The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: …
The trade became a very lucrative business. Bristol grew rich on it, then Liverpool. London also dealt in slaves as did some of the smaller British ports. () The specialised vessels were built in many British shipyards, but most were constructed in Liverpool. Laden with trade goods (guns and ammunition, rum, metal goods and cloth) they sailed to the 'Slave Coast', exchanged the goods for human beings, packed them into the vessels like sardines and sailed them across the Atlantic. On arrival, those left alive were oiled to make them look healthy and put on the auction block. Again, death rates (during the voyage) are unknown: one estimate, for the 1840s, is 25 per cent.
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Britain, partly due to its new-found wealth, also needed some African products: this 'legitimate' trade, producing coffee, cocoa, gold, some minerals and palm oil (for greasing new machines and washing dirty people – think of 'Palmolive' soap), was usually supported by various forms of domestic slavery or serfdom. Naturally the European export firms wanted the cheapest possible product! Once colonial administrations were established, labour was needed to construct roads to improve the transport of these products – this was almost invariably what was euphemistically called 'contract' or 'forced' labour, i.e., temporary enslavement. Britain was among those who signed the League of Nations' Forced Labour Convention, but, as one author noted, 'most of the colonising Powers have been more or less guided [by the Convention]... and have at least taken note of that body's resolution that natives must not be driven to work fo the private profit of others' (my emphasis). ()
Britons were also enslaved by the Barbary pirates. The cross-Mediterranean trade was subject to piracy and privateering (piracy licensed by ruling monarchs) by many of the coastal seafarers. Some of the British enslaved by the north Africans (the 'Barbary' coast) were used as galley slaves; others fulfilled the usual tasks allotted to slaves; those who converted to Islam had an easier time. The men seized by the British from Barbary vessels were either sold as slaves or executed as pirates. ()
How did the African Slave Trade Begin? (with pictures)
The enslaving of Africans was of long standing. Arab and then Muslim slave traders had been marching Africans, or sailing them across the Red Sea and then the Indian Ocean, from about the sixth century AD. It is probable that at least as many women as men were taken: the women were used as domestic labour and as concubines in the harems of the rich; men were also domestics, but most were destined for the military. When some were used – and abused – as plantation labour in the area we now call Iraq, they eventually revolted and were not again used for such labour. The Africans were not seen as non-human objects, had rights and could rise in the ranks of the army and the society. In most Arab societies they could also intermarry and the resulting children were not slaves. () Slavery in Muslim societies was not racial – the Turks enslaved my Hungarian ancestors while they ruled Hungary from the sixteenth century. () There was also an export of east Africans to India and the intermediate islands. () The conditions of slavery in India were similar to those in the Muslim world, more akin to serfdom in medieval Europe than to the conditions imposed upon enslaved Africans in the Americas.
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Europeans could not send armies to conquer Africans or to kidnap them. They had to make their purchases from the local kings and chiefs. () The traders found all conceivable means to foster warfare, as Africans were usually only willing to sell prisoners-of-war. The enticement of European goods – especially guns and ammunition – also eventually resulted in kidnapping gangs raiding neighbouring peoples. () Those caught or taken prisoner had to be marched to the coast to await purchase. How many were killed during the raids, wars and marches is unknown. Could it be as many as were eventually transported? The number transported is estimated to be between 12 and 20 million. () (It must be noted here that the African sellers had no notion of the monstrous forms of slavery that were practised by Europeans in their colonies.)
Slavery Timeline: History of Slavery in America Timeline
The 'Slave Coast' came to be dotted with European forts, their massive guns facing out to sea to warn off rival European slave traders. Each 'castle' incorporated prisons or 'barracoons' in which the enslaved women, children and men were kept, awaiting purchase by the traders, who could initially only reach the coast at those times of the year when the winds blew in the right direction. The prisons – without sanitation, with little air – must have been hell-holes in the humid coastal climates. The death rates are not known.