The Appalling and Inhumane Atlantic Slave Trade



Between the 1400s-1800s, the Atlantic slave trade, or the transatlantic slave trade, took place. West Africans would be sold into slavery to western Europeans, put in ships, and sailed across the atlantic to the Americas. Slaves were considered cargo and once they were in America, considered property. About 12 million Africans had been taken away from their homes then shipped to the Americas. The Portuguese, British, French, Spanish, and Dutch all partook in the horrendous slave trade.

For centuries, people in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas had been practicing slavery before it became popular with the start of the Atlantic slave trade. Other slave trades had been going on during the same time and before, though the Atlantic slave trade involved some of the highest number of slaves. When Europeans first began discovering and immigrating to the Americas, they were ordered by the Kingdom of Castile to invade and colonize the Canary Islands. The land was used mainly for producing wine and sugar. Native Canary Islanders called the Guanches were used as slaves on their home island and were also shipped across the Mediterranean.

During the First Atlantic System, Africans were taken to Portuguese and Spanish colonies in South America. This lasted for almost eighty years, between about 1502 until 1580. Portugal was the main participant, with the French, Dutch, and English trading some slaves, but not many. The Spanish government mostly gave licenses to merchants to enslave africans instead of the government. When Spain and Portugal united in 1580, Portugal was prohibited by Spain to carry slaves back to the Americas. The Dutch, English, and French traders used this as an advantage to trade more slaves.

Following the First Atlantic System, was the Second Atlantic System. The French, Dutch, English, and Portuguese continued to be the main slave traders. Slaves were mainly shipped to Brazil and the Caribbean where colonists had become dependent on slaves. England, by the 1690s, were shipping more slaves across the Atlantic annually than any other country.

The eighteenth century was when most slaves were taken to the Americas. In 1808, both Britain and the United States banned the slave trade, and the number of slaves traded began to decline. During this period, about 28.5% of slaves were traded.

Many slaves were imported to the Americas because landowners needed people to do their work. It was not hard to purchase a piece of land and start a farm which meant more people bought slaves. The more people that bought slaves, the more that were shipped into the Americas. Colonists did not want to do the work themselves, or pay people to do it. No, they believed they needed to purchase slaves who could do the work for them. If a slave had children, the children would be their slaves. 

Often times, Africans would even sell their captives and prisoners to European slave traders. Criminals would be sold off because they would no longer be able to commit crime in their country. While many African kings and tribe leaders sold off their criminals, some refused to. King Jaja of Opobo was once a slave himself, and notably refused any slave traders and buyers.

An estimated 52,000 slaves were brought to the Caribbean annually, according to Thomas Kitchin, an English cartographer, in 1778. During the last two decades of the eighteenth century was when the number of slaves been brought over peaked. Many European slave buyers would even refuse to step foot on African land because they believed they would be prone to disease.



There were eight main African areas that slaves were bought from. The least amount of slaves were taken from Windward Coast, which was Liberia and the Ivory Coast, with 1.8% of all slaves. The most were from West Central Africa (Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angola) accounted for the most, with 39.4% of all slaves. Other areas include Upper Guinea, Senegambia Gold Coast, Bight of Benin, and Southeastern Africa.

In America, slaves were treated horribly, while in Africa they were treated in much more humane ways, and their children were born free. However, some African slaves were treated even worse than those in the Americas. It all depended on their owners, really. In the Americas, slaves were property, and not considered to be real people. They would often times be worked hard from sunrise to sunset, and if they disobeyed their owners, they would often times be punished horribly.

On their way to the new world, about 1.2-2.4 million African slaves died at sea. Many more even died upon arriving in the Americas. The exact number of slaves that had died before being bought by owners when they reached America is unknown, but may have even been more than the amount that lived. A recorded 12 million slaves were taken from their homes in Africa and shipped to the Americas, while about 1.5 million were recorded to have died. That was just the number of slaves that were taken to the Americas. Many were taken to other countries as well.



Conditions on these ships were unimaginable. Men were crammed together below deck, secured and separated only by leg irons. There was not enough room to even stand, they could only crouch or lay down. Unlike men, women and children were stored separately, and were sometimes even kept on deck. However, this made it possible for crew members to abuse them sexually. Diseases ran rampant and the air was terrible and hard to breath in. Slaves were fed twice daily, though they were fed inadequately. Some studies suggest that one in five Africans per ship died at sea because of the horrible conditions. Concerned for crew members, the English and French even made sure that less men were packed below deck. Surgeons were also kept on board, lowering the number of deaths on board. African slaves would have to endure these conditions for more than two months. It was appalling and inhumane.