The origins of the Atlantic Slave Trade were products of Western Europe’s expansion of power that began at the beginning of the 1500’s through the 1900‘s. The main contributing European countries to the Atlantic Slave Trade were Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, France, and England. Portugal lead the movement during the 1400’s and arrived in Western Africa in hopes to find Christian allies to spread Christianity against the Muslims of Northern Africa. But they soon became more interested in trade (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011). Slavery, however, has existed in all cultures for thousands of years. For example, Arab merchants and West African Kings imported white European slaves. At first, the slave trade focused on women and children who would serve as domestic servants. But later the trade switched to focusing on young men for agricultural labor in the Americas. The Portuguese traded primarily for gold, ivory, pepper, as well as slaves. After a few decades, the had captured hundreds of slaves (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011). It’s misleading to say all slaves were captured by raiders, because in many cases they were bought from African traders. Columbus’s voyages completely changed the slave trade. Once colonies in the Americas were established, many of the Native Americans who were enslaved died of disease and overwork causing a need for more African slaves. During the 1600’s, sugar plantations, gold and silver mines produced an enormous demand for labor. Soon after, markets for coffee, tobacco and rice cultivation yet again increased the demand for African slaves (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011). By the early 1700’s, the English dominated the Slave Trade, carrying about 20,000 slaves per year from Africa to the Americas. By the end of the century, over 50,000 slaves were being transported per year. After 1700, the importation of firearms heightened the intensity of many of the wars and resulted in a great increase in the numbers of enslaved peoples. European forces 2
￼intervened in some of the localized fighting and in warfare all along the Atlantic coast. They sought to obtain captives directly in battle or as political rewards for having backed the winning side ("The transatlantic slave," ). The enormous amount of slave labor and its incredibly low cost highly contributed to the advancements of the Industrial Revolution. Also during this time, many civil wars throughout Africa produced captives which were sold as slaves in Western Africa. Raiders often tied the captives together with ropes and secured them with wooden yokes around their necks. Many captives died of hunger and exhaustion before even being put on ships. Other slave captives decided to kill themselves rather than be forced into slavery (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011). Once the captives reached the coast of Western Africa, the captives were kept in “factories”, which were headquarters of the slave traders. These factories contained warehouses with supplies and dungeons to keep the captives in. In these factories, the slavers would divide families up to decrease the possibility of a rebellion happening. After a few weeks in these factories, the slave holders would brand the “fit” slaves bearing the symbol of that particular trading company (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011). European brutalization of the captives was an attempt to destroy the African’s sense of self-identity. The voyage from Africa to the first stop in the Caribbean generally lasted between two and three months. As the demand for slaves increased, so did piracy. Many opposing nations would fight and attempt to steal each other's slave ships seeing how valuable slaves were at the time (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011). Other natural causes that contributed to the destruction of slave ships were hurricanes as well as doldrums, which are long periods of time with no wind gusts to propel the ships. 3
￼The ships themselves were designed to maximize the amount of slaves to be carried. The cargo space where the slaves...
References: Hine, D., Hine, W., & Harrold, S. (2011). The African-American Odyssey. (5th ed.). Upper
Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Smallwood, S. (2007). Saltwater Slavery. London, England: Harvard University Press. The Transatlantic Slave Trade. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.inmotionaame.org/
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. (2008). Retrieved from http://www.slavevoyages.org/
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