Citizens All: African Americans in Connecticut 1700-1850
Transatlantic Slave TradeConnecticut StoriesAbout The Project
Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and AbolitionYale University
Transatlantic Slave Trade

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In 1492, when Columbus set out on his voyage to the "Indies," the plantation system of enslaved African labor had already been established by the Portuguese in the Atlantic Islands off the west coast of Africa, where it achieved particular success on the lucrative sugar plantations of Madeira. African slaves arrived in the Caribbean as early as 1501, and by 1820 8.7 million African slaves had been transported to the Americas--77 percent of all immigrant arrivals to the new world. From 1820 to 1880 the African slave trade, now illegal, transported another 2.3 million more slaves, mainly to Brazil and Cuba. 

In addition to the millions of Africans swept up in the slave trade, untold numbers were killed and whole societies disrupted in wars of enslavement, encouraged by the European powers and carried out by predatory African states. 

Major European powers involved in the trade included the Portuguese, Dutch, English, French, Spanish, and Danes, who quickly learned to form alliances with African kingdoms along the continent's western coast. Commerce between the European nations and those kingdoms involved in the slave trade was carefully regulated by both parties. In exchange for slaves and, to a lesser extent, other commodities, Europeans traded textiles, liquor, iron, guns, and tools.

Conditions on slave ships were horrific. Approximately fifteen percent of those Africans who boarded the slave ships died during the Middle Passage between Africa and the New World. One out of every ten voyages was marked by some form of rebellion. Nearly nineteen out of every twenty Africans who survived the voyage ended their days on the plantations of Brazil and the Caribbean, where conditions were equally harsh; the life expectancy for a newly arrived slave on the sugar plantations of the Caribbean was approximately seven years. Except in a few instances, slave populations were unable to reproduce fast enough to compensate for their high mortality rates, which only stoked the demand for new slaves.

Over four centuries, writes historian David Brion Davis, the trade consumed Africans "so increasing numbers of Europeans (and later, white Americans) could consume sugar, coffee, rice, and tobacco." Connecticut Stories >>

Alternate Resources
A slave castle off the coast of Africa
Read William Snelgrave's 1734 account of slave revolts in the Middle Passage (PDF: 194 KB)