Transatlantic Slave Trade


The transatlantic slave trade is unique within the universal history of slavery for three main reasons:

  • its duration – approximately four centuries
  • those vicitimized: black African men, women and children
  • the  intellectual legitimization attempted on its behalf – the development  of an anti-black ideology and its legal organization, the notorious Code noir.

As  a commercial and economic enterprise, the slave trade provides a  dramatic example of the consequences resulting from particular  intersections of history and geography. It involved several regions and  continents: Africa, America, the Caribbean, Europe and the Indian Ocean.

The transatlantic slave trade is often regarded as the first  system of globalization. According to French historian Jean-Michel  Deveau the slave trade and consequently slavery, which lasted from the  16th to the 19th century, constitute one of “the greatest tragedies in  the history of humanity in terms of scale and duration”.
The  transatlantic slave trade was the biggest deportation in history and a  determining factor in the world economy of the 18th century. Millions of  Africans were torn from their homes, deported to the American continent  and sold as slaves.

Triangular Trade The  transatlantic slave trade, often known as the triangular trade,  connected the economies of three continents. It is estimated that  between 25 to 30 million people, men, women and children, were deported  from their homes and sold as slaves in the different slave trading  systems. In the transatlantic slave trade alone the estimate of those  deported is believed to be approximately 17 million. These figures  exclude those who died aboard the ships and in the course of wars and  raids connected to the trade.
The trade proceeded in three steps.  The ships left Western Europe for Africa loaded with goods which were  to be exchanged for slaves. Upon their arrival in Africa the captains  traded their merchandise for captive slaves. Weapons and gun powder were  the most important commodities but textiles, pearls and other  manufactured goods, as well as rum, were also in high demand. The  exchange could last from one week to several months. The second step was  the crossing of the Atlantic. Africans were transported to America to  be sold throughout the continent. The third step connected America to  Europe. The slave traders brought back mostly agricultural products,  produced by the slaves. The main product was sugar, followed by cotton,  coffee, tobacco and rice.
The circuit lasted approximately  eighteen months. In order to be able to transport the maximum number of  slaves, the ship’s steerage was frequently removed. Spain, Portugal, the  Netherlands, England and France, were the main triangular trading  countries.

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