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The African slave trade has been around for centuries. While most of us associate slavery with 18th and 19th century America, the truth is that the African slave trade started long before America became involved. It is still around today in certain parts of the African continent.
The slave trade inside Africa itself was common in Ghana and Nigeria in the 18th century, where the countries' economies depended largely on the selling of hand labor to neighboring estates. Slavery inside Africa was often not for life. Slaves had the option of buying their liberty, and were normally paid enough that they could do it after a certain number of years.
In the rest of the world, the African slave trade became common in Europe first, starting with Portugal, who took slaves to Brazil to mine the mountains. The Caribbean soon followed, and then other countries of South and Central America. The US-African slave trade was far smaller than that managed by other countries. Of all slaves to reach America, only 4.4 percent ended up in North American territory.
The earliest records of the slave trade in America date back to the beginning of the 17th century, when racial slavery was a punishment for servants who broke the law. In the 18th and 18th century, slaves were mostly used in the South to work on plantations and farms, especially by rich landowners who could afford the extra expense in order to maximize their profits. By the start of the Civil War in 1860, there were approximately 4 million slaves of African origin in the US.
The African slave trade was abolished around the world at different times. Britain stopped slavery in 1807, although slaves were not officially declared free until 1833, when the Slavery Abolition Act was passed. The rest of Europe followed close behind, with certain African countries forbidding slavery early in the 20th century. The African slave trade remains alive in certain parts of Africa, however. Nigeria, especially, is notable for selling sex slaves to certain European countries, and for trafficking children inside African boundaries.
Frequently Asked Questions
What were the origins of the African slave trade?
The African slave trade began in the 15th century when Portuguese traders, led by Prince Henry the Navigator, started to establish trading posts along the West African coast. They initially traded gold, spices, and other goods, but soon began to exchange these for slaves. The demand for labor in the New World plantations fueled the expansion of the transatlantic slave trade, which became a massive and tragic part of global commerce.
How did European involvement escalate the African slave trade?
European involvement escalated the African slave trade significantly. After the Portuguese, other European powers like Spain, Britain, France, and the Netherlands joined the trade in search of labor for their colonies in the Americas. The development of the 'triangular trade' system, where European goods were traded for African slaves, who were then sold in the Americas with the proceeds used to purchase colonial goods for Europe, created a profitable cycle that increased the demand for African slaves.
What role did African rulers and merchants play in the slave trade?
African rulers and merchants played a crucial role in the slave trade by capturing or waging wars to obtain prisoners who could be sold as slaves. They established trade relationships with Europeans, exchanging slaves for goods such as guns, alcohol, and other luxury items. This collaboration was a key factor in the perpetuation of the slave trade, as it provided a steady supply of captives who could be sold into slavery.
How did the demand for labor in the New World contribute to the slave trade?
The discovery of the New World and the establishment of European colonies created an immense demand for labor, particularly for the cultivation of cash crops like sugar, tobacco, and cotton. Indigenous populations were decimated by disease and warfare, leading colonists to turn to Africa for a workforce. The transatlantic slave trade grew as a result, with millions of Africans forcibly transported to the Americas to work on plantations under brutal conditions.
What was the impact of the slave trade on Africa?
The impact of the slave trade on Africa was devastating. It led to the loss of millions of its young and able-bodied population, which had profound social, economic, and demographic consequences. The trade fostered violence and instability as groups raided neighboring communities for captives. It also disrupted traditional societies and economies, with some regions becoming dependent on the trade. The long-term effects of this human tragedy are still felt in Africa today.