The Atlantic Slave Trade

The Atlantic slave trade or trans-atlantic slave trade took place across the Atlantic ocean from the 16th through to the 19th centuries.

The vast majority of slaves transported to the New World were Africans from the central and western parts of the continent, sold by Africans to European slave traders who then transported them to the colonies in North and South America. The numbers were so great that Africans who came by way of the slave trade became the most numerous Old-World immigrants in both North and South America before the late eighteenth century.

The South Atlantic economic system centered on making goods and clothing to sell in Europe and increasing the numbers of African slaves brought to the New World. This was crucial to those European countries who, in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were vying in creating overseas empires.

The first Africans imported to the English colonies were also called “indentured servants” or “apprentices for life”. By the middle of the seventeenth century, they and their offspring were legally the property of their owners. As property, they were merchandise or units of labor, and were sold at markets with other goods and services.

The Portuguese were the first to engage in the New World slave trade, and others soon followed. Slaves were considered cargo by the ship owners, to be transported to the Americas as quickly and cheaply as possible, there to be sold to labor in coffee, tobacco, cocoa, cotton and sugar plantations, gold and silver mines, rice fields, construction industry, cutting timber for ships, and as house servants.

The Atlantic slave traders, ordered by trade volume, were: the Portuguese, the British, the French, the Spanish, the Dutch, and the Americans. They had established outposts on the African coast where they purchased slaves from local African tribal leaders. Current estimates are that about 12 million were shipped across the Atlantic, although the actual number purchased by the traders is considerably higher.

The slave trade is sometimes called the Maafa by African and African-American scholars, meaning “holocaust” or “great disaster” in Swahili. Some scholars, such as Marimba Ani and Maulana Karenga use the terms African Holocaust or Holocaust of Enslavement. Slavery was one element of a three-part economic cycle—the triangular trade and its Middle Passage—which ultimately involved four continents, four centuries and millions of people.

African slavery

Slavery was practiced in some parts of Africa, Europe,Asia and the Americas before the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade. There is evidence that enslaved people from some African states were exported to other states in Africa, Europe and Asia prior to the European colonization of the Americas.The African slave trade provided a large number of slaves to Europeans.

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. 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[20] 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.There were also Africans who had made a business out of capturing Africans from neighboring ethnic groups or war captives and selling them. People living around the Niger River were transported from these markets to the coast and sold at European trading ports in exchange for muskets (matchlock between 1540–1606 but flintlock from then on) and manufactured goods such as cloth or alcohol.However, the European demand for slaves provided a large new market for the already existing trade. Further, while those held in slavery in their own region of Africa might hope to escape, those shipped away had little chance of returning to Africa.


as some one whose theis is on the Enslavement of Afrikan people, this is a very sloppy, misleading and historically inaccurate piece.

for example the writer did not mention the catalyst for the forced enslavement and genocide of Afrikan people which was the papal bull of St. Nicholas V in 1453 which said that King Alfonso of Portugal had the pope’s blessing to capture Afrikans and take their land and property – this should inform you of the wicked agenda behind the enslavement of Afrikan people and lastly Afrikan serfdom is totally different from chattel enslavement that denied the Afrikan their humanity – next time write a factual piece not a historically inaccurate one

great website guys 1/1 i would defos come look again 😉

10/10 will come again;)

This was a very helpful report i will share with my class.

Very helpful. Helped with a major assignment, will recommend it.

This article is yet another Spanish cover up- they started AFrican slavery and brought it to the “new” world and did so long before the British or others. Latinos don’t want to believe it was their own ancestors who made them brown skinned, catholic and spanish speakers.

This was a helpful report will come again

Its slightly perplexing to find an article on this (black history) website that reads like a white person trying to excuse the past. (BTW – i’m white!).

It seems to mainly focus on the role of Africans in the slave trade, and exaggerate the role of everyone other than Europeans.

I have to ask, genuine question: can the estimates of slaves taken to other continents be correct? If so, where are the black communities in these lands? There is no equivalent of the long standing communities in Europe and Brazil & USA?

Calling the greatest crime against humanity in history a ‘trade’ disrespects its victims and all their descendants. The dates mentioned here are shockingly inaccurate too — transatlantic chattel enslavement of Africans began in 1444 (when six African men were sold to a group of Portuguese merchants, who forcibly transported them to Europe) and ended in 1888 (again by Portuguese men, in Brazil).

Chattel slavery is history’s greatest crime. Slaveholders did not own slaves, the held African people captive — the fact this captivity lasted centuries and was aided and abetted by European powers does not and cannot in any way legitimate it. Those who benefited from these crimes were slaveholders, not owners; people cannot be possessions and it is as dehumanising as it is inaccurate to suggest otherwise. Please do better.

Are you sure they were sold by Africans, or is that your version of history?

Mass genocide and ethnic cleansing have plagued Africa for centuries and continue to this day, yet so many refuse to believe the origins of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Ask yourself why history never tells the story of how millions of Africans were captured and brought to the ports before being loaded on ships. This is why…

Matthieu Kerekou, the president of the West African nation of Benin apologized in 1999 for the role his country played in the slave trade.
Head chieftain for the Cameroonian town of Bakou, Ngako Ngalatchui, apologized in 2013 for the role their ancestors played in the slave trade.
In 1998 Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, told an audience, “African chiefs were the ones waging war on each other and capturing their own people and selling them. If anyone should apologize it should be the African chiefs. We still have those traitors here even today.”

“There is a willful amnesia about the roles that we played in the slave trade,” said Nat Amarteifio, a local historian who’s also a former mayor of Accra, Ghana’s capital. He explained that when the trans-Atlantic slave trade began, leaders in this region had a lot of gold, and word got back to the Europeans. In the 1400s, the Portuguese showed up here with guns. They named the area the Gold Coast. There was already a domestic slave trade when they arrived, Amarteifio said, although slavery didn’t mean what it came to mean in America. Enslaved people had some rights and opportunities. Still, “The system already existed,” Amarteifio said. “The Europeans saw it. And thought: ‘Ah, we can try these people in our lands in the New World.” But Amarteifio says the Europeans weren’t going out and capturing Africans. They couldn’t — they got sick and died from illnesses like malaria. Some African ethnic groups went into business, warring with other groups so they could capture prisoners they sold as slaves to the Europeans. Amarteifio says they were organized and intentional about it.

No one is innocent. Is there slavery today, yes! There’s human trafficking in all parts of the world. Where there’s money to be made, be assured, some will sell there family members. Greed is the problem, and that includes the whole human race.

My grandpa was a slave he died while being a slave it’s horrific

It is good to read the “other side” of the story, that it was AFRICANS who went inland to get the poor people who were then sold to the European slavers. Think about it, those ships were not big modern ships, but wooden galleon type vessels, without huge crews. So they could not have gone into the jungles, or into deepest Africa to find those who then became slaves. Everyone was in it for the money. EVERYONE includes more Africans than anyone else.

I agree that this is ‘sloppy, misleading and historically inaccurate’ and that it ‘seems to mainly focus on the role of Africans in the slave trade, and exaggerate the role of everyone other than Europeans.’

To the person who wrote, ‘Ah, we can try these people in our lands in the New World,’ this was not what happened. The first comment is correct in stating that the Pope instructed the Portuguese to ‘invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ … and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery.’

To the person who commented that it is good to read the ‘other side’ of the story and that everyone was in it for the money and ‘everyone includes more Africans than anyone else,’ I would suggest you do some research. Trading crews were between 50 and 350 people. The Portuguese did initially go inland, but due to fatal diseases, the European countries decided to stay on the coast. I would ask where is your evidence that it was the Africans more than anyone? I would also suggest that your comment is racist as it is not based in historical fact and rather based on prejudice.

I trust that Anti-Slavery Day’s virtue signalers will recall that from 1807 British sailors died trying to prevent black African slaves being transported across the Atlantic.
However North Africa’s Barbary pirates continued for a further decade to kidnap white British citizens from around our coasts to sell in the Ottoman empire’s slave markets.
Finally our navy sent warships from the Atlantic to the Med where they wrecked the Arab slavers’ home ports – Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli – ending 400 years of attacks.

Of course slavery brought others civilization back to Africa but slavery wasn’t good enough for any man kind.

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