The Atlantic Slave Trade

More than 15 million Africans were forcibly exported from the African continent to regions throughout North and South America between the 14th and 19th centuries. Millions of other Africans lost their lives during slave raids or during their capture.

The Beginnings of the Atlantic Slave Trade

Europeans had long been involved in trade with Africa. They were dependent on caravans to transport the gold and spices across the Sahara Desert. They wanted direct sea routes from Western Africa. This quest became a trade network for exporting African slaves.

The first slaves brought to Portugal came in 1444 from Northern Mauritania. From Mauritania, the Portuguese moved down the western coast of Africa to the Cape of Good Hope and around the eastern side of Africa, looking for a trade route to Asia.

How the Atlantic Slave Trade Operated

The Atlantic Slave Trade was a triangle between Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Goods such as guns and textiles were sent from Europe to Africa where they were traded for slaves. The slaves were shipped across the Atlantic to provide labor in North and South America and the Caribbean islands, where colonists were growing cotton, sugar cane, and tobacco.

Slaves were imprisoned in harsh conditions. They were crowded into dark, dirty rooms with little to eat and no room to move. They were kept in chains and left to lie on their backs on the ships. The long journey is called the “Middle Passage.” Historians estimate that 20% died while crossing the ocean.

The End of the Atlantic Slave Trade and Its Impact on Africa

In the early 19th century there was a growing public disgust with the slave trade. A book by Olaudah Equiano—who was born in present-day Nigeria, taken to America as a slave, and later bought his freedom (a rare occurrence)—had a great effect on public opinion.

Between 1801 and 1803, a successful slave revolt in the Caribbean island of Haiti helped people understand that the system of slavery could be overthrown. Haiti became the first black republic in the world and the first country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery.

During the years of the Atlantic slave trade, many parts of Africa suffered from increased violence, loss of people, and an economy dependent on slavery. The slave trade presented a huge challenge to Africa in trying to recover from this brutal period of history.

Source: The Atlantic Slave Trade
Copyright © 2020 Exploring Africa.

Back to top