Slave Trade

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Slave Trade


Commerce in African slaves that took place from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. From the early 1500s to the mid-1800s, millions of Africans were taken from their homelands and brought to the Americas as slaves. Throughout most of this period, the need for cheap agricultural labor in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the American South drove the demand for African slaves. Yet even though white plantation owners were the final buyers of slaves, many Africans also profited handsomely from the slave trade.

The Slave Trade in Africa

Both Europe and African civilizations had practiced slavery since ancient times. However, the discovery of the Americas in the late fifteenth century, along with the establishment of plantation agriculture there in the decades and centuries that followed, greatly increased the demand for slaves (Monaghan, 63). This changed both the scale and nature of the slave trade. Before this time, slaves were just one of many goods that European traders looked to acquire in Africa. However, as the demand for slaves for the Americas increased, they became far more profitable than any other commodity. European interest in trade with Africa began to focus almost solely on slaves.

In Africa, slavery historically was the fate of individuals captured in war by other African tribes. Such slaves were not seen as inferior or less than human. Indeed, many were nobles or the sons of nobles. As slaves, they were merely a separate, though unfree, class of people. African slavery was also much milder than the form practiced in the Americas. Not all slaves in Africa were used for hard labor; some served in important military or government positions, and many acquired rights undreamed of by American slaves (Klein, 85).

For many African societies, slaves were a crucial part of the local economy. African law prevented individuals from earning money from ...
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