The transatlantic slave trade is the forced export of African slaves from Africa to the colonies of the New World and European countries. Its beginning dates back to the middle of the 15th century, when the first Portuguese, who were led by Prince Henry the Navigator, reached the West African coast. This slavery that lasted for more than 400 years deprived people of their rights in society, being owned as property that belongs to a master. The triangular trade route was used by the slavers to transport Africans and force them to work primarily on plantations and mines. This paper focuses on the key issues of the transatlantic slave trade to provide its detailed understanding.
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By the middle of the 17th century, the trade route was finally formed, and it received this name because it consisted of three separate paths in the form of a triangle. The first journey began from the ports of Europe when ships went to the shores of Africa with a cargo of various goods proposed for conducting slave trade operations. The main places where trade was carried out were Cape Verde Islands, Angola, the western part of Nigeria, and the coast of the Gulf of Guinea and Benin (Borucki et al. 434). The European traders with the support of states created a whole network of trading posts and markets that specialized in the trade of living “goods”, who went to the door of no return. For the most part, it was the exchange, although there were cases of buying slaves for cash. Among the exchange goods from the Europeans, there were fabrics, glass beads, and other jewelry, as well as knives and axes. Paper, rum, and other alcoholic beverages, as well as firearms and supplies to them, may also be noted among valued products.
After the completion of all the trading operations, the caravels with a cargo of slaves on board went to the next stop of the triangle. The European colonies in the New World had specially designed factory fortified posts. This part of the journey was represented by the Middle Passage with its brutality and unsanitary conditions (Marques 114). In America, slaves were in great demand, especially for work on plantations and, to a lesser extent, in mines and other processing enterprises. After selling off all the goods, the merchants purchased a shipment of colonial goods with money they received and returned to Europe. In particular, tobacco, cocoa, sugar, coffee, mahogany, and so on were the key goods they purchased (Marques 144). Thus, the triangle closed, and after the sale of goods brought from the New World, it was possible to calculate the profits.
Human Toll, Economics of Slavery, and Effects
During the entire existence of the transatlantic slave trade, approximately 10-12 million slaves were brought to the European colonies in America, while another 2.5-3 million died during transportation (Saidian 13). Their largest source was the Slave Coast, from which about five million slaves were taken out. Moreover, most of them were brought after the independence of the United States, when a new democratic state needed large quantities of labor for cotton plantations. Before the American Revolutionary War, the export of slaves to America had reached 100 thousand persons a year. The main centers of the slave trade were the cities of Boston, New Orleans, and Charleston.
The conditions of transportation of slaves were terrible even by the standards of that time. The journey from the coast of Africa to the New World took from six to twenty weeks, depending on the weather, the experience of the captain and navigator, and season. All this time, the slaves were in the holds and lived chained. Their meals usually consisted of boiled rice, and when the ship finally entered the American port, not all slaves lived to this point. The loss of a quarter of the so-called “cargo” was quite common. Many enslaved people integrated their culture into their new place of living, especially in North America.
Speaking of the economics of slavery, it is essential to state that it was profitable for developed countries despite the costs of maritime affairs. For example, France accounted for six percent of return for investors, which represented a ten percent benefit (Saidian 251). To initiate voyages to Africa, several merchants purchased parts of various ships so that at least some of them returned with profits. The British Empire was the most profitable since its colonies included Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad. As for the economic impact of the identified slavery on Africa, significant damages cannot be disputed. The population decline, which refers to transformations demographic impact, and the inability to build an internal economy may be opposed to some financial advantage received by the African elite that sold slaves overseas (Rönnbäck 172). In exchange for people, Africa received goods that had no or little stimulation to its general development. The slave trade destroyed what Africa has achieved over the millennia without giving anything in return.
Both America and Europe received the greatest benefits from the slave trade. The foundations of today’s US economic power were laid during that period by thousands of Africans. The psychological and physical consequences of the transatlantic slave trade were severe to Africans, whose lives were evaluated. As wars continued to capture the slaves, people became increasingly callous. The slave trade corrupted the Europeans and gave rise to greater greed. The sudden outbursts of the uprisings of desperate slaves only multiplied their hardships and entailed new bloodshed.
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The moral decay, deformity of the psyche, the consciousness of complete security for the evil caused to other people, and the degradation of both slave traders and slaves were critical. However, the worst legacy left by the slave trade is racism (Saidian 105). The notion of the superiority of the White population appeared due to trade slavery, and it was abolished only in the 19th century. One of the most evident examples is carimbo that meant brand marking slaves so that they can always be recognized. Even though the legacy of racism was canceled the racial discrimination remains a social problem in the US.
To conclude, the transatlantic slave trade was an unprecedented economic, social, and political disaster in the history of humanity. It bled the whole of Africa and placed it outside of civilization, also making Americans and Europeans morally degraded. The slave trade impeded the development of the main spheres of social production, such as agriculture and crafts. It contributed to the exchange, trade, and inclusion of Africa in the world market in a destructive manner. While the transatlantic slave trade lasted for more than four centuries, its consequences are still sound and critical to modern society.
Borucki, Alex, et al. “Atlantic History and the Slave Trade to Spanish America.” The American Historical Review, vol. 120, no. 2, 2015, pp. 433-461.
Marques, Leonardo. The United States and the Transatlantic Slave Trade to the Americas, 1776-1867. Yale University Press, 2016.
Rönnbäck, Klas. “The Transatlantic Slave Trade and Social Stratification on the Gold Coast.” Economic History of Developing Regions, vol. 30, no. 2, 2015, pp. 157-181.
Saidian, Siyavush. The Transatlantic Slave Trade: Slavery Comes to the New World. Greenhaven Publishing, 2017.