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Transatlantic Slave Trade

Transatlantic Slave Trade
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Beginning in the 15th century, the Transatlantic Slave Trade brought approximately 12.5 million Africans to the Americas against their will. Of these 12.5 million Africans, approximately 10-20% died on the voyage across the Atlantic alone. And those that survived, were subject to a life of slavery, as were their descendants. Keep reading to learn about the atrocities of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and its lasting impacts.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade Definition

The Transatlantic Slave Trade was the leg of the Triangular Trade that went across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to the Americas. In the Triangular Trade, Europeans traded manufactured goods (e.g. guns, cotton textiles, and rum) for enslaved persons in Africa. Then, Europeans brought these enslaved Africans across the Middle Passage to sell in the Americas. African slave labor provided the Americas with raw materials (e.g. sugar, tobacco and cotton) that they could sell to the Europeans. Europeans used these raw materials to process manufactured goods. And, so, the cycle begins again.

Middle Passage

the term for the voyage between Africa and the Americas

Transatlantic Slave Trade Triangular Trade Map StudySmarterFig. 1 - map of the Triangular Trade

The Transatlantic Slave Trade Timeline

The Transatlantic Slave trade began with the Portuguese as early as the 15th century. Spain and Portugal had already been enslaving indigenous peoples in the Americas for labor, but they came to realize that they needed a new source of labor. This is for several reasons, but disease played the largest role, as it could wipe out entire populations of indigenous peoples susceptible to foreign-brought disease. Europeans believed that African labor would be better because Africans were less susceptible to disease, accustomed to the tropics, experienced with agriculture, and less likely to escape because of their unfamiliarity with the land. And, so, Portugal and Spain turned to Africa, where the slave trade had existed for centuries.

The African Slave Trade

In African society, slavery was not uncommon, and there were multiples reasons why and individual might become enslaved. For example, criminal offenses or debts could land one in slavery. In debt bondage, an individual paid off their debt through unpaid labor. Additionally, powerful kingdoms and tribes were able to conquer neighboring societies and enslave portions of their populations.

However, slavery in Africa was very different than the chattel slavery practiced in the Americas. The most important difference is that in the Americas, slaveholders considered enslaved persons property. Additionally, slavery in the Americas was almost always permanent and heritable, whereas slavery in Africa was rarely permanent or heritable.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade Timeline: The Expansion of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

The Transatlantic Slave Trade proved extremely profitable to Europeans, as they were able to control the entire trade network. After Portugal and Spain established the Transatlantic Slave Trade, other European powers such as the British, French and Dutch quickly became involved. Proponents of mercantilism, European powers worked to ensure their exports exceeded their imports, so that they maximized their profit. They often got into conflict with other countries over who controlled certain trade routes. It was in the 17th and 18th centuries that the slave trade really peaked.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade Timeline: The End of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

In the early 19th century, the Transatlantic Slave Trade began to fall apart. The British had abolished the slave trade in 1807 and America quickly followed suit just one year later in 1808. However, the trade continued in other parts of the Americas, such as the Caribbean and Brazil, and its continued existence contributed to the formation of a thriving black market. By the late 19th century, however, slavery had become illegal across the Americas and the black market fell apart.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade Route

The first route in the Transatlantic Slave Trade went from the interior of Africa to West African port cities. In order to keep up with the increased demand for slaves, African traders went deep into Africa, where they conquered tribes in order to enslave them. The overland journey back was treacherous and often hundreds of miles long. Chained together, the enslaved Africans faced death before they even reached the coast. Once there, traders held them in castle-like prisons, awaiting dehumanizing auctions.

European powers worked to pit African societies against each other, knowing that the winning society would enslave members of the conquered society–which could then be sold to European traders. European guns certainly helped in this process.

Transatlantic Slave Trade West African Port Castles StudySmarterFig. 2 - depiction of castles on the West Coast of Africa where European held enslaved Africans

The Transatlantic Slave Trade Route: The Middle Passage

The Middle Passage is infamous for the horrific conditions Africans faced on their journey. They spent their days and nights chained below the deck in extremely cramped conditions. Without ventilation, the heat was unbearable, and disease spread rapidly. Many died of starvation and disease. Others took their own lives or died in failed revolts. Physical and sexual abuse were both common. Any care they received was due to the crew’s desires to make them presentable for auction. Olaudah Equiano described the experience in his autobiography:

I was soon put down under the decks, and here I received such a salutation in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life: so that, with the loathsomeness of the stench, and crying together, I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat, nor had I the least desire to taste anything.” - Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, 17891

Transatlantic Slave Trade Slave Ship StudySmarterFig. 3 - diagram of a typical slave ship

The Transatlantic Slave Trade Route: Arrival in the Americas

After several months at sea, European ships carrying enslaved Africans arrived at port cities in the Americas. Once again, they had to endure slave auctions that involved dehumanizing inspections before slaveholders bought them as if they were property.

The majority of enslaved Africans went to Brazil and the Caribbean.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade: Facts and Impact

Millions of Africans lost their lives while traveling along the Transatlantic Slave Trade routes. And those that survived were subject to a life of slavery in the Americas, as were generations of their descendants. It was the largest forced migration to have occurred in history and the most significant cause of the African diaspora, as millions of Africans ended up across the Atlantic in the Americas. It is important to understand that the Africans brought to the Americas did not share a unified culture–they were from a variety of societies with their own languages and cultures. This diversity contributed to the rich culture of African Americans.

Transatlantic Slave Trade Destinations Map StudySmarterFig. 4 - map depicting destinations of enslaved Africans

Transatlantic Slave Trade - Key takeaways

  • The Transatlantic Slave Trade was the portion of the Triangular Trade that brought enslaved Africans from Africa to the Americas.
  • The Transatlantic Slave Trade began with the Portuguese as early as the 15th century. Portugal and Spain wanted African slave labor to replace the less reliable indigenous slave labor.
  • Other Europeans saw the profit in controlling routes of the slave trade and followed suit. They made trade relationships with African kingdoms who controlled the pre-existing African slave trade.
  • The voyage from Africa to the Americas was known as the Middle Passage. Many Africans died due to horrific conditions on the month-long journey.
  • The Transatlantic Slave Trade peaked in the 17th and 18th centuries before the abolition of slavery across the Americas brought an end to the slave trade in the late 19th century.
  • The Transatlantic Slave Trade was the most significant cause of the African diaspora. Enslaved Africans were from a variety of societies with different languages and cultures. This diversity contributed to the rich culture of African Americans.

References

  1. Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789)
  2. Fig. 1 - Triangular Trade Map (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Triangle_trade2.png) by SimonP (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:SimonP) licensed by CC BY SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)
  3. Fig. 4 - Transatlantic Slave Trade Destinations Map (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:African_Slave_Trade.png) by KuroNekoNiyah (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:KuroNekoNiyah&action=edit&redlink=1) licensed by CC BY SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Transatlantic Slave Trade

The Transatlantic Slave Trade started in the 15th century. 

The Transatlantic Slave Trade was the portion of the Triangular Trade, controlled by Europeans, that brought enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas.

European powers, including Portugal, Spain, and England, participated in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. 

The main effect of the Transatlantic Slave Trade was the oppression of generations of African-Americans.

Three causes of the Transatlantic Slave Trade were the desire for unpaid labor, the failure of indigenous slave labor, and the attractiveness of African slave labor. 

Final Transatlantic Slave Trade Quiz

Transatlantic Slave Trade Quiz - Teste dein Wissen

Question

What trade system was the Middle Passage a part of?

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Answer

The Triangular Trade

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Question

Where were the great majority of slaves taken in the Americas?

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Answer

Brazil

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When did the Middle Passage come into use?

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Answer

14th century

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What did Africans receive in exchange for bringing slaves to the coast?

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Answer

finished goods

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Question

What is not true of conditions on slave ships?

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Answer

poor ventilation

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Most revolts were successful because slaves outnumbered the crew.

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Answer

False

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Question

What is the Second Middle Passage?

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Answer

the domestic slave trade in America

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What percentage of Africans died as a result of conditions while traveling the Middle Passage?

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Answer

5%-15%

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How many Africans traveled the Middle Passage?

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Answer

12.5 million

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How were slaves sold upon their arrival in the Americas?

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Answer

slave auctions

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Question

How did Bartolomé de las Casas make money when he first went to Hispaniola?

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Answer

He had an encomienda 

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What was a grant from the Spanish government that allowed someone in America to claim a group of Native Americans as their own and force that group to pay them?

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Answer

Encomienda 

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Question

In Memorial Remedies for the Indies, Bartolomé de las Casas proposes to replace indigenous slave labor with _________.

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Answer

Enslaved Africans

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True/False

The colony that Bartolomé de las Casas started in 1520 was a failure.

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Answer

True

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Which two books written by Bartolomé de las Casas would not be released until his death?

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Answer

Apologetic History and History of the Indies 

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What role was created for Spaniards to represent indigenous people in court?

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Answer

protector 

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Who did Bartolomé de las Casas debate at Vallodid?

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Answer

Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda 

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Which of these was not one of Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda's Vallodid arguments? 

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Answer

Indigenous people were inferior

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What was the concept that the Spaniards were bad for the Americas and only wanted gold and fame?

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Answer

Black Legend

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Which emperor did Bartolomé de las Casas advice on the Indies?

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Answer

Holy Roman Emperor Charles V

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What were the 3 main sources of labor used by colonialists? 

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Answer

Free labor, slavery, and indentured servitude. 

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Question

Between 1492 and 1880, 2 - 2.5 million Native people were enslaved. 

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Answer

True. 

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African slavery grew in the New World due to the fact that many Native Americans were dying from European disease.

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Answer

True. 

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Native American economies were all the same. 

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Answer

False. 

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Native American tribes highly valued their women.

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True. 

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Children were seen as least important to the colonialists due to their young age. 

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Answer

False.

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Native Americans were forced to work in mines, colonialist households, and on plantations.

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Answer

True. 

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When Native enslavement became illegal, settlers had to claim debt in order to keep them from walking free. 

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True. 

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Native American labor can be credited to the success of European colonies. 

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Answer

True. 

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Why did Columbus sell Natives back to the Old World?

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Answer

He needed to pay Spain for the oncoming fleets of settlers.

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Native American labor can not be credited to the success of the California Gold Rush.

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Answer

False. 

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Europeans brought with them an idea of racial superiority over the Natives. 

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Answer

True. 

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Why did slaveholders prefer young adults?

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Answer

They were able to begin working immediately. 

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Why did the gender ratio of enslaved Africans in the Americas begin to even out?

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Answer

Slaveholders realized women were just as capable of field labor.

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Which was not a domestic duty of enslaved women?

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Answer

Serving as overseers. 

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Gender roles of enslaved persons often mirrored those of the Europeans. 

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Answer

True.

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What is the term for the type of slavery practiced in the Americas?

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Answer

Chattel slavery

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Men were more likely to perform _______ labor.

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Answer

field.

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Why did slave traders initially prefer men?

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They believed that men were more capable of hard agricultural labor. 

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Enslaved women eventually came to outnumber men in the fields. 

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True. 

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Gendered division of labor was more prevalent on ________ plantations. 

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Answer

larger.

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When did the Transatlantic Slave Trade begin?

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Answer

the 15th century

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Which two countries participated in the Transatlantic Slave Trade first?

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Answer

Spain

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When did the Transatlantic Slave Trade come to an end?

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Answer

the 19th century

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Question

What goods did African traders receive from European traders in exchange for enslaved Africans?

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Answer

manufactured goods

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Question

There was no slave trade in Africa before the Transatlantic Slave Trade. 

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Answer

False

Show question

Question

Which is not a reason for Spain and Portugal's belief that forced African labor would be a good replacement for forced indigenous labor?

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Answer

Africans were less susceptible to disease. 

Show question

Question

What was the term for the voyage across the Atlantic?

Show answer

Answer

The Middle Passage

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Question

Where in the Americas did the majority of enslaved Africans end up?

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Answer

South America

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Question

What is the term for the European economic policy that placed importance on having more exports than imports?

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Answer

mercantilism 

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