The Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Sale of
Slave in the Colonies
The slave trade came out of the imperialistic
desires of the larger European nations of
Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, France, and
England.
The Portuguese were first to land in Africa in
the 1400’s, desiring to trade with the African
Kingdoms.
The need to expand and colonize new
territories led Europeans into India, Africa,
China, Japan and the East Indies. This also
led to Columbus’s famed voyage to the West
Indies.
Columbus enslaved the natives, but when
they died off from disease and exhaustion,
Europe looked to Africa for a workforce.
The idea of slavery was not a European
concept though, and it existed in Africa
for thousands of years.
The Portuguese arrived in Senegambia,
Benin, and Kongo to find an already
thriving slave industry.
Sudanese horsemen would invade the
forest regions and capture West
Africans, mainly young women and
children, from stateless societies.
The Transatlantic Slave Trade would
shift this pattern by seeking the sale of
men.
Europeans did not capture slaves in Africa,
rather they bought them from slave traders.
Interethnic rivalries produced the slaves of the
16th century, as warfare broke out between the
various peoples and prisoners would be sold
into captivity.
What shifted the need for slaves following the
early 16th century?
At first, only the Portuguese imported a small
number of slaves for sale on the Iberian
peninsula, but it was Columbus’s voyage and
need for a work force in the West Indies that
drove the slave trade thereafter.
Sugar was a commodity in high
demand in Europe, and late tobacco,
rice and indigo drove the need for
slaves upwards in the Americas.
Slavery in the America’s differed from
the type seen in Asia, Africa, and
Europe. Slaves were viewed as chattelor personal property- and had no
rights.
6.5 million African slaves were
transported to Brazil and other
Spanish colonies during the 16th
century
The Dutch soon pushed the
Portuguese out of West Africa and
became the primary slave traders,
while also moving sugar production to
the West Indies
With the rise of tobacco, England soon
went to war with the Dutch to control
the Atlantic Slave Trade and
dominated the industry for centuries
after.
The English Industrial Revolution was
funded by the sale of slaves and
production of sugar, tobacco, and
indigo in the 18th century.
The cheap manufactured
goods were sold in Africa
and traded for slaves.
A triangular trading system
developed from both England
and the colonies. One
brought sugar back to
England, while the other
brought sugar back to the
colonies to make rum.
The wars that occurred during the formation of
the West African states led to a high number of
available slaves.
European traders would provide firearms to
these various regions and profit of these wars.
Warfare spread inland and slaves would be
marched for hundreds of miles to the coast.
Slaves were rounded up in “factories,”
which acted as a HQ for slave traders.
Slaves were split up from their families
and ethnic groups, and then inspected,
and branded if seen fit to work.
Held in factories for several weeks or
even months, the slaves would row
them out to large ships for a voyage
lasting 2-3 months, and sometimes up
to 6 months.
Doldrums and hurricanes were a sailors
worst nightmare, and also the chance of
running into a competing European
nations ships could delay the voyage.
Slave ships (called slavers) were packed
tightly, exceeding the recommended
load of slaves for the trip.
What was the lower deck like on a
slaver? Give explicit examples.
Slaves were packed on planks
measuring 5.5ft by 1.3ft and had
about 20” of headroom. They were
also chained to another slave, and
epidemics such as dysentery, scurvy,
and other illness killed 1/3rd of the
cargo.
Slavers would need to stop at the Guinea
Coast for food supplies for the Africans
who were unaccustomed to European food.
Each slave would be given a spoon and
would share a bucket of cooked vegetables
with about 10 other slaves. Many times
they lost their spoon and would have to eat
with unwashed hands, leading to disease.
Captains would generally skimp on the
food supply to maximize profit and this led
to a higher mortality rate on the ships.
Some from disease and others from
depression and starvation.
Disease caused a large number of death on the slavers. Malaria, yellow fever,
measles, smallpox, hook worm, scurvy and dysentery threatened the lives of
both slaves and crew members.
What led to the ships unsanitary
conditions?
The ship would only have 4 toilet
buckets below deck, and many who
were too weak to reach them would
excrete where they lay.
Regarded only as numbers in the
captains log, the slaves died by the
thousands on these voyages.
Advances in the ships’ surgeons
reduced these numbers greatly over
time.
Resistance and revolt were common occurrences at sea as many slaves chose
fighting or death to a life of slavery.
Most of the rebellions took place either on the shore or just off the coast of Africa,
but some took place on the open sea where there was no chance of escape, only
death.
Suicide and starvation were also forms of
resistance employed by slaves. Crew
members would use hot coals or a metal
mouth opening device to force feed slaves who
refused to eat.
In the section entitled “Cruelty,” there is
a debate about how much cruelty there
was aboard the slavers. Quickly read
this section and discuss your thoughts.
Women on slavers were targeted by the male
crew members to appease their sexual
appetites.
Since women were only worth half the
amount of a male slave, there were fewer of
them brought aboard. Those who were on
board were less valued by the crew and
therefore abused both physically and
sexually.
The slaves would be prepared for landing in the West Indies on board the ship.
They would be allowed to bathe, shave, and move about on the deck. The islands
of Barbados and Martinique would be used to give the slaves bound for the
Caribbean or North America rest.
The process of selling the slaves was long
and drawn out. The ships captain would
haggle prices with the traders and may sell at
various ports.
The slaves would be oiled up to hide
blemishes and scars, some would be
“plugged” with hemp to keep the dysentery
hidden, and they would then be closely
inspected by buyers.
Seasoning was a process that made new
Africans more like Creoles, or slaves
born in America.
This was a disciplinary process in which
slaves would be converted into harder
workers with better attitudes.
They would be given Christian, generic,
or classical names. Also, they would
have to learn the European languages.
Many retained some African linguistics
resulting in a Creole dialect.
Old Africans and Creoles were in charge
of training the new Africans, and many
overseers were stern Africans who used
the whip to establish order.
This arrangement did benefit the
new Africans though, since the
Creoles and old Africans would
acclimate them to the new world
and teach them how to build, farm,
and survive.
What criteria deemed a slave as seasoned?
1) Survival: many slaves died in the
arduous process of seasoning.
2) Adapting to food and climate: the
cooler climate and food unfamiliar to
West Africa.
3) Learning the language: slaves needed
to speak a Creole dialect good enough
to take orders.
4) Psychological: slaves could not be
suicidal.
How did Africans cope with the lose of
family and identity?
Forming extended families with
shipmates and plantation workers,
as well as retaining memories,
culture and tradition.
What factors led to the fall of the Atlantic
Slave Trade in the early 19th century?
England grew morally opposed to the
trafficking of slaves, but also the
industrialized nation was not dependent on
slavery either.
The slave trade was abolished by Britain in
1806 and by the US in 1807. Many defied
these laws, and even the African kingdoms
of Guinea and Central Africa fought to
continue this trade.
The English, French, Belgians, and Portuguese used this issue of the slave trade as
an excuse to establish colonial empires in Africa.
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The Middle Passage