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The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade – The Role & Horrors of The American And European Empires

Nmesoma Okwudili


April 17, 2023

Millions of Africans were captured, shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, and sold into slavery in the Americas during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which lasted from the 16th to the 19th centuries. This trade route was an important part of the global slave trade, which affected the lives of millions of people and had long-term consequences for the economies and cultures of Africa and the Americas.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade was driven by a complex web of economic, political, and social factors. During this time, it is estimated that between 10 million and 12 million enslaved Africans were transported across the Atlantic. The journey across the Atlantic, known as the Middle Passage, was a brutal and dehumanising experience for those who survived it. According to the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database, an estimated 12.5 million Africans died during the Middle Passage.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade was a component of a larger trade network known as the triangular trade. This trade route involved the transport of goods from Europe to Africa (such as guns, ammunition, and cotton cloth), enslaved Africans from Africa to the Americas and the West Indies, and raw materials produced on plantations (such as sugar, rice, tobacco, indigo, rum, and cotton) back to Europe. This triangular trade network enabled European powers to exploit the resources of Africa and the Americas while producing goods for export using enslaved labour.

Enslaved Africans were crammed into tiny, overcrowded ships that were often unsanitary and disease-ridden during the Middle Passage. Many did not survive the journey, with mortality rates ranging from 10% to 20%. Enslaved Africans were frequently chained together and forced to live in cramped, unsanitary conditions for months at a time. Many were subjected to physical and sexual violence by crew members, and some committed suicide to escape the brutality of the voyage.

Approximately 12.5 million Africans were transported across the Atlantic between 1517 and 1867, with many dying during the Middle Passage. The slave trade was brutal and inhumane, with enslaved Africans treated as property rather than human beings. The legacy of the transatlantic slave trade continues to have far-reaching consequences for societies all over the world, particularly in the Americas, where slavery and racism are still prevalent.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade began in the 15th century, when European powers began to explore and colonise Africa and the Americas. The Portuguese were the first to establish trading posts along Africa’s west coast, where they exchanged goods for gold, ivory, and slaves. European powers such as Britain, France, and the Netherlands quickly followed suit, establishing trading posts and expanding their slave-trading operations.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade wreaked havoc on the African people. The slave trade upended African societies, causing political unrest and economic decline. Many communities were shattered as family members were sold into slavery, and those who remained had to adapt to new social and economic systems.

Enslaved Africans were sold at slave markets and forced to work on plantations, mines, and other manual labour when they arrived in the Americas. Slavery conditions varied depending on location and the specific demands of the labour required. In the United States, for example, enslaved Africans were frequently forced to work on cotton plantations in the southern states, where they were subjected to long hours, backbreaking labour, and brutal punishment for noncompliance.

The majority of enslaved people were taken from Africa during the 18th century, with estimates indicating that nearly three-fifths of the total transatlantic slave trade occurred during this time. The Portuguese empire conquered the Mbundu people of Angola and incorporated their economy into the slave trade, making them one of the most affected African tribes. Angola exported enslaved people at a rate of 10,000 per year in 1612.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the slave trade brought enormous wealth to many individuals, businesses, and countries while wreaking havoc on the lives of enslaved people and their descendants. Slavery abolition sparked well-organized opposition, and the British abolished the slave trade in 1807. This heinous trade had the greatest impact on enslaved people, their families, and their communities. Many were brutally treated, subjected to disease, and faced enormous survival challenges.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade was a significant factor in the development of the United States’ economy and social structure, with enslaved people forced to work on plantations and in other industries. Those who escaped slavery or were born free, such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, became powerful figures in the anti-slavery and civil rights movements. Solomon Northup, an African American kidnapped and sold into slavery, and Olaudah Equiano, a former enslaved person who became an abolitionist and writer, are two other notable individuals who were affected by the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade had a significant impact on the Americas. Enslaved Africans were used to cultivate crops such as tobacco, rice, and sugar, which eventually became significant exports for European powers. Enslaved African labour enabled European powers to amass wealth and establish powerful empires. The brutal treatment of enslaved Africans, as well as the violent suppression of resistance and rebellion, had long-lasting consequences for American society. Slavery was officially abolished in the United States in 1865, but its ramifications can still be seen in racial inequalities.

To summarise, the trans-Atlantic slave trade was a dark chapter in human history that involved the exploitation and forced labour of millions of enslaved Africans. The slave trade was brutal and inhumane, with enslaved Africans treated as property rather than human beings. While the trade officially ended in the nineteenth century, its legacy continues to have a profound impact on societies around the world, particularly in the Americas.


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