Demand for slaves to cultivate sugarcane and other crops caused what came to be known as the triangle trade. Ships leaving Europe first stopped in Africa where they traded weapons, ammunition, metal, liquor, and cloth for captives taken in wars or raids. The ships then traveled to America, where slaves were exchanged for sugar, rum, salt, and other island products. The ships returned home loaded with products popular with the European people, and ready to begin their journey again.
THE MIDDLE PASSAGE
An estimated 8 to 15 million Africans reached the Americas from the 16th through the 19th century. The Middle Passage was the most infamous route of this triangular trade. Although danger lurked constantly throughout the voyage across the Atlantic, the greatest danger to the slave ships always came when they were loading on the African coast. Once aboard the ships, the negroes realized that they were being sent far away from home, and often there was violence even before the ship set sail. However, most of these uprisings were easily put down. Others jumped overboard and plunged from the ship into the sea, choosing to either drown or be devoured by blood-thirsty sharks rather than be taken from their homeland.
Once aboard the ships the blacks would be packed below deck. Captains of slave ships were known as either "loose packers" or "tight packers", depending upon how many slaves they crammed into the space they had. Most ships, especially those of the later 18th century, were "tight packers", carrying a huge quantity of slaves who were often forced to lie in spaces smaller than that of a grave, or in some cases stacked spoon-fashion on top of one another. Regardless, life for a slave in the "tween decks", as they were called, was extremely uncomfortable. In addition to extreme overcrowding, there was also inadequate ventilation, not to mention little or no sanitation. Although some captains would have their crew periodically clean the "tween decks" with hot vinegar, most chose rather to leave them alone, resulting in their atrociously unclean condition. In addition to disease and suffocation below deck, it would not be uncommon to find the body of a slave completely covered by lice.
THE SLAVE TRADE
Between 10 and 28 million people taken from Africa
17 million Africans sold into slavery on the coast of the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, and North Africa
12 million Africans taken to the Americas
- Brazil: 4,000,000 35.4%
- Spanish Empire: 2,500,000 22.1%
- British West Indies: 2,000,000 17.7%
- French West Indies: 1,600,00 14.1%
- British North America: 500,000 4.4%
- Dutch West Indies: 500,000 4.4%
- Danish West Indies: 28,000 0.2%
- Europe: 200,000 1.8%
5 million Africans taken across the Sahara and East Africa into slavery in other parts of the world
Eventually, after the arduous 3,700 mile voyage, the slave ship would reach North America. In order to strengthen them before sale, the slaves were normally fed better in the days directly before their arrival in the new world, however their suffering was far from over. Before they could be sold, the slaves would be oiled to make their skin shiny and any imperfections, such as scars from whippings, would be filled in with hot tar in order to improve their appearance and get the best market price. Most slave ships would not be allowed to dock in the ports which they came to due to their horrible stench and the fear of the spread of any diseases which had been spread throughout the ship. Therefore, the slavers would drop anchor a few miles off shore and carry the slaves to land in smaller boats which had been stored aboard the ship. The slaves would then be sold at auction and would live through the rest of their lives in wicked involuntary servitude.
1518 and 1870, the transatlantic slave trade supplied
the greatest proportion of the Caribbean population.
As sugarcane cultivation increased and spread from
island to island--and to the neighboring mainland
as well--more Africans were brought to replace those
who died rapidly and easily under the rigorous demands
of labor on the plantations, in the sugar factories,
and in the mines. Acquiring and transporting Africans
to the New World became a big and extremely lucrative
business. From a modest trickle in the early sixteenth
century, the trade increased to an annual import
rate of about 2,000 in 1600, 13,000 in 1700, and
55,000 in 1810. Between 1811 and 1870, about 32,000
slaves per year were imported. As with all trade,
the operation fluctuated widely, affected by regular
market factors of supply and demand as well as the
irregular and often unexpected interruptions of
LIFE ON THE PLANTATION
Those who survived the middle passage faced more abuses on the plantations. Many of the plantation owners had returned to Europe, leaving their holdings in America to be managed by overseers who were often unstable or unsavory. Families were split up, and the Africans were not allowed to learn to read or write. African men, women, and children were forced to work with little to eat or drink.
The African slave population quickly began to outnumber the Europeans and Native Americans. The proportion of slaves ranged from about one third in Cuba, to more than ninety percent in many of the islands.
The planters lived in a state of terror about the possibility of a revolt and were ruthless in their suppression of the slaves. This went further than the use of branding, whipping and chains: slaves were effectively imprisoned on their masters' estates, they were forbidden to speak their own language, forbidden to practise their native religion, and forbidden to assemble without permission.
Families were routinely and arbitrarily split up. At one point an entire island in the Eastern Caribbean was used as a farm for breeding slaves, and sold its product all over the Caribbean and the USA. Slaves were named by their masters, either after their own family estates, or after figures in the classics - Ovid, Virgil, Caesar. Female slaves were at the disposal of their masters, and by the time slavery was abolished in 1838, a substantial proportion of the Caribbean population was racially mixed.
Slave rebellions were common. As slave rebellions became more frequent, European investors lost money. The costs of maintaining slavery grew higher when the European governments sent in armed forces to quell the revolts.
A sugar plantation in 1823