The Transatlantic Slave Trade Held the Darkest Secrets
The Transatlantic Slave Trade Held the Darkest Secrets

The Transatlantic Slave Trade Held the Darkest Secrets

Larry Holzwarth - August 15, 2021

The Transatlantic Slave Trade Held the Darkest Secrets
Trade in the New Orleans market, including the sales of slaves smuggled into the country, continued until 1862. Wikimedia

19. Slaves to the New World outpaced European settlers during the transatlantic trade

During the three hundred years which preceded 1820, when the British and American Navies struggled to suppress the trade, three times as many African slaves reached the Americas as did Europeans. Nor were they the only people taken into slavery. France and Great Britain routinely enslaved captured members of the indigenous tribes taken during wars. These slaves were also transported far from their homes to the valuable sugar plantations. Colonial settlers also took indigenous peoples as slaves, though the practice decreased with the growing availability of African slaves in the 18th century. By far, the majority of slaves which reached the shores of the Americas arrived in Portuguese Brazil, nearly 39%. Part of the reason for this is Brazil was among the first destinations for slaves in the Americas. It was also last to abolish the practice.

Just under 10% of the Africans taken from their homelands arrived in the British North American colonies and the later United States. The reasons for the relatively few were both economic and demographic. During the colonial period, the island sugar plantations were far more valuable to the British than the tobacco, rice, and goods of North America. By the late 18th century, slaves made available by their expanding population were more desirable to slave traders than those arriving from Africa. An adult African-American knew the language, what was expected of him, and what to expect if he failed to deliver or resisted. None of those traits were presented by those who recently arrived from Africa. When the transatlantic slave trade officially ended, the buying and selling of human beings continued unabated in the American South, throughout the Caribbean, and in South America.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade Held the Darkest Secrets
The Portuguese, Dutch, British, anf French, all continued to exploit their footholds in Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries. Wikimedia

20. The damage done to Africa is nearly incalculable

The sale of slaves by Africans to Europeans did not present the only markets for the African rulers. Other slave routes existed, overland across the Sahara, for instance. Slaves purchased by traders from the Muslim world used such routes during the forced marches into slavery. Ships touched at Madagascar to collect and transport slaves, including, somewhat ironically, into the Dutch colony near the Cape of Good Hope. About 13,000,000 African men, women, and children departed the factories of West Africa destined for the Americas. About 10,000,000 survived to enter into slavery. Many died shortly after, weakened or sickened by the journey, according to some sources. Numbers vary widely, but there can be little doubt the trade altered the demographics of Africa immeasurably. The trade also set the course for racism across the world.

In modern Jamaica, once the pride of the British sugar industry, 92% of the population are descendants of the transatlantic slave trade. In 1999 the President of Benin (once the Kingdom of Dahomey), issued a formal apology for the role played by Africans during the period of the slave trade. Approximately 3 million Africans were taken into slavery in the regions surrounding Benin, taken by the Kings of Dahomey and sold to Europeans over three centuries. Numerous nations and cities across the world have issued formal apologies for their roles in the slave trade, though apologies seem somewhat insufficient. No one involved in the Atlantic slave trade is alive today. None of its victims can be compensated, nor can any of its perpetrators be punished. Yet its impact continues to be felt today across four continents and scores of island nations.

Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

“African Laborers for a New Empire: Iberia, Slavery, and the Atlantic World”. Article, Low Country Digital History Initiative. Online

“Slave Ships and the Middle Passage”. Article, Encyclopedia Virginia. Online

“Dutch involvement in the transatlantic slave trade and abolition”. Article, African Studies Center Leiden. Online

“What Was the Royal African Company?” Sarah Pruitt, August 22, 2018. Online

“The Transatlantic Slave Trade and Origins of the African Diaspora in Texas”. Dr. Glenn Chambers, Prairie View A & M University. Online.

“A brief guide to the transatlantic slave trade”. James Walvin, BBC History Extra. June 8, 2020

“The story of the Zong slave ship: A mass murder masquerading as an insurance claim”. Catherine Baksi, The Guardian. January 19, 2021.

“Arrival in the Americas”. Article, Liverpool Museums. Online

“Liverpool’s Slave Trade Legacy”. Claire Shaw, History Today. March 3, 2020. Online

“Freebooters and Smugglers: The Foreign Slave Trade in the United States After 1808”. Robert Gudmestad, Civil War Book Review. Fall, 2008. Online

Dying on their own terms: suicides aboard slave ships”. Aaron Jaffer, Royal Museums Greenwich. August 16, 2017. Online

“The Slave Trade”. Article, National Library of Jamaica. Online

“Slavery and Marronnage in Saint Domingue”. Article, Haitian Marronnage: Voyages and Resistance. Online

“African Participation and Resistance to the Trade”. Article, Lowcountry Digital History Initiative (LDHI). Online

“Royal Navy sailors were appalled by conditions on slave ships, but those they ‘rescued’ rarely experienced true freedom”. Mary Wills, The Conversation. March 6, 2020. Online

“The Royal Navy and the Battle to End Slavery”. Huw Lewis-Jones, BBC History. February 17, 2011. Online

“In Brazil the wounds of slavery will not heal”. Article, Online

“Jamaica’s best kept secret: Black’s owned slaves”. Dudley C. McLean II, Jamaica Observer. December 29, 2019