Atlantic slave trade Essay

            One of the great myths perpetuated after the slave trade was that European’s felt that Africans were in some way inferior to themselves.  When one studies the period before the slave trade, the reality emerges that Europeans did not think themselves superior.  It was not until the slave trade began and Europeans needed to find a justification for taking people from their homes and forcing them into slavery that the myth began to be perpetuated.  Incidentally, however it happened, and whatever people’s attitudes, the Atlantic slave trade had much influence on those countries importing slaves from Africa - Atlantic slave trade Essay introduction. (Davidson 3-5)

            When Europeans first started coming to North America to colonize, they lacked a workforce to develop the area as they saw fit.  At first they used the Native Americans, but having never been exposed to the type of sickness which Europeans carried with them, and having no immunity to them, they began dying and proving themselves to be unable to keep up with the demands of the Europeans.  Also, the Europeans were not used to the tropical climate of the area they first began settling and found it inconvenient to work in such an environment.  Africans on the other hand were used to working in tropical climate conditions and often had experience in agriculture.  They were also resistant to many of the diseases in tropical climates, to which many Europeans had succumbed. (Boddy-Evans)

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            By 1450, Africans were being traded as slaves, with the full cooperation of African kings and merchants.  For their help in capturing and transporting slaves, these kings and merchants would receive gifts of all sorts from Europeans.  The most important of which were guns, which would aid in the accumulation of even more slaves.  (Boddy-Evans) And by 1502, the first slaves had been reported in the New World.

            With slaves now coming to the Americas, the route from Africa to America became known as the “Middle Passage.”  On the boats destined for America, the slaves were kept in horrible conditions, although not as horrible as portrayed in modern media.  The fact is the slaves were seen for their monetary value, so it was in the interests of the slave traders to keep them alive.  The modern conception of the horrible conditions on slave boats most probably came from abolitionists who were attempted to portray slavery in the worst possible light.  But this is not to say that the slaves were treated amiably.  In fact, they were packed into “the most dense configurations of any group transported by Europeans across the oceans in the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries.” (Klein)

            Because of the conditions on the ships, and the length of the voyage, many slaves ended up dying in route.  The passage to South America generally took about a month.  And from Africa to North America the journey could have taken as long as two months.  The cramped conditions, combined with the length of the voyage led to deaths strictly related to being in these adverse conditions and other factors as well.  Many of the causes of death were due to diseases of African origin. However, the two biggest killers on the ride over were fevers and gastrointestinal disorders.  Gastrointestinal disorders led to as many as half of all premature deaths in the slave trade.  The most common disorder was called the “bloody flux.”  Known today as dysentery, it had the potential of breaking out in epidemic proportions and causing massive casualties on board.  (Klein)

            The slaves that arrived in the Americas often spoke many different languages, could not read or write, and had no societal ties with one another.  Many plantation owners would purchase slaves on the basis of where they were originally from in Africa.  This would ensure that none of the slaves knew one another and the language barriers would be too much to overcome if the slaves ever felt compelled to revolt. (Klein)

            Overtime, many of the slaves took on the language and customs of the new cultures in which they found themselves.  The slaves did, however, retain some of the customs of their homelands and gave them an alternative to the dominate culture of white America.  Religion played an especially important role in all of this as new gods were created and merged with one another’s religion to give a sense of coherent beliefs which would allow the slaves to bond with each other.  Nevertheless, over the generations, a new Afro-America identity would emerge which would eventually lead to the emancipation of slavery in the United States. (Klein)

            Eventually, people began to question the morality of the slave trade and this eventually brought about its demise.  During the time of the Renaissance, thinkers such as Adam Smith and Rousseau, and groups of Quakers and Protestant evangelicals began questioning the legitimacy of the slave trade and began to take action to end what they saw as an improper practice.  But it was not until the 1860s that a clear turning point in the efforts to abolish slavery began to take hold.  And finally, in 1865, slavery was abolished in the United States, and African Americans were allowed to live free.

Works Cited

Boddy-Evans, Alistair . “African History.” 08 Apr. 2006 <>.

Davidson, Basil. The African Slave Trade. 1st ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1961.

Klein, Herbert. The Atlantic Slave Trade. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

“Timeline: The Atlantic Slave Trade.” Exploring Amistad. Mystic Seaport Museum. 08 Apr. 2006 <>.

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