The Transatlantic Slave



Transatlantic Slave Trade
From the 1520s to the 1860s an estimated 11 to 12 million African men, women, and children were forcibly embarked on European vessels for a life of slavery in the Western Hemisphere. Many more Africans were captured or purchased in the interior of the continent but a large number died before reaching the coast. About 9 to 10 million Africans survived the Atlantic crossing to be purchased by planters and traders in the New World, where they worked principally as slave laborers in plantation economies requiring a large workforce. African peoples were transported from numerous coastal outlets from the Senegal River in West Africa and hundreds of trading sites along the coast as far south as Benguela (Angola), and from ports in Mozambique in southeast Africa. In the New World slaves were sold in markets as far north as New England and as far south as present-day Argentina.
The Early History of European Trade with Africa
The marketing of people in the interior of Africa predates European contact with West Africa. A Trans-Saharan slave trade developed from the tenth to fourteenth century which featured the buying and selling of African captives in Islamic markets such as the area around present-day Sudan. A majority of those enslaved were females, who were purchased to work as servants, agricultural laborers, or concubines. Some captives were also shipped north across the deserts of northwest Africa to the Mediterranean coast. There, in slave markets such as Ceuta (Morocco), Africans were purchased to work as servants or laborers in Spain, Portugal, and other countries.
By the mid-1400s, Portuguese ship captains had learned how to navigate the waters along the west coast of Africa and began to trade directly with slave suppliers who built small trading posts, or "factories," on the coast. European shippers were thus able to circumvent the trans-Saharan caravan slave trade. The slave trade to Europe began to decrease in the late 1400s with the development of sugar plantations in the Atlantic islands of Madeira and São Tomé. These two islands, located off West Africa and in the Gulf of Guinea, became leading centers of world sugar production and plantation slavery from the mid-1400s to the mid-1500s. Portuguese merchants dominated this early trade.
Much of the earliest European trade with West Africa, however, was in gold, not people. Europeans did not have the power to overcome African states before the late nineteenth century, and gold production, centered in Akan gold fields in the backcountry of present-day Ghana, remained in African hands. Europeans called this region the Gold Coast. Agreements between African and European elites and rivalries for the African gold trade resulted in the construction of dozens of trading forts, or stone castles, along a 161 km (100 mi) coastal stretch of Ghana. Several of these forts survive, have been repaired by the government of Ghana, and are tourist attractions today. It was not until the late seventeenth century that the value of European goods traded for African people surpassed the value of goods exchanged for gold. Over time, these gold forts became slave forts, where hundreds of Africans were confined in prisons awaiting sale and shipment.
The Slave Trade and Development of Plantations in the Americas
Christopher Columbus\'s "discovery" of the New World in 1492 marked the beginning of a transatlantic trading system. Via the slave trade, Africans played a leading role in the creation and evolution of this large and long-lasting "Atlantic system." Spanish adventurers arrived in the Americas hoping to trade for riches but soon enslaved the Native American peoples in their search for gold and silver. Disease, malnutrition, and Spanish atrocities led to the deaths of millions of the Indians of the Americas. By the 1520s the depopulation of the region prompted the Spanish government to look for alternative sources of labor. Officials contracted with Portuguese merchants to deliver Africans to Spanish territories in the New World. The first transatlantic slave voyages from Africa to the Americas occurred in the early 1520s on Portuguese vessels sailing from West Africa to the large Caribbean island of Hispaniola, the earliest European name for present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The transatlantic slave trade increased in the mid-1500s, when the Spanish began to use African slave labor alongside Native Americans to mine silver in Peru. Slave