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The Transatlantic Slave Trade and Its Effects

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The trans-Atlantic slave trade, which was also known as the Triangular Trade, formed one of the most significant historical events. Once the slave trade started from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, the trade route through the Middle Passage were used by Europeans to transport African slaves. Not only did the trans-Atlantic slave trade consist of a large migration of enslaved people from Africa to America, but it also resulted in the breakdown of the Indigenous American population. The Portuguese and Spanish were the first people to export slaves to America. As the slave trade progressed, the Arabic, Dutch, and French became dominantly influenced by the process of slavery. In 1820, for every European, there were four African captives who travelled across the Atlantic Ocean. However, distinctions between sex ratios differed among European and Africa migration rivers and four out of a total of five females who migrated across the Atlantic originated from Africa. This implies that a huge number of enslaved people derived from various parts of Africa such as Central and West Africa. During the fifteenth century, the Atlantic Ocean transformed into a profit-oriented business that intertwined the history of Africa, Europe, and America. This essay will examine the background of slavery, the influence of forced migration, migration patterns and the effects of migration, the treatment of slaves and the impact of slavery on African lives.

Background of Slavery

According to Orlando Patterson’s definition, slavery is “the permanent, violent, and personal domination of naturally alienated and generally dishonored persons”. This means that slaves were ultimately excluded from the traditional customs, land, and society of their birthplace as they endured the negative effect of ‘social death’. The European trade initially started with Portugal’s inspection on West Africa in terms of finding a suitable oceanic pathway toward the East. The Portuguese wanted resources in the East, such as silk, spices, tobacco, coffee, and cotton. African slaves were used to cultivate the land, in which slave owners would benefit from. This meant that the Portuguese were eager to use this merchandise without the relentless excursion via land from Europe to Asia. Slavery was an old process, and even before the development of the slave trade, slavery existed and still exists today in certain societies. Both Europe and the Roman Empire underwent acts of slavery. By 1400, slavery in Europe gradually diminished, which inspired the European quest for an inventory of constrained work in the African mainland. As a result, African slaves were captured through abduction by other Africans. This caused social issues such as battles, which were fought among Africans. These slaves were sold to foreigners with commodities such as gold and ivory in return for imported products such as firearms. The ‘gun slave trade’ cycle energized the propagation of the slave exchange for many years. Thus, the motivation to buy slaves regarding Europeans rested in the need to gather labor supply for the extensions of the plantation economies created in South and Central America after Columbus, to fulfil the rapidly expanding challenge in Europe for provincial products like tobacco and sugar.

Forced Migration

From the perspective of the contemporary immigration law, it is important to note that African slaves who were shipped to North America under the arrangement of the trans-Atlantic slave trade are currently referred to as ‘forced migration immigrants’. Historians have estimated ten million Africans who were forcefully moved from West and Central Africa to settlements in America. Between 400 000 and 500 000 African slaves were transported towards North America. Africans were purchased by slave owners who forcefully relocated them to various continents in America. Today, this transplantation is called ‘chattel slavery’. Forced migration mainly emphasizes the fact that slaves were unwillingly transported without consent. The trans-Atlantic slave trade ultimately empowered the automatically, coercive transportation of individuals from one place on the globe to another. The Middle Passage is not simply viewed as a journey travelled across the ocean, but rather as an organization between dispossession in one topographic area and treachery in another. Not only does forced migration highlight the horrible outcome of the Middle Passage, but it also associates freed African shipmates to a more extensive history of a forced worldwide development.

Both the unlawful slave trade and concealment endeavors by the US Navy increased during the 1850s. Officials of an improved African unit then captured many slaves near the bank of Africa, while the remaining survivors were exported to Liberia. Between 1858 and 1860, approximately during four circumstances, the Navy granted freedom to oppressed prisoners who were brought back to the United States for a limited period. In 1858, three hundred Africans boarded the Echo in Charleston Harbor and were confined at Fort Sumter. After a period of two years, Navy abolitionist cruisers accompanied a large gathering of 1400 from the Wildfire, William, and Bogota to the ‘African Depot’ in Key West (situated on the grounds of Fort Taylor). However, majority of freed Africans travelled from West central Africa all the way to the mouth of the Congo stream, while other enslaved Africans from Bogota originally came from Benin. Among these ships, enslaved people included men, woman, and children, who forcibly packed like sardines in a small amount of space. Although many tried to stand up for the rights of the enslaved, it was clear that the opinion of the African slave was not considered. Enslaved Africans thus had no rights as they could not decide on a destination of their preference and were forced to co-operate with their European masters.

Migration Movements Along Trade Routes

The forced migration movement into the trans-Atlantic slave trade was initially the start of an extreme lengthy procedure. Berlin has compellingly depicted the historical backdrop of African people in the USA to the outline of being relocated four times. The first migration occurred during the sixteenth and seventeenth century, once the Middle Passage transported African citizens from Africa all the way to North America. During the early parts of the nineteenth century, the second Middle Passage included the movement of one million African American slaves from coastal areas of Atlanta to orchards near the inland. The third movement was not generally constrained, as it observed the liberation of six million individuals from the southern country toward the northern urban areas, beginning with the Great Migration in 1915 up until the 1970s. Finally, between the twentieth and start of the twenty first century, new global entries of transients from Africa showed up in the USA from the districts that facilitated the past out of Africa’s forced diaspora. These global entries included places such as the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, and Europe.

Effects of Migration

The trans-Atlantic slave trade affected African slaves in various ways. Firstly, the issue of mortality became a concerning issues among the slave population, especially during the transatlantic crossing. For each voyage, approximately fifteen percent of slaves died. Their deaths were usually caused by diseases such as smallpox and scurvy. Other factors included suicide, physical abuse, and starvation. However, surviving slaves who successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean were still in danger of enduring raised levels of mortality. Mortality was higher for slaves who voyaged further in America, as well as those who settled to work in certain regions. A huge number of slaves lived in low lying tropical areas where they experienced a greater risk of mortality compared to higher, mild areas.

Secondly, the birth rate drastically affected the population of African slaves. The birth rate was increasingly lower for slaves than that of freed Africans. Although fertility rates were not recorded, the number of slaves evidently decreased, especially due to unhygienic, crowded spaces on ships. Most investigations on fertility have been centered around the fertility of females. Contradicting to this, there were also an overabundance of men who had kids not only with African women, but also with Native American and European women. Regarding the fertility of men, an argument has thus been made to include an investigation of men along with female fertility.

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Lastly, the importance of African labor was costly to slaves as well as their social orders of origin. Populations of Europe, America and Asia increased in the eighteenth and nineteenth century due to improved immunities, social changes, and health conditions. In the nineteenth century, these increasing populations veered off migrants who searched for the necessary resources to get by. Contradicting to these developed countries, Africa remained immobile or in decline, while slave labor drastically continued, even in Africa, which affected the growth of the African population.

Treatment of Slaves

Once the ships boarded and reached West Indies, North America and South America, the ill treatment of slaves continued. Not only were slaves captured from Africa, but they were also sold as mere objects to other members of the slave trade. Slaves encountered a violent system in which their masters deliberately harmed, tormented, and murdered innocent African captives to force them into submission. If a slave who attempted to escape to freedom was captured, the limbs of that slave would be amputated. This brutal act of amputation was performed in front of other slaves to illustrate what would be done to slaves who failed to obey orders. The amputation of limbs was performed on slaves who were situated in both America, as well as the Middle Passage.

Pregnant slaves aboard ships also received wounds due to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. These women were stripped away from their motherly role as Europeans deemed unborn children as favorable property to sell. Consequently, pregnant slaves were used to increase the prosperity of slave traders, thus signifying how slaves were treated as property and not individuals. Slaves, especially woman, were victims of rape and sexual violence. Slave masters raped slaves during the sojourn West and after they were purchased. Most of the time, when slaves were killed, their bodies were tossed into the sea to create fear amongst the remaining slaves on the ship. Sometimes, Europeans would encourage slaves to eat the insides of disobedient slaves. Such a demonstration caused mental and physical torment for those compelled to observe the brutal treatment.

Due to the traumatizing experience of slaves aboard ships, depression became a common issue. While African slaves experienced a great deal of psychological influence, a huge number of slaves died from depression. In 1790, an English specialist estimated that 66% of deaths were due to the ‘mortal melancholy’ of automatic suicide. While many scholars view extreme abuse and unhygienic circumstances as the cause of death amongst slaves, depression during the trans-Atlantic slave trade was a leading factor of this outcome. Therefore, the numerous attempts of suicide prove the extent to which the atrocities experienced by African slaves among ships were so severe that it affected their insight on death.

Impact of Slavery on African Lives

During the mid-seventeenth century, enslaved captives who travelled to Europe and the Atlantic islands drastically decreased, while the trans-Atlantic slave trade ultimately increased. The extension of the Western slave trade resulted in the advancement of an African exchange. This meant that the development of slave exports led to the formation of extended organizations of slave supply, and these allowed affluent Africans to purchase slaves in large numbers. In the eighteenth century, the development of the Western trade became successful through African trade, although female slaves were imprisoned within the African community. Therefore, this slave trade had a detrimental impact on Africans. However, in the late eighteenth century, the slave trade started to extend to various parts of East Africa, and tradesmen bought slaves from Mozambique. A huge number of Middle Eastern requests for slaves, thus prompted the extension of slave exchange in Sudan, the Horn, and the Indian Ocean coast of Africa. The slave trade also invigorated the advancement of subjugation in Eastern Africa, which dramatically increased during the nineteenth century. The transportation of slaves to the African coast for trade involved increasing numbers of captives and movements of relocation. The distance for slaves to the coast would either be minimum, which was normally a hundred kilometers from the Bight of Benin in the eighteenth century, or it would be maximum of somewhere between six hundred kilometers for the Bambara slaves of West Africa who shaped the core of the Louisiana slave numbers. This illustrates how slaves were always on the move and emphasizes the long distances slaves travelled.

Slaves who originated from Africa were not visible to outside spectators until the nineteenth century. Along the Western shore of Africa, most slaves were woman in the eighteenth century. The ladies were held inside families, and their efficiency was primarily directed toward growing the family economy. Mungo Park, a Scottish explorer, visited Senegal and the Niger valleys in the eighteenth century, where he discovered the huge population of slaves held in bondage. He also came across a monetary framework which spread broadly through the mainland in the nineteenth century. Both male and female slaves were captured in large numbers and were separated into a slave class, where they were situated apart from their slave masters. Their efficiency was centered around exported items from Africa. Commodities such as palm oil, peanuts and expresso were sold. However, more attention was situated around yams, grains, and cotton for the market. Therefore, slaves were held against their will and were not treated the same as slave owners.


In conclusion, the trans-Atlantic slave trade consisted of the migration of African slaves across the Atlantic Ocean and all the way to America. Although European ships were used to transport Africans, slavery was first introduced by the Portuguese and Spanish. Slavery existed before the slave trade was introduced and African slaves were forced to migrate, even if it meant that they had to be separated from their families. Slaves were traded to slave owners in America, where they were forced to work on sugar, tobacco, coffee, and cotton plantations. During the slave trade, the Middle Passage included four different trade routes which emphasizes the ‘forced’ migration of African slaves and how they were moved against their will to different continents across the world. Due to movements of migration, social problems such as mortality, fertility and forced labor arose. While the brutal treatment of African slaves was extremely inhumane and grotesque, it ultimately resulted in many cases of depression and suicide amongst African slaves. During the crossing, slaves were forcefully removed from their home to travel long distances across the Atlantic Ocean, where they were classified according to their racial status. Therefore, the trans-Atlantic slave trade had a negative impact on the lives of Africans as their land, dignity and cultural heritage was forcefully removed from them, whilst they were required to work in the plantation industry under strict and severe conditions.


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