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Chapter 04
1514–1866, The Transatlantic Slave Trade

The Transatlantic Slave Trade was the largest forced migration of people in world history. Profits from the sale of enslaved humans and their labor laid the economic foundation for Western Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. The human cost was the immense physical and psychological toll on the enslaved. Their lives were embedded in every coin that changed hands, each spoonful of sugar stirred into a cup of tea, each puff of a pipe, and every bite of rice.

Black and white print of Royal Africa Company Logo, which has two men standing next to an emblem.

Section IICommerce & Captivity

I doubt not this trade seems very barbarous to you, but it is . . . mere necessity, it must go on.

Willen Bosman, 1700

Commerce and Captivity

The financial legacy of the slave trade helped create the nation-states of Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, France, Great Britain, and the United States, as well as others in the Caribbean and South America. Slave trade companies engaged in business throughout the Atlantic commercial highway which connected trade sites and created a vast enterprise of slavery. The church, merchants, families, and individuals benefited from these profits, which also helped build the large assets of many institutions.

Danish Slave Trade Fort Prinsensten, present-day Ghana

Danish Slave Trade Fort Christiansvaern, Danish West Indies, present-day St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Sugar: Driver of the Slave Trade

The Royal African Company

Royal African Company, trade logo

In 1660 King Charles II of England gave his brother James, the Duke of York, a royal monopoly to trade exclusively in gold and western African people. Enslaved people were branded with the initials DY for the Duke of York. The brutal trade helped to build the political and financial foundation of the nation.

Royal African Company, trade logo

The Dutch West India Company

Dutch West India Company Monogram

In 1621 the Dutch government granted the West India Company a monopoly over the Atlantic trade to challenge European rivals in the race for enslaved people and gold. The company established trading posts in Africa, plantations in Brazil and the West Indies, and ports and plantations in North America.

Dutch West India Company Monogram

The South Sea Company Coat of Arms

The South Sea Company

In early 1700s the British South Sea Company secured the Spanish asiento, an exclusive contract granted by the King of Spain to provide an annual supply of enslaved Africans to the Spanish colonies. The company annually sent at least 4,800 enslaved African people from the West Coast of Africa to the Americas.

The South Sea Company

The Cadiz Slave Company

The Cadiz Slave Company trade logo

In 1767, the Spanish Cadiz Slave Company secured the asiento to supply 6,900 enslaved Africans to the Spanish colonies annually. The company fell short of fulfilling the quota and lost the contract, but remained in the trade, delivering enslaved Africans throughout the Caribbean.

The Cadiz Slave Company trade logo

We are torn from our country and friends, to toil for your luxury and lust of gain.

Olaudah Equiano, 1789