weakened, with its colonial
empire being attacked by the Dutch and English.
The Second Atlantic system was the trade of enslaved Africans 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
and John Hawkins
Only slightly more than 3 percent of the enslaved people 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 labour
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 enslaved people in the Americas.
cases, such as on some of the Caribbean Islands, warfare and
diseases such as smallpox eliminated the
In other cases, such as in South
Carolina, Virginia, and New England, the need for alliances with
native tribes coupled with the availability of enslaved Africans at
affordable prices (beginning in the early 18th century for these
colonies) resulted in a shift away from Indian slavery.
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 approximately 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 enslaved people from 1440 to about 1900. 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
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.
Labour and slavery
An antislavery medallion of the early
The Atlantic Slave Trade was the result of, among other things,
peoples were at
first utilised as slave labour by Europeans, until a large number
died from overwork and Old World
Alternative sources of labour, such as indentured servitude
, failed to provide
a sufficient workforce.
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 cost effective than producing them on the European
mainland. A vast amount of labour was needed for the plantations in
the intensive growing, harvesting and processing of these prized
tropical crops. Western Africa
which became known as 'the Slave
'), and later Central
, 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.
African slave market
The Atlantic slave trade was not the only slave trade taking a toll
on Africa, although it was the largest in volume and intensity. As
Elikia M’bokolo wrote in Le
: "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 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
between African states. There were also Africans who
had made a business out of capturing other Africans and selling
them. Thornton says that 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, 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
and manufactured goods such as cloth
The Atlantic slave trade peaked in the last two decades of the 18th
century, during and following the Kongo
.. Wars amongst tiny states along the Niger River's
Igbo-inhabited region and the accompanying banditry also spiked in
this period. Another reason for surplus supply of enslaved
people was major warfare conducted by expanding states such as the
kingdom of Dahomey, the Oyo Empire and Asante Empire.
Europeans rarely entered the interior of Africa, due to fear of
and fierce African
resistance. The enslaved people 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
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, a punishment which became more prevalent as slavery
became more lucrative. 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
African versus European slavery
Slavery varied in form in different African cultures, but in many
cases there was no clear distinction between slavery and servitude
. In some cases slaves could accumulate
property and buy their own freedom — some even rose to the status
of rulers (e.g. Jaja of Opobo
Sunni Ali Ber
Slave Market Regions and Participation
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 1650 and
1900, 10.24 million enslaved Africans arrived in the Americas from
the following regions in the following proportions:
African kingdoms of the Era
were over 173 city-states and kingdoms in the African regions
affected by the slave trade between 1502 and 1853, when Brazil became the
last Atlantic import nation to outlaw the slave trade.
those 173, no fewer than 68 could be deemed nation states with
political and military infrastructures that enabled them to
dominate their neighbors. Nearly every present-day nation had a
pre-colonial predecessor, sometimes an African Empire
with which European traders
had to barter and eventually battle. Below are 29 nation states by
country that actively or passively participated in the Atlantic
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.
Gbe speakers of Togo, Ghana and Benin (Adja, Mina,
Akan of Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire
- The Mbundu of Angola (includes
BaKongo of the Democratic
Republic of Congo and Angola
- The Yoruba of southwestern
Mandé speakers of Upper Guinea
Wolof of Senegal and The
Chamba of Cameroon
Makua of Mozambique
The transatlantic slave trade resulted in a vast and as yet still
unknown loss of life for African captives both in and outside of
America. Approximately 8 million Africans were killed during their
storage, shipment and initial landing in the New World
. The amount of life lost in the actual
procurement of slaves remains a mystery but may equal or exceed the
amount actually enslaved. These figures would indicate the total
number of deaths at around 16 million.
The savage nature of the trade, in which most of the enslaved
people were prisoners from African wars, led to the destruction of
individuals and cultures. The following figures do not include
deaths of enslaved Africans as a result of their actual labor,
slave revolts or diseases they caught while living among New World
A database compiled in the late 1990s put the figure for the
Transatlantic Slave Trade at more than 11 million people. Estimates
as high as 50 million have been floated. For a long time an
accepted figure was 15 million, although this has in recent years
been revised down. Most historians now agree that at least 12
million slaves left the continent between the fifteenth and
nineteenth century, but 10 to 20% died on board ships. Thus a
figure of 11 million enslaved people transported to the Americas is
the nearest demonstrable figure historians can produce.
Diagram of a slave ship from the Atlantic slave trade.
From an Abstract of Evidence delivered before a select
committee of the House of Commons in 1790 and 1791.
According to David Stannard
, 50% of African deaths occurred in
Africa as a result of wars between native kingdoms, which produced
the majority of slaves. This includes not only those who died in
battles, but also those who died as a result of forced marches from
inland areas to slave ports on the various coasts. The practice of
enslaving enemy combatants and their villages was widespread
throughout Western and West Central Africa, although wars were
rarely started to procure slaves. 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. However, some African groups proved
particularly adept and brutal at the practice of enslaving such as
Kaabu, Asanteman, Dahomey, the Aro Confederacy and the Imbangala war bands.
By the end of this
process, no fewer than 18.3 million people would be herded into
"factories" to await shipment to the New World.
letters written by the Manikongo, Nzinga Mbemba Affonso, to the King
João III of Portugal, he writes that Portuguese merchandise flowing in
is what is fueling the trade in Africans.
He requests the
King of Portugal to stop sending merchandise but should only send
missionaries. In one of his letter 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
- 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
. Despite its establishment
within his kingdom, Afonso
believed that the slave trade should be subject to Kongo law. When
he suspected the Portuguese of receiving illegally enslaved persons
to sell, he wrote in to King João III in 1526 imploring him to put
a stop to the practice.
The kings of Dahomey
sold their war captives
into transatlantic slavery, who otherwise
would 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. Like the Bambara Empire
to the east, the Khasso
kingdoms depended heavily on the slave trade
for their economy. A
family's status was indicated by the number of slaves it owned,
leading to wars for the sole purpose of taking more captives.
trade led the Khasso into increasing contact with the European settlements of Africa's west coast,
particularly the French.
grew increasingly rich during the
16th and 17th centuries on the slave trade with Europe; slaves from
enemy states of the interior were sold, and carried to the Americas
in Dutch and Portuguese ships. The Bight of Benin's shore soon came
to be known as the "Slave Coast".
King Gezo of Dahomey
said in the 1840s:
- The slave trade is the ruling principle of my people.
It is the source and the glory of their wealth…the mother lulls
the child to sleep with notes of triumph over an enemy reduced to
In 1807, 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
- 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
After being marched to the coast for sale, enslaved people waited
in large forts called factories. The amount of time in factories
varied, but Milton Meltzer
Slavery: A World History
states this process resulted in
or around 4.5% of deaths during the transatlantic slave trade.
words, over 820,000 people would have died in African ports such as
Benguela, Elmina and
Bonny reducing the number of those shipped to 17.5
After being captured and held in the factories, slaves entered the
infamous Middle Passage
research puts this phase of the slave trade's overall mortality at
12.5%. Around 2.2 million Africans died during these voyages where
they were packed into tight, unsanitary spaces on ships for months
at a time. Measures were taken to stem the onboard mortality rate
such as enforced "dancing" (as exercise) above deck and the
practice of force-feeding enslaved people who tried to starve
themselves. The conditions on board also resulted in the spread of
fatal diseases. Other fatalities were the result of suicides by
jumping over board by slaves who could no longer endure the
conditions. Before the shipping of enslaved people was completely
outlawed in 1853, 15.3 million enslaved people had arrived in the
Raymond L. Cohn, an economics professor whose research has focused
on economic history
and international migration
researched the mortality rates
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. "In the eighteenth century many slave voyages took at
least 2-1/2 months. 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."
Meltzer also states that 33% of Africans would have died in the
first year at seasoning camps
found throughout the Caribbean. Many slaves shipped directly to
North America bypassed this process; however most slaves (destined
for island or South American plantations) were likely to be put
through this ordeal. The enslaved people were tortured for the
purpose of "breaking" them (like the practice of breaking horses
) and conditioning them to
their new lot in life. Jamaica held one of the most notorious of these
All in all, 5 million Africans died in these camps
reducing the final number of Africans to about 10 million.
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
attacks to the
Portuguese ships and coastal villages, frequently leaving them
depopulated. The first Europeans to use enslaved Africans
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 enslaved
Africans 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.
first these planters relied almost exclusively on the native
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
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.
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.
stage the trade was the monopoly of the Royal Africa Company, operating out of
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
. 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
New World destinations
slaves to arrive as part of a labor force appeared in 1502 on the
island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the
Republic). Cuba received
its first four slaves in 1513. Slave exports to
Honduras and Guatemala started in 1526. The first enslaved
Africans to reach what would become the US arrived in January of
1526 as part of a Spanish attempt at colonizing South
By November the 300 Spanish colonists
were reduced to a mere 100 accompanied by 70 of their original 100
slaves. The enslaved people revolted and joined a nearby native
population while the Spanish abandoned the colony altogether.
Colombia received its first enslaved people in 1533.
El Salvador, Costa
Rica and Florida began their stint in the slave trade in 1541, 1563
and 1581 respectively.
century saw an increase in shipments with enslaved people arriving
in the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. Irish immigrants
brought slaves to Montserrat in 1651, and in 1655, slaves arrived in Belize.
Distribution of slaves (1519–1867)
|British America (minus North America)
|British North America
|Dutch West Indies
|Danish West Indies
The number of the Africans arrived in each area can be easily
calculated taking into consideration that the total number of
slaves was close to 10,000,000.
Economics of slavery
The plantation economies
New World were built on slave labor. Seventy percent of the
enslaved people brought to the new world were used to produce
, the most labor-intensive crop. The rest
were employed harvesting coffee
, and tobacco
, and in
some cases in mining
. The West Indian
colonies of the European powers were some of their most important
possessions, so they went to extremes to protect and retain them.
example, at the end of the Seven Years'
War in 1763, France agreed to cede the vast territory of
New France (now Eastern Canada) to the
victors in exchange for keeping the minute Antillean island of
Slave trade profits have been the object of many fantasies. Returns
for the investors were not absurdly high (around 6% in France in
the 18th century), but they were considerably higher than domestic
alternatives (in the same century, around 5%). Risks—maritime and
commercial—were important for individual voyages. Investors
mitigated it by buying small shares of many ships at the same time.
In that way, they were able to diversify a large part of the risk
away. Between voyages, ship shares could be freely sold and bought.
All these made the slave trade a very interesting investment.
By far the most successful West Indian colonies in 1800 belonged to
the United Kingdom. After entering the sugar colony business
late, British naval supremacy and control over key islands such as
Jamaica, Trinidad, the Leeward Islands
and Barbados and the territory of British Guiana gave it an important edge over
all competitors; while many British did not make gains, a handful
of individuals made small fortunes.
This advantage was
reinforced when France lost its most important colony, St. Dominigue
(western Hispaniola, now Haiti),
to a slave revolt in 1791 and supported revolts against its rival
Britain, after the 1793 French revolution in the name of liberty.
Before 1791, British sugar had to be protected to compete against
cheaper French sugar.
After 1791, the British islands produced the most sugar, and the
British people quickly became the largest consumers. West Indian
sugar became ubiquitous as an additive to Indian tea. Nevertheless, the
profits of the slave trade and of West Indian plantations amounted to less than 5% of the
British economy at the
time of the Industrial
Revolution in the latter half of the 1700s.
World population (in millions)
|Latin America and the Caribbean
World population (by percentage distribution)
|Latin America and the Caribbean
Historian Walter Rodney
that at the start of the slave trade in the 16th century, even
though there was a technological gap between Europe and Africa, it
was not very substantial. Both continents were using Iron Age
technology. The major advantage that Europe had was in ship
building. During the period of slavery the populations of Europe
and the Americas grew exponentially while the population of Africa
remained stagnant. Rodney contended that the profits from slavery
were used to fund economic growth and technological advancement in
Europe and the Americas. Based on earlier theories by Eric
Williams, he asserted that the industrial revolution was at least
in part funded by agricultural profits from the Americas. He cited
examples such as the invention
of the steam
engine by James Watt
was funded by plantation owners from the Caribbean.
Other historians have attacked both Rodney's methodology and
factual accuracy. Joseph C. Miller has argued that the social
change and demographic stagnation (which he researched on the
example of West Central Africa) was caused primarily by domestic
factors. Joseph Inikori provided a new line of argument, estimating
counterfactual demographic developments in case the Atlantic slave
trade had not existed. Patrick Manning has shown that the slave
trade did indeed have profound impact on African demographics and
social institutions, but nevertheless criticized Inikori's approach
for not taking other factors (such as famine and drought) into
account and thus being highly speculative.
Effect on the economy of Africa
No scholars dispute the harm done to the enslaved people
themselves, but the effect of the trade on African societies is
much debated due to the apparent influx of capital to Africans.
Proponents of the slave trade, such as Archibald Dalzel
, argued that African
societies were robust and not much affected by the ongoing trade.
In the 19th century, European abolitionists
, most prominently Dr. David Livingstone
, took the opposite view
arguing that the fragile local economy and societies were being
severely harmed by the ongoing trade. This view continued with
scholars until the 1960s and '70s such as Basil Davidson
, who conceded it might have
had some benefits while still acknowledging its largely negative
impact on Africa. Historian Walter
estimates that by c.1770, the King of Dahomey
was earning an estimated £250,000 per year
by selling captive African soldiers and even his own people to the
Effects on the economy of Europe
tried to show the
contribution of Africans on the basis of profits from the slave
trade and slavery, and the employment of those profits to finance
England's industrialization process. He argues that the enslavement
of Africans was an essential element to the Industrial Revolution
, and that
British wealth is a result of slavery. However, he argued that by
the time of its abolition it had lost its profitability and it was
in Britain's economic interest to ban it. Most modern scholars
disagree with this view. Seymour Drescher and Robert Anstey have
both presented evidence that the slave trade remained profitable
until the end, and that reasons other than economics led to its
cessation. Joseph Inikori has shown elsewhere that the British
slave trade was more profitable than the critics of Williams would
want us to believe. Nevertheless, the profits of the slave trade
and of West
Indian plantations amounted to less than 5% of the British
economy at the time of the Industrial Revolution.
The demographic effects of the slave trade are some of the most
controversial and debated issues. More than 10 million people were
removed from Africa
via the slave trade, and
what effect this had on Africa is an important question.
argued that the export
of so many people had been a demographic disaster and had left
Africa permanently disadvantaged when compared to other parts of
the world, and largely explains the continent's continued poverty.
He presented numbers showing that Africa's population stagnated
during this period, while that of Europe and Asia grew
dramatically. According to Rodney, all other areas of the economy
were disrupted by the slave trade as the top merchants abandoned
traditional industries to pursue slaving, and the lower levels of
the population were disrupted by the slaving itself.
Others have challenged this view. J.
compared the number effect on the continent as a whole. David Eltis
has compared the numbers to the rate of emigration
during this period. In the nineteenth century alone over 50 million
people left Europe
for the Americas, a far
higher rate than were ever taken from Africa.
Other scholars accused Rodney of mischaracterizing the trade
between Africans and Europeans. They argue that Africans, or more
accurately African elites, deliberately let European traders join
in an already large trade in enslaved people and were not
As Joseph E. Inikori argues, the history of the region shows that
the effects were still quite deleterious. He argues that the
African economic model of the period was very different from the
European, and could not sustain such population losses. Population
reductions in certain areas also led to widespread problems.
Inikori also notes that after the suppression of the slave trade
Africa's population almost immediately began to rapidly increase,
even prior to the introduction of modern medicines. Owen Alik Shahadah
also states that the
trade was not only of demographic
significance in aggregate
losses but also in the profound changes to settlement patterns,
exposure to epidemics, and reproductive and social development
Legacy of racism
states that the
effects of slavery were that "the morally monstrous destruction of
human possibility involved redefining African humanity to the
world, poisoning past, present and future relations with others who
only know us through this stereotyping and thus damaging the truly
human relations among peoples." He states that it constituted the
destruction of culture, language, religion and human
The Atlantic slave trade was without question a long-standing
system which displaced many African people from their native lands,
tribes, and families. The evidence of the populations of descendant
Africans is most clear in the continents of North America and South
End of the Atlantic slave trade
In Britain, Portugal and in some other 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 (see Slave Trade Act 1807
, 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
and was punishable by death.
States outlawed the importation of slaves on January 1,
1808, the earliest date permitted by the
constitution for such a ban.
"Am I not a woman and a sister?"
An antislavery medallion from the late 18th century
On Sunday 28 October 1787, William
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 Britain's war with France, Wilberforce and his
team's 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
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,
The Africans on board were sold as
enslaved, however slavery was abolished 5 years later following the
end of the American Civil War. The last survivor of the voyage was
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
remained a reality in
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, and slaves on plantations were required to
remain as slaves on the plantations for a further six years.
, said William
, that I have lived to witness a day in which
England is willing to give twenty millions sterling for the
Abolition of Slavery
. After several years of peaceful
protests, full emancipation
for all was
legally granted in Trinidad ahead of schedule on 1 August, 1838,
making it the first British colony with slaves to completely
country to ban the Atlantic slave trade was Brazil in
However, a vibrant illegal trade continued to ship
large numbers of enslaved people to Brazil and also to Cuba until
the 1860s, when British enforcement and further diplomacy finally
ended the Atlantic trade.
The Abolitionists argued that the slave trade changed the face of
, pushing them into constant wars as a
result of the Europeans' ever-growing demands for slaves. They
argued that even in Africa, the Africans' lives revolved around the
slave trade's needs through the constant wars and battles to secure
enough slaves for the Europeans. Although people avoided mentioning
the horrid living conditions of slave trade ships out of fear of
the animosity it could cause, the abolitionists incorporated the
high mortality rates in their argument against slavery. Even though
the abolitionists incorporated the idea of European superiority in
their platform, they argued the slave trade hindered the progress
of African race. They, however, had to contend with those who
invested in the slave trade, who argued that the slave trade was
essential for the survival of the economy. Others argued that
despite the cruel conditions on the ships, the overall conditions
of Africa were worse. The debate over slavery went on for decades
before abolition was finalized.
August 23 as
International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its
Since that occurrence, a number of events
surrounding the recognition of the effect of slavery on both the
enslaved and enslavers have come to pass.
2001 World Conference
Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, African nations demanded a clear
apology for slavery from the former slave-trading countries.
nations were ready to express an apology, but the opposition,
mainly from the United
Kingdom, Portugal, Spain, the
Netherlands, and the United States blocked attempts to do so.
A fear of
monetary compensation was one of the reasons for the opposition.
Apologies on behalf of African nations, for their role in trading
their countrymen into slavery, also remains an open issue.
January 30, 2006, Jacques Chirac (the
then French President) said that 10 May would henceforth be a
national day of remembrance for the victims of slavery in France, marking
the day in 2001 when France passed a law recognising slavery as a
On November 27, 2006, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair
made a partial apology for Britain's
role in the African slavery trade. However African rights activists
denounced it as "empty rhetoric" that failed to address the issue
properly. They feel his apology stopped shy to prevent any legal
retort. Mr Blair again apologized on March 14, 2007.
February 24, 2007 the Virginia General Assembly passed House Joint Resolution Number 728
acknowledging "with profound regret the involuntary servitude of
Africans and the exploitation of Native Americans, and call for
reconciliation among all Virginians." With the passing of
that resolution, Virginia became the first of the 50 United States to
acknowledge through the state's governing body their state's
involvement in slavery. The passing of this resolution came on the
heels of the 400th anniversary celebration of the city of Jamestown, Virginia, which was the first
permanent English colony to survive in what would become the
Jamestown is also recognized as one of the
first slave ports of the American
On May 31, 2007, the Governor of
, Bob Riley
, signed a
resolution expressing "profound regret" for Alabama's role in
slavery and apologizing for slavery's wrongs and lingering effects.
is the fourth Southern state to pass a slavery apology, following
votes by the legislatures in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.
On August 24, 2007, Ken Livingstone
(then Mayor of London
publicly for London's role in the slave
. "You can look across there to see the institutions that
still have the benefit of the wealth they created from slavery", he
said pointing towards the financial district, before breaking down
in tears. He claimed that London was still tainted by the horrors
of slavery. Jesse Jackson
Mayor Livingstone, and added that reparations should be made.
On July 30, 2008, the United States House of
passed a resolution apologizing for American
slavery and subsequent discriminatory laws. The language included a
reference to the "fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and
inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow" segregation.
On June 18, 2009, the United States
issued an apologetic statement decrying the "fundamental
injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery". The news
was welcomed by President Barack Obama
, the nation's first President of
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