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Atlantic Slave Trade Essay

The origins of the Atlantic Slave Trade were products of Western Europe’s expansion of power that began at the beginning of the 1500’s through the 1900‘s. The main contributing European countries to the Atlantic Slave Trade were Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, France, and England. Portugal lead the movement during the 1400’s and arrived in Western Africa in hopes to find Christian allies to spread Christianity against the Muslims of Northern Africa. But they soon became more interested in trade (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011).

Slavery, however, has existed in all cultures for thousands of years. For example, Arab merchants and West African Kings imported white European slaves. At first, the slave trade focused on women and children who would serve as domestic servants. But later the trade switched to focusing on young men for agricultural labor in the Americas. The Portuguese traded primarily for gold, ivory, pepper, as well as slaves. After a few decades, the had captured hundreds of slaves (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011).

It’s misleading to say all slaves were captured by raiders, because in many cases they were bought from African traders. Columbus’s voyages completely changed the slave trade. Once colonies in the Americas were established, many of the Native Americans who were enslaved died of disease and overwork causing a need for more African slaves. During the 1600’s, sugar plantations, gold and silver mines produced an enormous demand for labor. Soon after, markets for coffee, tobacco and rice cultivation yet again increased the demand for African slaves (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011).

By the early 1700’s, the English dominated the Slave Trade, carrying about 20,000 slaves per year from Africa to the Americas. By the end of the century, over 50,000 slaves were being transported per year. After 1700, the importation of firearms heightened the intensity of many of the wars and resulted in a great increase in the numbers of enslaved peoples. European forces 2 ?intervened in some of the localized fighting and in warfare all along the Atlantic coast. They sought to obtain captives directly in battle or as political rewards for having backed the winning side (“The transatlantic slave,” ).

The enormous amount of slave labor and its incredibly low cost highly contributed to the advancements of the Industrial Revolution. Also during this time, many civil wars throughout Africa produced captives which were sold as slaves in Western Africa. Raiders often tied the captives together with ropes and secured them with wooden yokes around their necks. Many captives died of hunger and exhaustion before even being put on ships. Other slave captives decided to kill themselves rather than be forced into slavery (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011).

Once the captives reached the coast of Western Africa, the captives were kept in “factories”, which were headquarters of the slave traders. These factories contained warehouses with supplies and dungeons to keep the captives in. In these factories, the slavers would divide families up to decrease the possibility of a rebellion happening. After a few weeks in these factories, the slave holders would brand the “fit” slaves bearing the symbol of that particular trading company (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011).

European brutalization of the captives was an attempt to destroy the African’s sense of self-identity. The voyage from Africa to the first stop in the Caribbean generally lasted between two and three months. As the demand for slaves increased, so did piracy. Many opposing nations would fight and attempt to steal each other’s slave ships seeing how valuable slaves were at the time (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011). Other natural causes that contributed to the destruction of slave ships were hurricanes as well as doldrums, which are long periods of time with no wind gusts to propel the ships. ?The ships themselves were designed to maximize the amount of slaves to be carried. The cargo space where the slaves kept were only about five feet tall. And slaves were chained together in pairs to minimize the chance of a rebellion. Many times, especially during storms, the slavers neglected to feed the slaves or change the tubs and buckets used for toilets, as well removing dead bodies (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011). Sanitation was also a major contributor to death and disease. Only about three or four toilet tubs were provided for all of the slaves.

Mortality rates were exceptionally high on the ships, averaging around 15%. Overall, about one third of all slaves died during the whole process of moving them from Africa to the Americas. The main causes of mortality on the ships were diseases such as small pox, malaria, dysentery, yellow fever and measles (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011). There was however still rebellions from the captive slaves aboard the ships. Rebellions usually occurred when the ship was getting ready to set sail or when they ships were still within sight of the Africa land mass, when there as still hope for the slaves to return home. Often times slaves would actually starve themselves intentionally or try to jump off the ship to drown. But to combat this, the slavers would sometimes put nets on the side of the ship to stop jumpers and to deal with those who would refuse to eat, the slavers would use hot coals to force individual’s mouths open to eat (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011). The women aboard the slave ships were treated very badly as well. They were often raped and sexually abused.

Many times, all of the women were kept in separate rooms to make it easier for the slavers to take advantage of them. The slave ships would generally arrive at islands in the Caribbean for rest to make them more healthy and appealing for buyers. The english preferred the island of Barbados for this 4 ?resting period. Barbados experienced a jump in its slave population from 1,000 to 20,000 in the first decade after sugar cultivation was introduced around 1640 (Smallwood, 2007).

This resting period in the Caribbean came to be termed seasoning and on these islands the slavers divided into a few different categories of slaves depending on how acculturated the slaves were to the New World’s culture and lifestyle. These categories were those who were born in the Americas, those who had lived in the Americas for a long period of time, and the new slaves from Africa (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011). During seasoning, the slavers would attempt to modify the behavior of the slaves to make them effective laborers.

The new slaves were also given new names and were attempted to be taught English so they could obey commands (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011). The planters in the Caribbean would often rely on the already acculturated slaves to train the new slaves because it was easier that way. The physical condition of the arriving slaves to buyers would many times be a disappointment to the buyers. Although the slavers would shave and wash them, the illusion of health would not always conceal the truth to the buyers. Also, many times the cargoes included too many women, children, or older people.

This was also a disappointment to the buyers and the regularity of these outcomes were soon considered “normal” (Smallwood, 2007). The planters then assessed the successful seasoning of slaves by three criteria: firstly if they survived the journey, secondly if the could adapt to the new climate and new foods, and lastly if they were able to learn a new language to obey commands. However, as many as half of the slaves ended up dying within the first three years after arriving at the Americas (Smallwood, 2007).

Of the estimated ten million men, women, and children who survived the Middle Passage, approximately 450,000 Africans disembarked on North America’s shores. They thus 5 ?represented only a fraction – 5 percent– of those transported during the 350-year history of the international slave trade. Brazil and the Caribbean each received about nine times as many Africans (“The transatlantic slave,” ). The Atlantic Slave trade began to diminish in the late 1700’s by both humanitarian efforts as well as declining need for slaves in the modernized industrial economy.

The lasting effects of the diminishing of the slave trade proved to be negative for Africa. Many of the Western African societies had become dependent on the slave trade (Hine, Hine & Harrold, 2011). Looking at the statistics of the slave trade, from 1501-1525 it is estimated that around 13,000 slaves were transported to the Americas (“The trans-atlantic slave,” 2008). By 1601-1625, over 350,000 slaves were estimated to have been brought to the Americas. At the turn of the 18th century, from 1701-1725, over 1,000,000 slaves were transported from Africa to the Americas.

The Atlantic slave trade peaked from 1776-1800 with over 2,000,000 slaves being transported during that time period. The Slave Trade holistically contributed to the enslavement and migration of over 12,500,000 slaves from 1500-1866 (“The trans-atlantic slave,” 2008). The Atlantic Slave Trade was a horrible series of events that should have never happened. At least we can be optimistic about mankind’s ability to learn from our mistakes and improve our actions.


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