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The Peculiarities Of Atlantic Slave Trade

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The Transatlantic slave trade was one conducted through the Atlantic Ocean that transported a total of 10 to 12 million enslaved Africans. This trade was a major leg that makes up the triangular trade that also transported other goods, such as wine, firearms, and textiles. The slave trade began in the 15th century and ended in 1853 where Brazil was the last to make the exportation of slaves illegal. One of the main reasons slaves were in demand was because the colonies needed cheap labor. The slaves’ role was to work on plantations and serve as servants doing household chores. They were the preferred servants as there was more of an abundance, over poor Europeans who work as indentured servants. Most of the time, the enslaved Africans worked in the Chesapeake Bay Colony of Virginia, Georgia, and Maryland, working on tobacco, rice, and indigo plantations. Their role was one of the most important of the agricultural economy in the southern states. One of the notable people that play a role in the trade was Nwaubani Ogogo, Isaac Franklin,and John Armfield were major slave traders that took part in the slave market.

The rise of the Transatlantic Slave Trade began when the Portuguese imported slaves of West Africa. The slave market expanded when more Europeans colonized the Americas and were in need of large amounts of cheap labor to work on plantations. However, such trade was not only limited to the Americas, but also Brazil, the Caribbean, and Europe as well. In the triangular trade, European goods were exported to Africa, who then traded them for the slaves, and then shipped to the Americas, where the slaves were traded for sugar, molasses, cotton, tobacco, and indigo. To be specific, within this triangular trade, the middle passage was what the route in which slave ships traveled by, and the ships travel from the Atlantic to the West Indies.

Most of the slaves had originated in West Africa, and other regions such as Upper Guinea, the Gold Coast, Bight of Benin, Bight of Biafra, West-Central Africa, and southeastern Africa which is located in present-day areas known as Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Angola, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Gabon. Most of these people were ambushed and kidnapped directly by the British traders or the locals residing in Africa. Other times, local tribe chiefs would perform raids throughout the rival community in order to capture the enemies and sell them for profit. The slave ships were then supplied by the British people who resided in Africa who bought the slaves from local tribe chiefs. Afterwards, the slaves were cuffed, wooden yokes or tied up by a rope in a chain of coffles and sometimes had to march through varies African tribes and societies, foreign lands, and barren areas for weeks, months, or even years before they even reach the European trade ships where they would be transported. Men and boys were the most demanded, with women and children making up a third of the captured group. Of course, along the way some would die of illness, starvation, or exhaustion. This journey itself could be hundreds of miles by foot. One particular slave route within Africa was one that crossed the Sahara Desert and towards the Nile. Once they’ve boarded the ship, many died along the voyage, taken by diseases that had spread throughout the ship and some women would have been pregnant before and went into labor on the ship.

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One reason the African people were susceptible to slavery was due to the extreme poverty and violence that existed there. Families would have no other choice but to sell their children or they die by starvation. Other times, it’s due the the tribal wars that raged the lands and raids occurred as a result. Enslaved Africans can also be sold to other Africans as well. For an example, in the 1700s, a slave of the West Indies can be sold for about £20.

Slave traders, both European and African exist in a mutual business relationship when trading slaves. Most of the time, African leaders supply the slaves, and the Europeans purchase and ship them overseas, but some European groups may also supply as well. Isaac Franklin and John Armfield were major tycoons in the slave trading market in the Americas. In fact, their townhouse headquarters still exists in present-day Alexandria, Virginia. The two had profited from the slave trade more than anybody in the Americas. Their combined fortune is worth billions in present-day currency and had retired as two the richest men of the country. They set their business up in a prime time when the cotton demand started to rise and as a result, the demand for enslaved labor also rose as well. On the other side, an equally influential African slave trader was a man named Nwaubani Ogogo that lived in Nigeria. After all, the exchange could not be possible if the opposite party did not provide the supply. He was such an established slave trader that he even owned a slave-trading license from the Royal Niger Company, which was an English company that governed south Nigeria in the 19th century. Most people who bought slaves were those that owned large plantations, mostly in the southern states that produced cash crops such as cotton and sugar. After the slaves were imported, they were distributed by domestic slave traders such as Isaac Franklin and John Armfield. They can be sold through auctions where families were tragically ripped apart. Sometimes, plantation owners encouraged the slaves that they owned to produce children in order to avoid purchasing more slaves, and other times, they were raped and women forced to produce children as early as possible. Slave codes were law that governed the system of slavery. This law made sure that the slave owners held total control and absolute obedience in the slaves. This law prohibited the slaves from learning to read or write. A social hierarchy also exists within the slaves as well and served to further separate them. From the top down were house servants, craftsmen, and those that worked in the plantation fields. Because of this, it discouraged slave rebellions, and very few were successful.

There were many consequences as a result of the Transatlantic slave trade. For an example, slaves from Africa had introduced new infectious pathogens to the North American continent. This was the hepatitis B virus and a bacterium very similar to syphilis, which was referred to as the “Yaws Disease”. On the voyage, unsanitary conditions made it a breeding ground for many diseases such as dysentery and scurvy. Additionally, dehydration and starvation led to those desperate to catch fish and eat them live. The horrible conditions led some to commit suicide and had to be stopped by the ship crew. As a result, they were chained to plank beds. It was estimated that these voyages usually lost about 15% to 33% of the slaves onboard. Even then, those in Africa knew about their enslaved countrymen, but few protested against the act. They often were desperate for money to survive or are too weak or low on the social ladder to start a rebellion because it was just too risky. Over time, slaves were treated harsher and stricter during the duration that slavery existed. Slave codes were created due to slave masters fearing their slaves rebelling and fought to make sure they once again reign absolute control over the slaves. Compared to when slavery was first introduced in the New World and served under the Dutch, some had the rights to speak out and even sue for better wages. When slaves became the most common, such as in the 18th century, the treatment of slaves was at its worse, with atrocious but common abuse practices such as whipping, hanging, rape, imprisonment, branding, and mutilation. Regarding ethics, most slave traders only saw slaves as another type of goods to be traded like tobacco or sugar. Ship crews saw them as just another cargo treatment they needed to complete. Some didn’t even see the superiority of black or white races, but just as a business deal that generated good income. Slave traders held great influence and respect, where Isaac Franklin and John Armfield were at the top of the social standing with noble reputations. With Nwaubani Ogogo, many wanted to be in favor of him and they offered him their daughters. The slave trading business was so successful that it produced many millionaires and drove up the economy greatly. Not only that, but because of slave labor, plantations were able to produce so much more cash crops that was very much in demand. The cash crop trade rode on the blood, sweat and tears of the slaves. The practice of slavery in America was so detrimental, that its long-term effects is still present today. This tragedy had resulted in centuries of segregation, abuse, and racism.

Primary Sources

  1. “The Middle Passage.” The Life of Olaudah Equiano, by Olaudah Equiano, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969, pp. 46–49.
  2. “The Capture.” Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Humbly Submitted to the Inhabitants of Great-Britain, by Ottobah Cugoano, a Native of Africa, by Ottobah Cugoano, Printed on the Year M. DCC. LXXXVII., 1787.

Secondary Sources

  1. Lewis, Thomas. “Transatlantic Slave Trade.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 6 Apr. 2020, www.britannica.com/topic/transatlantic-slave-trade.
  2. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Slave Trade.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 14 May 2020, www.britannica.com/topic/slave-trade.
  3. History.com Editors. “Slavery in America.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 12 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/black-history/slavery.
  4. “Capture and Captives.” Slavery and Remembrance, slaveryandremembrance.org/articles/article/?id=A0003.
  5. Natanson, Hannah. “They Were Once America’s Cruelest, Richest Slave Traders. Why Does No One Know Their Names?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 14 Sept. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/09/14/they-were-once-americas-cruelest-richest-slave-traders-why-does-no-one-know-their-names/.
  6. Lynch, Hollis. “African Americans.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 17 Aug. 2020, www.britannica.com/topic/African-American/Slavery-in-the-United-States www.newscientist.com/article/2242363-transatlantic-slavery-introduced-infectious-diseases-to-the-americas/.
  7. Kanopiadmin. “The Brutality of Slavery: Murray N. Rothbard.” Mises Institute, 21 Jan. 2013, mises.org/library/brutality-slavery.
  8. “Life for Enslaved Men and Women (Article).” Khan Academy, Khan Academy, www.khanacademy.org/humanities/us-history/civil-war-era/sectional-tension-1850s/a/life-for-enslaved-men-and-women.

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