A Synoptic Exposition Of The Atlantic Slave Trade

This Article puts forward in a synoptic way a discuss of the Atlantic slave trade which took place in the 16th to 19th centuries when Africans were been exported as Slaves to the New World and other European countries.

 The Atlantic slave trade refers to the movement of millions of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic ocean to the Americas. This movement which stretched from the 16th century to the 19th century, brought about a whole lot of negative effects in Africa, such as the rapid decrease in economic and agricultural development in various parts of West Africa, the increase in social conflict, violence, and loss of lives, which led to the decrease of the Western coast of Africa. Before the emergence of the Atlantic slave trade, there had already been in existence several forms of slavery among the African people, and this formed a part of the economic structure of African societies for many centuries. In the ancient African communities, it was not uncommon for a large number of slaves to be bought and used for domestic works, prostitution, debt payments, and even as sacrificial offerings.  

The Rise Of The Atlantic Slave Trade      

With the practice of slavery already prevalent within most African societies during the ancient times, it was only common for certain groups to act as intermediaries for exporting African slaves from Central and West Africa to other African countries or European states. These slaves, who were usually kidnapped or stolen by fellow Africans, were regarded as cargo that needed to be sold and exported as quickly as possible. During this era, slaves were considered properties or items which were usually sold in the market together with other goods and services. It is asserted that these African slaves were kept in a factory while awaiting shipment. In the 16th century, the Portuguese became the first to buy slaves from African slave traders and transport them across the Atlantic. This was followed by the British, Spanish, French, and, subsequently, other countries.

After the establishment of the trade contract, the Atlantic slave trade developed, and it is recorded that the Atlantic slave trade is the largest in intensity in terms of the number of humans over a unit of time. It is also asserted that over 12 million slaves were exported within 400 years. This large number of slaves comprised mainly of women who were in their childbearing years, and young men, the elderly, and disabled ones were not captured as slaves due to their inability to increase the economic growth of the New World. These slaves were subject to all kinds of manual labor and were used to boost the economy of the Europeans.

The Europeans needed a large labor force for their farmlands, and due to them lacking this required workforce, slaves from Western Africa were seen and used as work tools for the production of prized tropical crops. The Italian scholar Elena Esposito had argued that the enslavement of Africans in colonial America was attributable to the fact that the American south was sufficiently warm and humid for malaria to thrive; the disease had debilitating effects on the European settlers. With this being the case, it was only normal for the American space traders to capture African slaves who were allergic to malaria to work in their plantations. 

In the 18th century, there was an agreement between Spain and Britain in which Britain was obliged to supply to the Spanish colonies a number of 4,800 African slaves every year for a space of thirty years. This century also recorded the largest number of slaves taken to the Americas, and according to estimates, nearly three–fifths of the total volume of the Atlantic slave trade took place in this century.  

As the demand for slaves increased in the European countries, Africans were forcefully captured and taken as slaves to the European countries. These slaves were marched in twos and were chained together at their ankles, and were all tied together by ropes around their necks. The Atlantic slave trade marked a significant phase in the history of the African people; it influenced many sectors of the African economy and was a major cause of the increased presence of the Europeans in Africa. 

The Triangular Trade

The Atlantic Slave trade, which existed from the 16th to the 19th century, followed a triangular route and was the largest forced exportation of people in human history. This trade is usually divided into three stages. 

The First stage 

This stage has to do with the exportation of manufactured goods such as beads, metal goods, clothes, guns, Indian textiles, and ammunition from Europe to Africa in exchange for African slaves. During the 15th and 19th centuries, Slaves were exchanged for a variety of goods from Europe.

The Second Stage

The second stage, which is also known as the middle passage, saw the exportation of African slaves across the Atlantic ocean to the New World and the Caribbean islands. This period of exportation usually took about two months, and those slaves who survived were forced into hard labor as slaves.  

The Third Stage

This last stage has to do with the return of goods such as sugar, tobacco, cotton, coffee, rice, molasses, and rum from Europe to America. These goods were the products of the exported African slaves. The triangular trade usually took a total period of three months to be complete.  

 Effects Of The Atlantic slave Trade

(1) Increase in Death Rate

The transportation of slaves from Africa to the New World caused a rapid increase in the mortality rate of Africans. It is recorded that over a million people died during and after the exportation. Patrick Manning had estimated that out of the 12 million slaves who were exported during the Atlantic slave trade, 1.5 million died on board ships. It is a matter of debate whether the slave owners intentionally killed the slaves or if they died due to other external causes.  

(2)Economic Growth

African rulers who took active participation in the exportation of slaves had a large economic gain from the sales of slaves to the European slave buyers. John Thornton argued that African leaders who allowed the continuation of the slave trade likely derived an economic benefit from selling their subjects to Europeans. Some of these economic benefits include technologies such as guns, gold, and money, or the African rulers, through the sales of African slaves, were able to maintain a good relationship with the European slave buyers. The shipping of crops to Africa by the Europeans also added to the benefit enjoyed by the African leaders. 

(3) Decrease In The African Population

Due to the large movement of slaves out of Africa, there existed a large decrease in the population rate in Africa. In the 19th century, over 3.5 million African slaves were exported to the Americas, and as already stated, a total number of over 12 million Africans were exported over a span of four hundred years. Those who were not captured lived in constant fear for their lives. 

(4)Increase In Racism

The exportation of African slaves to the New World created a sense of superiority and lordship of the Americans over Africans. It was Walter Rodney who posited that no people could enslave another for four centuries without coming out with a notion of superiority; this is especially so when the physical traits and color significantly differ. It is therefore argued that racism was born of slavery. 


The Atlantic slave trade was a trying time for Africans, especially those in the central and west regions. It was a time when Africans were reduced to tools for work and were not seen as human persons who had their own free will. For over four centuries, the maltreatment of Africans by the Europeans and other African slave buyers continued until the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was abolished by Denmark and the British parliament and subsequently was also abolished in other countries. Although some other nations still persisted in the practice of the slave trade, a penalty of death was imposed on those who would still engage in the exportation of human beings as slaves.

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