The Transatlantic Slave Trade is arguably one of the most heinous crimes committed against a people over the course of more than 400 years. Millions of Africans were torn from their homes, deported to the American continents and sold as slaves and, in some cases, became forbidden fruits on the American south’s magnolia trees.
Source: “Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade” by David Eltis and David Richardson
Since the beginning of time, mankind has perpetrated numerous atrocities against people of different ethnicities. Some of these atrocities have come in the form of forced imprisonment, enslavement, ethnic cleansing and even extermination. Some of the more notorious crimes in recent history have been the institution of slavery, the Jewish Holocaust and the genocides that took place in the countries of Rwanda, Sudan and the former Yugoslavia.
”The trans-Atlantic slave trade was the largest long-distance coerced movement of people in history and, prior to the mid-nineteenth century, formed the major demographic well-spring for the re-peopling of the Americas following the collapse of the Amerindian population,” says historian and author David Eltis. The Transatlantic Slave Trade is considered as one of the world’s greatest tragedies due to the scale, duration, degradation and dehumanization of human beings to mere commodities and instruments of labor.
The demand for free labor became intensified as many crops could not be sold for profit, or even grown, in Europe. It was therefore found to be economically feasible to export crops from the New World than producing them on the European mainland. To realize this economic imperative, a vast amount of labor was needed to create and sustain plantations that required intensive labor to grow, harvest, and process prized tropical crops. Western Africa (part of which became known as “the Slave Coast”), and later Central Africa, became the source for enslaved people to meet the demand for labor.
The African slave trade began in the mid-fifteenth century and ended in the late nineteenth century. The Transatlantic Slave Trade had a significant impact on the world economy of the 18th century with the forced export of captured Africans into servitude on the cotton plantations of America’s south and the sugarcane fields of the Carribean The Elmina Castle which is located in present day Ghana, was erected by the Portuguese in 1482, and was the first and one of the most notorious slave trading posts in sub-Saharan Africa followed by the Cape Coast castle about two centuries later. These two castles played important roles in the exportation of human capital to satisfy the need of European colonists for free labor to exploit the land and resources of the “New World” for profit. Initially, the indigenous peoples of the Americas were utilized as slave labor by Europeans, until a large number died from overwork and tropical diseases which were introduced into the New World by the European colonists. Alternative sources of labor, such as indentured servitude, failed to provide sufficient workforce after their numbers had been decimated by diseases. Thus, the Transatlantic Slave Trade was born.
There were eight principal areas used by Europeans to buy and ship slaves to the Western Hemisphere:
• Senegambia (Present Day Senegal and the Gambia)
• Upper Guinea (Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Sierra Leone)
• Windward Coast (Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire)
• Gold Coast (Ghana and east of Côte d’Ivoire)
• Bight of Benin (Togo, Benin and Nigeria west of the Niger Delta)
• Bight of Biafra (Nigeria east of the Niger Delta, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea & Gabon)
• West Central Africa (Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola)
• Southeastern Africa (Mozambique and Madagascar)
The slave trade resulted in the loss of human life, the scope of which will never truly be known. The death toll from more than four and a half centuries of the slave trade due to slave raids in Africa is estimated at 10 million. Approximately 1.2 – 2.4 million Africans died during their transport to the New World known as the “Middle Passage” and many more died upon arrival as a result of their working conditions; the crushing of slave revolts by slave owners and state apparatus alike, diseases, and acts of violence towards them by intolerant local hate groups.
The savage nature of the slave trade led to the destruction of families, individuals and cultures and the vestiges of the immense loss of human capital to the African continent are still felt to this present day. Today, we face an alarming rise in modern day slavery, racial prejudice and religious intolerance.
Learn more about the Transatlantic slave trade from the following sources:
The Atlantic Slave Trade (Wikipedia)
The Transatlantic Slave Trade (UNESCO)
View Introductory Maps on SlaveVoyages.org
Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade by David Eltis and David Richardson