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Atlantic Slave Trade Essay

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A slave can be defined as a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another, a bond servant or a person entirely under the domination of some influence or person. Slavery was well recognized in many early civilizations. Ancient Egypt, Ancient China, the Akkad Ian Empire, Assyria, Ancient India, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Islamic Caliphate, the Hebrews in Palestine, and the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas all had either a form of debt-slavery, punishment for crime, enslavement of prisoners of war, child abandonment or birth of slave children to slaves.

However, as the sixteenth century approached, so did the change in the way slavery would be looked at, for years to come. The Atlantic slave trade became the name of the three part economic cycle that involved four continents for four centuries and millions of people. The Atlantic slave trade or the middle passage, triangular trade and slavery affected the economy of Europe, Africa and the Americas in both negative and positive aspects.

Starting in the 1430’s Portuguese were the first to sail down the coast of Africa to search for gold and jewels.

The Portuguese had to extend their power across the co+ast because Sub-Saharan Africa’s trade routes were controlled by the Islamic Empire. By 1445, The Portuguese conquered three African countries and created trading posts. This allowed them access to Europe across the Sahara. Initially, the Portuguese traded copperware, cloth, tools, wine and horses for pepper, ivory and most importantly gold. The first slave purchase is said to have taken place in 1441 when the Portuguese caught two African males while they were along the coast. The Africans in the nearby village paid them in gold for their return.

Eventually, they developed the idea that they could get more gold by transporting slaves along Africa’s coast. The Muslims were enticed by the idea of slavery as they used them as porters and for profit. Portugal had a monopoly on the export of slaves in Africa for more than two hundred years. This encounter is the beginning of one of the most tragic events in history, the Atlantic triangular trade (Thomas 1997). A triangular trade evolves when a region has export commodities that aren’t required in the region which its major imports come and provides a method for trade imbalances.

The triangular trade is named for the rough shape it makes on a map. It worked like a triangle between all the colonies that were involved. For centuries the world was took part in its most successful trading system. There where nearly fifteen million Africans were shipped to both North and South America for more than three-hundred. Slaves, cash crops and manufactured goods were the most traded between the Americas, Europe and Africa. The Europeans controlled the first stage of the trade by carrying supplies for sale and trade such as, cloth, spirit, tobacco, beads, shells, metal goods and guns.

This was their method of which were used to help expand empires and capture more slaves. These goods were exchanged for purchased and kidnapped African slaves (www. nmm. ac. uk/freedom/viewTheme. cfm/theme/triangular). African kings and merchants would capture the slaves or organize campaigns ran by the Europeans. The motives of the Europeans were based on one thing; they lacked a major source, a work force. It was stated that the Indigenes people were unreliable and Europeans were unsuited to the climate. However, Africans had experience in agriculture, keeping cattle, content with the climate.

Africa soon became reliant on the slavery of their people and the profits that came along with it. The next stage involved the slaves being transported by voyage to the Americas and Caribbean, the middle passage (PBS. “The African Slave Trade and the Middle Passage. ” http://www. pbs. org/wgbh/aia/part1/1narr4. html). The middle passage was a perilous, horrendous journey slaves made across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. The final stage of the Atlantic slave trade was the return to Europe from the Americas with the produce from the slave-labor plantations.

Most regions of North and South America were used to provide these raw materials to Europe for manufacturing. This wasn’t the first or only slave trade, but it was the cruelest. What began as a quest for gold ended as a quest for slaves, leaving a major stamp on African and American history (Thomas 1997). Before undergoing the middle passage, slaves faced human misery and suffering. Kidnapped slaves were forced to walk shackled in slave caravans to European coastal forts. Due to the lack of food and energy, half of the slaves became sick and were killed or left to die.

Some had the strength to make it so they were left in underground dungeons. For years, Africans were stranded in these dungeons across the coast of Africa.. There, they wait on the embarked horrid encounter of the entire slave trade, the middle passage. None of the previous passengers returned to their homeland so none of the Africans knew what they were about to endure. The voyages were generally organized by companies and investors because they were a huge financial burden(“The African Slave Trade and the Middle Passage). Two theories show the packing of slaves in the European ships; loose and tight packing.

Loose packing carried less slaves with the hopes of more room and more slaves making it to the Americas alive and in fair condition. This was exchanged for tight packing. Captains believed despite more casualties, this would yield a greater profit. On occasion, veterinarians inspected the slaves before the voyage to determine which slaves could make it across the Atlantic Ocean. The enslaved Africans were chained together by hand and foot, not even being able to lie on one’s side. They ate, slept, urinated, defecated, gave birth and died all in that one spot. There was overcrowding, inadequate ventilation and little to no sanitation.

Twenty percent of every hundred died along the way from either suffocation, starvation, amoebic dysentery, scurvy or a disease such as small pox. The slaves that died were thrown overboard as well as the slaves that showed illness. Some threw their self-overboard risking their life rather than deal with these horrific measures. Approximately fifteen million captured Africans were sent to the Americas. The middle passage was the longest, most dangerous part of the Atlantic slave trade (“The Middle Passage Experience”). From the seventeenth century on, slaves became the focus of trade between Europe and Africa.

Europe had already colonized North and South America as well as the Caribbean islands from the fifteenth century onward. This created an insatiable demand for African laborers, who were deemed “more fit” to work in the tropical conditions of the New World. The numbers of slaves imported across the Atlantic Ocean steadily increased, from approximately 5,000 slaves a year in the sixteenth century to over 100,000 slaves a year by the end of the eighteenth century (www. mariner. org/captivepassage). Upon their arrival to the Americas, the slaves were washed, greased and placed inside dungeons.

The grease added a more appealing look making the slaves appear healthier so the profit would be much higher. European slave traders made sure all of their potential properties were in well condition before bidding. They were branded with a hot iron to keep their identity as a slave. There were two main types of slave auctions; highest bidder or grab and go auctions. Highest bidder was a bidding process which the buyer with the highest bid would get the slave. Grab and go auctions was the process in which the buyer would give the trader an agreed amount of money in exchange for a ticket.

This process was where the slaves were released from their dungeon and the buyers would rush and grab the slave they wanted, Each slave would be sold to an owner who owned a great deal of land and worked on either a plantation or mine and there, the living conditions were still only barely better (Curtin 1969) A prominent African, author and a major influence on the enactment of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, Olaudah Equiano was well aware and very familiar with the Atlantic slave trade. At the age of eleven, Equiano and his sister were kidnapped from his village in Nigeria.

He survived the middle passage, and taken to the West Indies. He tells how he was bought by Captain Pascal, a British naval Officer as a “present” for a cousin. He tells how was enslaved in North America for ten years, working as a seaman. In 1766, he bought his freedom and wrote an autobiography, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano,” Equiano gave a firsthand look of the conditions enslaved Africans were forced to live.

This document was one of the first documents that explained, thoroughly, the terrible human cruelty of the Atlantic slave trade (Wright et al. 001). Although many lives were taken or at risk, The Atlantic slave trade fulfilled its major goal, profit and change the three continents. Europe, America and Africa’s economy were all affected by the slave trade. Europe’s economy was suffering before the slave trade. The Atlantic slave trade was during the time of recovery for Europe and completely recovered their economy. Because of the success of the trade, they needed more people to manufacture raw materials and export them to Africa. The great supply of jobs created many exports and the income to buy imports.

By the end of the slave trade, Europe’s economy was in well standings as one of the wealthiest continents in the world. The America’s economies rose too. They were honored with a free workforce that provided many resources from sugar to cotton. The free labor allotted for them to received one hundred percent of the profit. They were importing more slaves and exporting the goods made by them to gaining wealth. America’s economy became agriculturally stable and soon industrialized. Europe and the Americas economies were affected in a positive way. However, Africa’s economy received a negative effect.

Many, for years lived in fear due to slavery. African villages became small and poor. All of the kingdoms that were strong at one time, collapsed and were conquered. They received raw material goods from the slave trade but with nothing shown. The African kings prospered only because they were heavily involved in the slave trade. As the kings’ wealth grew, their economy was at a standstill and eventually failed. The Atlantic slave trade, human cruelty and evil at its finest, had a substantial effect on Europe, the Americas and Africa (www. understandingslavery. com).

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