5 facts you (probably) didn't know about the slave trade
- The Atlantic slave trade started a lot earlier than you think. The Portuguese began trafficking African captives in the 1440s. In England, the Wars of the Roses had yet to begin.
- It wasn’t initially a transatlantic trade. In the early days, enslaved Africans were brought to Portugal or to Atlantic islands like Madeira to work in agriculture.
- The USA was not a significant destination for slave ships. When we picture slavery we habitually draw upon images of the American South. In fact, less than five per cent of the victims of transatlantic slavery were landed on the coast of the present-day United States. Most enslaved Africans were carried to the Caribbean (45 per cent) or to Brazil (45 per cent).
- The ‘triangular trade’ wasn’t always triangular. We commonly think of the Atlantic slave trade as a three-leg affair. Slavers sailed from European ports carrying manufactured goods. Slavers traded those goods for captives on the African coast. Slavers then sailed to the New World, sold their prisoners, and returned to Europe, completing the triangle. Much of the trade to Brazil, however, was bilateral. Slavers left Rio de Janeiro, headed to Angola, and came straight back to Brazil.
- The Atlantic slave trade lasted longer than you imagine. The British abolished their slave trade in 1807; so did the Americans. The trade continued to flourish, however, down to the 1850s. The last known slave ship, which carried captives to Cuba, sailed in 1866.
About the author: Dr Chris Evans is a professor of History and head of the History Research Unit at USW. His current interests include abolitionism in the British world in the nineteenth century and the links between European industry and the Atlantic slave trade. His book Slave Wales: The Welsh and Atlantic Slavery 1660-1850 is out now.