The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade began when Portuguese interests in Africa moved away from the legendary deposits of gold to a much more readily available commodity – slaves, around the mid-fifteenth century. The plantation economies of the New World were built on slave labour. Seventy percent of the slaves brought to the new world were used to produce sugar, the most labour-intensive crop. The rest were employed harvesting coffee, cotton, and tobacco, and in some cases in mining. By the seventeenth century the trade was in full swing, and at its height towards the end of the eighteenth century. It was a trade which was especially fruitful, since every stage of the journey could be profitable for merchants - the infamous Triangular Trade.
The first stage of the Triangular Trade involved taking manufactured goods from Europe to Africa: cloth, spirit, tobacco, beads, metal goods, and guns. The guns were used to help expand empires and obtain more slaves (until they were finally used against European colonizers). These goods were exchanged for African slaves.
The second stage of the Triangular Trade (the middle passage) involved shipping the slaves to the Americas. Life aboard the “slave ships” was relentlessly oppressive: Between 10- 20% (around 2.2 million) slaves died during the transportation. These deaths were due to dehydration, unhygienic conditions, and epidemics of smallpox and over tight “packing” as the slaves were placed together like “books upon a shelf”. Starvation was also one of the causes of death as supplies just simply ran out. Slaves aboard the ships would have suffered sever psychological as well as physical trauma. Slaves were chained together, often to those who had already died; they were unable to exercise, were fed from communal bowls and provided with minimal sanitation. The brutality aboard was too awful for words captives endured daily beatings, female slaves were raped and maybe the worst of all... [continues]
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