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Atlantic slave trade

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Reproduction of a handbill advertising a slave auction in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1769.

The Atlantic slave trade was the selling of African slaves by Europeans that happened in and around the Atlantic Ocean. It lasted from the 15th century to the 19th century. Most slaves were shipped from West Africa and brought over to the New World on a slave ship. The slaves were transported on a ship on which slaves lived in bad conditions. The journey by ship was known as the Middle Passage.

Sources of slaves

Some slaves were captured in battles or through raids and kidnapping.[1] Some were sold into slavery as punishment or to pay a debt, usually by other Africans.[1] Then they were shackled together and marched to the coast on journeys lasting weeks or months.[1] When they arrived they were imprisoned in forts where they were purchased by Europeans. Most historians today think that between 12 million and 13 million Africans arrived in the New World.[2]

The Dahomian army was involved and traded slaves for weapons to protect themselves. King Gezo of Dahomey said in the 1840s:

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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 slavery...[3]

Slave trade

The slave-trade is sometimes called the Maafa by African and African-American scholars.[4] It means catastrophe in the Swahili language.[4] Some slave ships worked a three-part economic cycle often called the triangular trade.[5] It tied the economies of several regions and continents together.[5] The main triangular trading countries were England, The Netherlands, France, Spain and Portugal.[5] Other ships just worked the slave trade.

Christopher Columbus first came to the Americas in 1492 while seeking the West Indies. This led to an economic reason for the transatlantic slave trade. Slaves were first imported in large numbers for mining and later to grow sugarcane in plantations. Slavery is much more ancient than the transatlantic trade. Slaves were used in many ancient societies.[6]

Beginning of the end

In the 18th century, a small opposition developed against the slave trade in Britain, America, and some parts of Europe.[7] In Britain and America, opposition to the trade was led by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and establishment Evangelicals such as William Wilberforce. People who protested against the trade were opposed by the owners of land in the Americas.[8] After 1772, slaves became free upon entering the British isles.[9] Abolitionism became stronger in the 19th century.

Denmark was the first country to ban the slave trade, in 1792, which took effect in 1803. On 22 February 1807, the work of William Wilberforce was rewarded with victory. By an overwhelming 283 votes for to 16 against, the motion for the Slave Trade Act to abolish the Atlantic slave trade was carried in the House of Commons.[10] The United States abolished it later that year. The Royal Navy set up a Blockade of Africa to stop the trade, and treaties with other nations allowed the blockade ships to stop their slave trade. Slaves continued to be sent to Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico and Cuba until much later in the 19th century.[11]

Related pages


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "The capture and sale of slaves". International Slave Museum. Retrieved 30 January 2016. 
  2. Thomas, Hugh 1997. The Slave Trade: the history of the Atlantic slave trade 1440–1870. London: Picador, 1997.

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    ISBN 0-330-35437-X
  3. The Anglo-American Magazine. V. July–December 1854. Retrieved 2 July 2014. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Maafa Commemoration". The Free Dictionary/Farlex. Retrieved 30 January 2016. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Transatlantic Slave Trade". UNESCO. Retrieved 30 January 2016. 
  6. Greene, Jacqueline. Slavery in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. 2001.

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    ISBN 0-531-16538-8
  7. Davis, David Brion 1975. The problem of slavery in the age of revolution: 1770–1823, p. 129.
  8. Library of Society of Friends Subject Guide: Abolition of the Slave Trade.
  9. Lovejoy, Paul E. 2000. Transformations in slavery: a history of slavery in Africa, Cambridge University Press, p. 290.
  10. William Wilberforce (1759–1833).
  11. Aimes, Hubert H. 1967. A history of slavery in Cuba, 1511 to 1868. New York: Octagon Books.