At the end of the 14th century Europeans started to take people from Africa against their will. Initially they were mainly used as servants for the rich. The Europeans justified the taking of slaves by arguing that they were providing an opportunity for Africans to become Christians. By the 17th century the removal of slaves from Africa became a holy cause that had the full support of the Christian Church.
When Spanish and Portuguese sea-captains began to explore the Americas they took their African servants with them. Some of these Africans proved to be excellent explorers. The most important of these was Estevanico, who led the first European expedition to New Mexico and Arizona.
The people living in the Americas resisted the attempt by the Europeans to take over their land. One of he most important struggles took place in Cuba in 1512. Resistance was led by Hatuey. According to Bartolomé de Las Casas Hatuey claimed: "They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters. Incapable of matching us in valor, these cowards cover themselves with iron that our weapons cannot break"
Diego Velázquez eventually suppressed the rebellion. He captured Hatuey and he was executed on 2nd February, 1512. It is estimated that over a million people lived in Cuba before the arrival of the Europeans. Twenty-five years later there were only 2,000 left. Large numbers had been killed, while others died of starvation, disease, committed suicide or had died from the consequences of being forced to work long hours in the gold mines.
After the arrival of the Europeans there was a sharp decline in the local population of most of the islands in the Caribbean Sea. This created a problem for the Europeans as they needed labour to exploit the natural resources of these islands. Eventually the Europeans came up with a solution: the importation of slaves from Africa. By 1540, an estimated 10,000 slaves a year were being brought from Africa to replace the diminishing local populations.
According to Suzanne Schwarz, the author of Slave Captain: The Career of James Irving in the Liverpool Slave Trade (1995): "This sophisticated trade in human cargo was global and international, involving all the maritime powers in Europe, from Spain and Portugal to France, England, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and even Brandenburg. Some 37,000 slaving voyages cleared from ports of the Atlantic littoral between the early sixteenth and the mid-nineteenth century and, collectively, they transported an estimated eleven million individuals from Africa."
Slavery in the United States (£1.29)
British merchants became involved in the trade and eventually dominated the market. The West indian Atas of 1796 commented that "every year about 72,000 slaves are carried from Africa to the West Indies... the Danes carry away about 3,0000, the Dutch 7,000, the French 18,000, the Portuguese 8,000, the English have all the rest."
The British built coastal forts in Africa where they kept the captured Africans until the arrival of the slave-ships. The merchants obtained the slaves from African chiefs by giving them goods from Europe. At first, these slaves were often the captured soldiers from tribal wars. However, the demand for slaves become so great that raiding parties were organised to obtain young Africans.
It has been estimated that 326,000 slaves were taken from the Bight of Bonny between 1780 and 1800. Over 85% of the Africans exported were carried in British ships. Most of these were based in Liverpool. The slave-ship surgeon, Alexander Falconbridge, reported in 1790 that the goods used to buy slaves from this area included guns, gunpowder, textiles, iron bars and brandy. Other popular items traded included copper, brass and pewter goods. Paul Lovejoy, the author of Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa (1983) has argued that the goods were of a high quality "thereby disproving the myth that Africa got virtually nothing for the export of its sons and daughters."
John Newton was a slave-captain between 1747 and 1754. He wrote in Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade (1787): "The slaves, in general, are bought, and paid for. Sometimes, when goods are lent, or trusted on shore, the trader voluntarily leaves a free person, perhaps his own son, as a hostage, or pawn, for the payment; and, in case or default, the hostage is carried off, and sold; which, however hard upon him, being in consequence of a free stipulation, cannot be deemed unfair. There have been instances of unprincipled captains, who, at the close of what they supposed their last voyage, and when they had no intention of revisiting the coast, have detained, and carried away, free people with them; and left the next ship, that should come from the same port, to risk the consequences. But these actions, I hope, and believe, are not common."
In 1784 William Dillwyn joined forces with John Lloyd to publish The Case of our Fellow Creatures, the Oppressed Africans. Dillwyn claimed that the slave-trade encouraged wars between the different tribal groups in Africa: "This traffic is the principal source of the destructive wars which prevail among these unhappy people, and is attended with consequences, the mere recital of which is shocking to humanity. The violent reparation of the dearest relatives, the tears of conjugal and parental affection, the reluctance of the slaves to a voyage from which they can have no chance of returning, must present scenes of distress which would pierce the heart of any, in whom the principles of humanity are not wholly effaced. This, however, is but the beginning of sorrows with the poor captives."
Hugh Crow, the captain of The Elizabeth, arrived at Annamaboe in December, 1790. Crow later recalled: "We came to anchor at Annamaboe in December, 1790, after a passage of seven weeks. We lay there about three weeks without transacting any trade, the king of that part of the coast having died some time before, in consequence of which all business was suspended. According to a barbarous custom of the country on occasion of the decease of a prince twenty-three of his wives were put to death while we remained; and many no doubt had met with a similar fate before our arrival."
James Irving was the captain of the slave-ship, The Ellen, that was based in Liverpool. Irving wrote to his parents on 2nd January 1791: "We have been very busy loading the vessel.... We are bound for Annamaboe in the Gold Coast, discharge what goods we have for that price and set sail from it again within 48 hours after we arrived. Then we are to call at Lagos, Accra and other parts whose name I have forget. We are then to go down as far as Benin River and stay a day or two and then go back to Anomabo from which place we are to sail for the West Indies." The arrived at Annamaboe on 5th April 1791, before moving onto Lagos and Accra. While on the Gold Coast Irving purchased 341 Africans, eighty-eight of whom were transferred to other ships.
Mungo Park explored Africa in 1795. He encountered the Mandingo tribe that were part of the Mali Empire. He later claimed that most of the people he encountered were slaves: "I suppose, not more than one-fourth part of the inhabitants at large; the other three-fourths are in a state of hopeless and hereditary slavery; and are employed in cultivating the land, in the care of cattle, and in servile offices of all kinds, much in the same manner as the slaves in the West Indies. I was told, however, that the Mandingo master can neither deprive his slave of life, nor sell him to a stranger, without first calling a palaver on his conduct; or, in other words, bringing him to a public trial; but this degree of protection is extended only to the native of domestic slave. Captives taken in war, and those unfortunate victims who are condemned to slavery for crimes or insolvency, and, in short, all those unhappy people who are brought down from the interior countries for sale, have no security whatever, but may be treated and disposed of in all respects as the owner thinks proper. It sometimes happens, indeed, when no ships are on the coast, that a humane and considerate master incorporates his purchased slaves among his domestics; and their offspring at least, if not the parents, become entitled to all the privileges of the native class."
Alexander Falcolnbridge was a surgeon aboard a a slave ship from Bristol. He wrote about his experience in An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa: "When the negroes whom the black traders have to dispose of are shown to the European purchasers, they first examine them relative to age. They then minutely inspect their persons, and inquire into their state of health; if they are afflicted with any infirmity, or are deformed, or have bad eyes or teeth; if they are lame, or weak in the joints, or distorted in the back, or of a slender make, or are narrow in the chest; in short, if they have been afflicted in any manner so as to render them incapable of such labour they are rejected. The traders frequently beat those negroes which are objected to by the captains. Instances have happened that the traders, when any of their negroes have been objected to have instantly beheaded them in the sight of the captain."
Offobah Cugoano was one of the young men captured from Africa: "I was early snatched away from my native country, with about eighteen or twenty more boys and girls, as we were playing in a field. We lived but a few days' journey from the coast where we were kidnapped, and consigned to Grenada... We were soon led out of the way which we knew, and towards evening, as we came in sight of a town. I was soon conducted to a prison, for three days, where I heard the groans and cries of many, and saw some of my fellow-captives. But when a vessel arrived to conduct us away to the ship, it was a most horrible scene; there was nothing to be heard but the rattling of chains, smacking of whips, and the groans and cries of our fellow-men. Some would not stir from the ground, when they were lashed and beat in the most horrible manner."
Olaudah Equiano was living in an Igbo village in the kingdom of Benin in the 1756. He told his story in Narrative of the Enslavement of a Native of America (1787): "One day, when all our people were gone out to their works as usual, and only I and my dear sister were left to mind the house, two men and a woman got over our walls, and in a moment seized us both; and, without giving us time to cry out, or make resistance, they stopped our mouths, and ran off with us into the nearest wood. Here they tied our hands, and continued to carry us as far as they could, till night came on, when we reached a small house, where the robbers halted for refreshment, and spent the night. We were then unbound; but were unable to take any food; and, being quite overpowered by fatigue and grief, our only relief was some sleep, which allayed our misfortune for a short time. The first object which saluted my eyes when I arrived on the coast, was the sea, and a slave ship, which was then riding at anchor, and waiting for its cargo. These filled me with astonishment, which was soon converted into terror, when I was carried on board. I was immediately handled, and tossed up to see if I were sound, by some of the crew."
Mungo Park was an explorer who witnessed the taking of slaves from Africa. "The slaves are commonly secured by putting the right leg of one, and the left of another into the same pair of fetters. By supporting the fetters with string they can walk very slowly. Every four slaves are likewise fastened together by the necks. They were led out in their fetters every morning to the shade of the tamarind tree where they were encouraged to sing diverting songs to keep up their spirits; for although some of them sustained the hardships of their situation with amazing fortitude, the greater part were very much dejected, and would sit all day in the sort of sullen melancholy with their eyes fixed upon the ground."
Gad Heuman and James Walvin, the authors of The Atlantic Slave Trade (2003) have argued that: "Though the history of the Atlantic crossing is remarkably varied and changed across time and from place to place, the evidence remains astounding. Something like 12 million Africans were forced into the Atlantic slave ships, and perhaps 10.5 million Africans survived the ordeal to make landfall in the Americas... So expansive was this demand in the Americas that English monopolists were never able fully to satisfy it. Yet by 1670 the British had become the dominant force in the Atlantic trade. Indeed, in the 150 years to 1807 (when the British abolished their slave trade) they carried as many Africans across the Atlantic as all other slave-trading nations combined. They shipped some 3.5 million Africans in those years, at a rate of about 6,700 a year in 1670 and perhaps 42,000 a year a century later."