Atlantic Slave Trade [1526-1888]

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : May 17, 2022, 8:43

Atlantic Slave Trade is an umbrella term used to denote the migration of workers from West, West-Central, and East Africa to various parts of America between the 15th and 19th centuries. It was the world's largest and the most studied deportation in history.

Almost 25 to 30 million people were forced to leave their homelands and make other countries their homes in these four centuries. The incidents which unfolded caused unexplainable human suffering and left a permanent imprint on world history and culture.

What is the Atlantic Slave Trade?

The Atlantic Slave Trade or Triangular Trade refers to the transportation of people from various parts of Africa to America. It is estimated that a total of 12 and 17 million Africans crossed the Atlantic on ships, while many more passed away during their march to the coast and on the journey.

The Atlantic Slave Trade is also known as Triangular Trade because of its three-continent spanning journey. The ships originated from Europe with textiles, weapons, etc. and arrived in Africa. African authorities would then pack African natives (predominantly people vanquished in wars, with a history of crimes, or mentally ill) and load them on the European ships. The European ships would then set sail for America to get sugar, cotton, coffee, and tobacco in exchange for African people before heading back to Europe.

Why Did the Atlantic Slave Trade Occur?

During the late 16th century, European nations like Spain, Britain, France, and the Netherlands invaded North America. Their invasion was met with stiff resistance. However, the Europeans introduced many new diseases to resist them.

As many Native Americans died due to the disease, Europeans dealt with a labour shortage. The Europeans used the newly captured territories to grow coffee, sugar, and tobacco since the European climatic conditions were not conducive to growing these crops.

However, since the North Americans were dying in vast numbers, the colonisers needed labourers to work for them. This was when they turned to Africa because Europe had close connections with Africa.

The Europeans had previously attempted to establish plantations in West Africa. But the continuous opposition of the natives forced them to move to America. Some historians argue that Africa proved its strength through the Atlantic Slave Trade since the Europeans had to buy labour rather than get it for free.

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Which Ports Were Used to Transport the Enslaved People?

Although the people to be transported came from multiple places in West, West Central, and East Africa, they were transported mainly from three ports.

These were -

  • Whydah or Slave Coast' in North Africa
  • Bonny in the Bight of Biafra
  • Luanda, African West Coast

A major chunk, nearly half to be precise, of the enslaved people originated from West-Central Africa. Also, the people of West Central Africa comprised 80% of enslaved people transported to Southeast Brazil.

The enslaved people were subject to severe torture throughout the voyage, which usually took two months. They were segregated and not allowed to wear clothes.

The men were tied with chains. Almost a quarter of all enslaved people were children. Fatalities were quite common due to violent resistance and unsanitary conditions.

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End of Atlantic Slave Trade

The Atlantic Slave Trade ended during the mid-1800s. In 1850, Brazilian authorities started arresting slave ships. The final slaving expedition took place in Cuba in 1867.

However, by then, nearly 3,600,000 Africans had entered Brazil and changed the country's culture, beliefs, and customs. Unfortunately, Africa protested Europe's move to end slave trading since it ended the opportunities to make profits.

The Atlantic Slave Trade is and will always remain one of the darkest eras in the history of human civilisation. It caused immense human suffering and changed the culture and customs of many countries, including America and Brazil.

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FAQs on the Atlantic Slave Trade

Q1) What is Atlantic Slave Trade?

Atlantic Slave Trade is an umbrella term used to denote the migration of workers from West, West-Central, and East Africa to various parts of America between the 15th and 19th centuries.

Q2) Is Triangular Trade the same as Atlantic Slave Trade?

Yes. Triangular Trade or Atlantic Slave Trade refers to the transportation of people from various parts of Africa to America.

Q3) How many African people were transported through the Atlantic Slave Trade?

It is estimated that a total of 12 and 17 million Africans crossed the Atlantic on ships.

Q4) In which year did the Atlantic Slave Trade end?

The Atlantic Slave Trade ended during the mid-1800s.