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... tes often greater than for all other overseas trades combined. Slave mortality usually increased during the last stages of a particularly long passage when there were shortages of food and water. The Atlantic crossing lasted three to five weeks from West African trading sites such as the Gambia, Senegal, and Sierra Leone Rivers. Near the equator, in regions such as the Bights of Benin and Biafra (near present-day Nigeria), the voyage to the Americas took several months.
A few French ships transported slaves from Mozambique or Madagascar to the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean and then returned to France via Saint-Domingue in the West Indies, where additional cargoes of captives from southeast Africa were disembarked. These voyages - via the Indian Ocean - were the most complex in the transatlantic slave trade and took several years to complete. In the nineteenth century, passage time in the trade fell dramatically due to advances in shipbuilding and speed. The Marketing of Enslaved Africans in the Americas Upon arriving in the Americas, African captives who survived the Atlantic crossing were "refreshed" with water and colonial provisions (such as citrus fruit) and were shaved and cleaned. Ointments (to hide scars from diseases such as yaws) and oils were applied on their skin in preparation for sale. Agents placed advertisements in colonial gazettes and in taverns for the sale of African labor, which usually began a few weeks after arrival.
Many sales occurred on ship deck; other sales took place on wharves or in agents' houses or slave pens. Some planters contracted with merchants to purchase a preset number of slaves. Many slaves were sold by "scramble" or by auction. During the scramble, planters or their representatives placed ropes or handkerchiefs around groups of slaves whom they wanted to purchase.
During auctions, the highest-valued slaves, often adult men, were sold first sold; then, over several weeks or even months, less-valued slaves were sold. The last slaves sold were often old, sick, or debilitated Africans. Termed "refuse slaves, " they usually were purchased by doctors or poor colonists. In some sales "prime" slaves were sold by scramble and "refuse" slaves were sold at public auction. Occasionally slave cargoes included family members or relatives, but separation during sale was almost inevitable. Cargoes also usually comprised Africans from different ethnic groups, as can be noted through ethnic scarification.
Some planters purchased slaves from a variety of ethnic backgrounds as part of labor control; other planters purchased Africans from the same areas of Africa to maintain workforce unity. Ship captains and colonial agents sold slave cargoes to planters for bills of exchange, which often were resold for return cargoes of plantation produce. Slave vessels were not specialist "West Indiamen" (large produce vessels built for storage capacity), however, and transported only a fraction of the produce of the Americas back to Europe. By the mid-eighteenth century, many slave vessels began returning to Europe with the planters' bills of exchange and only small cargoes of plantation produce. Thus, though many slave vessels sailed on triangular voyages over the course of about a year, some did not carry on a triangular trade.
An important exception to the concept of a triangular trade was the large Brazil-to-Angola shuttle trade, which dates from the 1680 s. By the nineteenth century, small Brazilian vessels, built for speed, sometimes made three or four slave voyages per year in this direct trade. The Abolition of The Transatlantic Slave Trade After centuries of broad acceptance, in the mid-eighteenth century some religious leaders began to question the morality of enslaving and owning humans. They began a campaign, termed the abolition movement, to end slavery. Faced with overwhelming opposition of colonial and business groups, the "abolitionists" realized that the first step toward ending slavery would be to end the transatlantic slave trade. Attacking the British slave trade was vital: the British were the largest slave traders by the mid- 1700 s.
The abolition of the British trade was a 20 -year process: Parliament first regulated the trade, limiting the number of slaves British vessels could carry from Africa, then closed a number of colonies to slave imports, and then in 1807 abolished the trade itself. The size of the British trade highlights the important abolitionist triumph: during the previous decade, 150 British slave vessels had sailed per year for the African coast to purchase more than 40, 000 African men, women, and children. Five years earlier, in 1803, the small Danish slave trade ended by a government order enacted in 1792. The United States slave trade - centered in Rhode Island - ended in 1807, the first year Congress could address the question of abolition, as agreed to by the compromise between Northern and Southern states writing the Constitution in 1787. The French slave trade ended temporarily in the early 1790 s after the slave revolution in the largest French colony, Saint-Domingue, removed the principal French slave market, and then the French government abolished slavery throughout French colonies in 1793 - 1794. With the ending of the Napoleonic Wars in 1814 - 1815, British diplomats attempted to end the international slave trade.
The Dutch trade, which largely ended during the late-eighteenth-century warfare with France, was abolished by decree in 1814. The restored, conservative French monarchy, however, did not agree to end French participation in the slave trade. French vessels continued to ship slaves to Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Cayenne (in modern-day French Guiana), and the French government did not abolish slavery in French colonies until 1848. The French trade, however, had effectively ended by 1831 after a political revolution in the country. After 1815 the transatlantic slave trade centered on the expanding sugar and coffee colonies of Brazil and Cuba. British diplomats continued to negotiate for a total ban on the slave trade, and British naval ships cruised the African coast to capture illegal slave ships.
By the 1820 s most slave voyages originated from the West Indies or Brazil. To avoid British confiscation, "flags of convenience" were carried on board. Many European or American-owned slave vessels sailed under Spanish-Cuban registration. British naval pressure and changing Brazilian attitudes about the slave trade led to government measures which effectively ended the trade by the early 1850 s. The remaining market of Cuba experienced a short-term increase in slave imports from 1853 to 1860 as slave and sugar prices rose. Prices fell in the 1860 s, and by 1867 British, Spanish, and U.
S. authorities were able to end the direct slave trade from Africa to Cuba. Long-term Trends and Impacts of the Transatlantic Slave Trade The Transatlantic Slave Trade first centered on West Africa, the Gold Coast, Hispaniola, Mexico, and Peru. Most of the slaves shipped from Africa during the period of 1520 to 1570 were male and worked in Spanish American mines. Over time, an increasing number of Africans transported across the Atlantic left from outlets in Nigeria or Angola, and more and more would work in Brazil and the British and French Caribbean colonies. Two of every five Africans arrived in Brazil; in the nineteenth century, perhaps four of five African slaves were destined for Brazilian plantations.
The British and French Caribbean colonies each accounted for about one-fifth of the total trade. In the eighteenth century, Saint-Domingue and Jamaica were the largest plantation economies in the West Indies and the principal destinations for most African captives on French and British slave vessels. Slave imports, sometimes numbering 20, 000 men, women, and children per year, replaced populations which did not increase by natural rates. The slave trade to what is now the United States constituted only about 7 percent of the total trade. This number may seem surprising, given the fact that the U. S.
South developed one of the largest slave societies in the nineteenth century. But the development of a cotton plantation economy in the first half of the 1800 s occurred after the abolition of the slave trade. In contrast to many plantation regimes, slave populations increased markedly within the United States. Most African captives arrived in British North America and the United States from the Congo River area, Senegambia, the Bight of Biafra, the Gold Coast, and the Sierra Leone region.
In the four years prior to abolition, 5000 to 7000 slaves landed annually in Charleston. This was the height of the transatlantic slave trade to the United States. During the history of the transatlantic slave trade, conditions of slave supply in Africa, the demand of planters for slaves of certain gender, ages, or broadly understood African "ethnicities, " and European commercial rivalries shaped the movement of slaves from African to American markets. Brazil received perhaps two-thirds of African captives from Angola (with principal ports of Luanda and Benguela, under Portuguese control), one-quarter from the Bight of Benin, called also the Slave Coast (near present-day Dahomey), and smaller numbers from Mozambique and the region around the Bags Islands off West Africa. French slave vessels delivered African labor to Saint-Domingue mostly from Angola, the Bight of Benin, the Senegal River area, Calabar, and Gabon.
French merchants had few slaving contacts on the Windward Coast (near Liberia) or the Gold Coast. Most African captives arrived in British North America and the United States from the Congo River area, Senegambia, the Bight of Biafra, the Gold Coast, and the Sierra Leone region. The British Caribbean drew laborers from a wide range of African coastal outlets, though by the later eighteenth century the Bight of Biafra (Nigeria) and Angola began to predominate. Jamaica had particularly close commercial links with the Bight of Biafra and the Gold Coast. The Cuban plantation economy developed from the 1760 s to 1860 s with the most "diversified" African slave labor force. Cuba contracted slave shipments from various European merchants, each with their own African trading contacts.
By the late eighteenth century, the Spanish government opened the Havana market to flags of all nations. No single African region supplied more than one-third of Cuban slave imports. Over time there were changes in the stream of men, women, and children who entered transatlantic slaving networks. Throughout most years of the trade, the Bight of Biafra supplied the most women captives to coastal traders. Disproportionate numbers of adult male slaves were shipped from the Gambia and Senegal Rivers. Often more than one in five Africans transported from the Windward Coast were children.
By the nineteenth century greater numbers of children were forced into the trade from almost all regions in Africa. The proportion of men also increased. Scholars have yet to explain fully these age and gender variations between African regions and over time. Why was African labor forcibly transported thousands of miles to the Americas to work in the economies of the New World? In the past, historians have argued that Africans were a low-cost labor alternative to scarce Indian labor (scarce, because most Indian populations were destroyed by disease) or expensive European labor. African skin color also identified plantation slaves from other colonial workers, which facilitated planter control.
Further, there were declining numbers of European men who were willing to work as plantation laborers because job opportunities increased in Europe; there was greater competition among European slave shippers, which increased the regularity and lowered the price of Africans in the Americas; and there were entrenched racist attitudes that justified European dominance over peoples from Africa. Others have argued that African peoples had a biological advantage over European laborers in the Americas. With some acquired immunities to tropical diseases such as yellow fever and malaria, Africans proved better able to survive the disease environments of the South Atlantic and Caribbean. Recent scholarship has pointed out that the organization of the European slave trade to Africa was a costly endeavor and that it would in fact have been less expensive to ship European convicts to work the plantations of the Americas.
In this view, the organization of a European slave trade to the African coast has less to do with economics and more to do with developing European imperial ambitions to enslave and dominate those people defined as outsiders. Scholars have also disagreed over the size of this forced Atlantic migration. To many, the size of the transatlantic slave trade represents the scale of European destructive impact on Africa. We may never know the extent of the slave trade in the interior of Africa, or the numbers of slaves who died en route to the coastal barracoon's. As an Atlantic maritime enterprise, however, the transatlantic slave trade is well documented: European governments taxed vessels clearing and entering customs, and many newspapers and colonial gazettes survive, as do general shipping documents such as muster rolls and ship registers.
Moreover, slave vessels often were at sea for more than a year and were on the coast of Africa and harbors in the Americas for several months. These vessels were noticed. The large British trade is particularly well documented, and British navy officials kept extensive records of the illegal slave trade of the nineteenth century. Studies based on these numerous shipping and government documents, including Harvard University's W. E.
B. Du Bois Institute's database of 27, 500 slave voyages, compiled in 1993 - 1997, have supported an estimate of about 11 to 12 million slave exports and 9 to 10 million slave imports into the Americas. Importantly, these totals represent more than 60 percent of all Atlantic migrants before the nineteenth century. By the 1820 s, after the abolition of the British, U. S. , and Dutch slave trades, African migrants crossing the Atlantic still outnumbered all other European migrant groups. Also, African women outnumbered European female migrants by a ratio of more than five to one.
Only by the 1840 s would the number of migrants voluntarily leaving Europe for the Americas exceed the number of enslaved migrants from Africa. What was the impact of this massive population shift? Scholars have argued that the transatlantic slave trade was an extremely profitable business that created pools of investment capital linked to industrialization in areas of Europe and North America. Extraordinary profits were achieved, however, on only a handful of voyages per year.
Slave trading was extremely competitive and risky. In a broader view, the transatlantic slave trade provided African labor necessary to develop the plantation economies of the Americas. Most colonies specialized in single crops, such as sugar, and were dependent largely on Europe or North America for supplies and provisions. Thus within the Atlantic system regional, specialized economies, linked through maritime trade, developed.
Such trade specialization likely stimulated economic growth and increased prosperity for those living in Europe and the Americas. By the eighteenth century, standards of living had increased among many of the middle and lower classes in Europe and British North America. This in turn increased consumer demand for plantation luxuries such as sugar, tobacco, coffee, and spices. In response to this increased demand, planters in the Americas enlarged their estates, purchasing more labor from Africa to increase production. This expansion of the transatlantic slave trade in the eighteenth century, therefore, is a function of the income of European consumers and their demand for plantation goods. Without the forced labor of peoples of African descent, European consumers would have paid much higher prices for a wide range of subtropical produce.
Economic growth in the North Atlantic thus stimulated the slave trade and the latter in turn encouraged economic growth. The demand for African labor on plantations transformed a few African societies into slave-export economies. Slave-distribution networks developed in the interior to ensure a regular flow of African captives to coastal outlets, which in turn became slave-export centers with facilities to provision and confine Africans for several months. As prices rose over time, African traders gained a greater share of slaving profits. Some argue that the increasing influx of European goods limited African social and economic development.
Access to inexpensive Indian- or European-produced textiles, for example, retarded the growth of African textile industries. Also, guns and alcohol are viewed as "socially disruptive" trading goods, and there was a "slave-gun cycle" whereby Africans sold slaves to acquire more firearms for slave raiding. It is likely, however, that the strength of indigenous African domestic economies meant that the major African impact of the slave trade was social rather than economic. Foreign trade constituted a small percentage of African gross domestic product, and ordinary African peoples would have never seen goods produced outside Africa. The slave trade undoubtedly increased the incidence of warfare and slave raiding among many African societies. Moreover, as about two-thirds of the captive Africans were men between the ages of 18 and 30, the slave trade likely removed essential workers and soldiers.
In response to renewed external threats, villages may have been abandoned as they consolidated with other communities for protection. In certain areas the slave trade altered the ratio of men to women and adults to children, thus prompting further social changes, particularly in kinship structure and marriage patterns. The incidence of slavery increased in Africa during the slave trade era and increased again in the immediate aftermath of abolition, when external demand for slaves ended rather suddenly. In the Americas the slave trade ensured that, for three centuries, the subtropical areas remained the focal point of New World economic activity.
It also ensured a much more complex social milieu and cultural environment than would have been possible without contacts with Africa. With all of its horrors and inhumanity, the transatlantic slave trade was critical in the formation of the modern world. Bibliography:
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