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The African Slave Trade

Part of the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) granted Portugal imperial rights to the eastern
hemisphere. While Spain was focusing on establishing colonies to serve the empire,
Portugal had different motivations. Trade was going to be the mission of Portugal, not
colonization.
As Spain suffered through a massive labor shortage due to their genocide toward the
indigenous people, Portugal had a ready made solution. By kidnapping Africans from the
western region of the continent and shipping them primarily to the Americas, a lucrative
industry was born. Portugal had by the mid-sixteenth century established trade outposts
along the western coast of Africa. In time, these outposts began to demand slaves.

A Five Stage Process evolved the remained mostly unchanged throughout the centuries,
even long after the Portuguese ceased to control the trade.
1. Capture - Playing on the many ethnic and cultural differences of the people
throughout the region, Portugal and later imperial powers exploited these differences,
coaxing Africans into capturing other Africans. One question that frequently arises is
quite simply Why did Africans do that to each other? You must bear in mind that
racial identity was not then the same way it is now amongst Africans. Whereas
Europeans saw African people as the same race, Africans looked at each other as
nowhere near being similar. Africa is the most diverse continent on planet Earth, so
Africans saw in each other friends, rivals, enemies and strangers. Africans did not
necessarily see black people when they looked at each other. Racial identity will
come to the Africans later.

2. Factory After the kidnapped are secured, they are marched several miles toward
the coast where they will be kept in a factory. This was mostly a fortress with
either open pens or cells that housed the newly captured. Here, they are inspected
for ailments and deformities. A determination is then made as to whether or not the
slave can survive the most grueling part of this process, the Middle Passage.

3. Middle Passage It is here, below deck of a slave ship where the newly captured
begin to realize what they have in common, race. Race is born when the new slaves
realize figuratively and quite literally that they are in the same boat. What there
destination is the slaves do not know. Most do not realize that they are going to be
slaves for the rest of their lives. Many jump off of the side of the ship preferring
death to the uncertain fate that lies ahead.
Slaves were packed in the ship to maximize profit. Death was a common companion
to the middle passage. Disease, starvation, infection, there were numerous ways a
slave could die under these brutal conditions. A little loss was acceptable to the
slave traders as the laws of risk and reward seemed to be the only regulation.
Along the way, there were dangers of piracy and natural disasters. Hurricanes sunk
entire ships to the ocean floor. Doldrums stranded ships, as traders dumped slaves

off the ship to save on food for the crew. Countless numbers of slaves perished on
this journey, which is by far the most brutal and defining feature of the African Slave
Trade.
4. Sale By auction and scramble, slaves were sold in Caribbean markets. Auctions
are ways to get the best price for a slave while a scramble puts the same price on
each of several slaves. When a signal is given, prospective buyers scramble
around to try and find the best slave for their price and lay their claim.
5. Seasoning This is the process of preparation. Just as one were to season a food
before consumption, slaves need to be prepared mentally and physically before they
begin their new lives as slaves. Early on this process took place at Caribbean sugar
plantations, viewed as the most difficult labor. However in time the trade became so
big that seasoning would often have to take place at the plantation of the new owner.
African slavery differed in severity of condition from place to place. A clear example of
these differing conditions can be seen in North America with the early Virginia and South
Carolina colonies of the British Empire. African slaves in South Carolina were chattel slaves
(slaves from cradle to grave, seen as property). That was not the case in Virginia as African
slaves were seen early on as indentured servants, working as slaves for several years
before eventual release. There are even accounts of African slaves being freed early on to
become successful tobacco planters that themselves own African slaves. However, in
Virginia as the tobacco trade got bigger, the society transformed and in time, African slaves
became more like the chattel slaves of South Carolina.
African Slavery will be the primary labor force of the Americas. With the rapid demise of the
Native American, the European new world empires will be built on the backs of African slave
labor.

The African Slave Trade was vital as the


European World sought to maximize the
conquest of the New World. Watch the
four videos for this week on Colonial
life, Empire and English policy in the
New World.