Slave Trade Questions and Answers

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Slave Trade Questions and Answers

The Slave Trade


Who were the slaves?


The slaves were millions of Africans that were forcibly transported overseas for a period of about 450 years.

The enslavement of people from West Africa by British, European and African traders, and their mass transportation to the Americas was known as the transatlantic Slave Trade.

A similar slave trade, conducted by Arab and African traders over roughly the same period, saw millions of others transported from the continent's east coast and enslaved in the Arab world.

Slavery had existed for thousands of years, but this period saw the most widespread and systematic form.

How did it begin?

Advances in ship design and navigation enabled European traders to travel reliably to Africa.

The Portuguese were the first to begin capturing Africans and taking them back to Europe as slaves.

Spanish traders took the first African slaves to America in 1503. Over the next century the slave trade developed as a lucrative commercial system.

Traders would export manufactured goods to West Africa where they would be exchanged for slaves from African merchants. The slaves were then transported across the Atlantic and sold for huge profits in the Americas.

Traders used the money to buy raw materials such as sugar, cotton, coffee, metals, and tobacco, which were shipped back and sold in Europe.

By the end of the 18th century, Britain had come to dominate the trade, with around 150 slave ships leaving Liverpool, Bristol, and London each year.

How many people were enslaved?

A database compiled in the late 1990s put the figure for the transatlantic slave trade at more than 11 million people, but numbers are still contested.

The total number taken from eastern Africa and enslaved in the Arab world is considered to be between 9.4 and 14 million. The figures are uncertain due to the lack of written records.

More than a million people are thought to have died while in transit across the so-called 'middle passage' of the Atlantic due to the inhuman conditions aboard the slave ships and brutal suppression of any resistance.

Many slaves captured from the African interior died on the long journey to the coast.

On the plantations, life expectancy was short because of poor diet and the back-breaking work. Slaves were branded with hot irons and punishment for trying to run away or escape was whipping or execution.

What was the effect on Africa?

Slave Trade Questions and Answers
Slave Trade Questions and Answers.jpg
Slave Trade Questions and Answers

The forced removal of up to 25 million people made Africa's population stagnate or even decline during the slave trade, state many historians.

Some have argued that some African kingdoms were more socially and economically advanced than many European countries before 1500.

In the 14th century, the West African empire of Mali was larger than Western Europe, and reputed to be one of the richest and most powerful states in the world.

Historians continue to debate how and why African kingdoms and traders became so actively involved the slave trade.

Some suggest that the demand for free labor from Europe and the lack of a wider concept of African "identity" at the time allowed slavery to flourish.

Who profited from slavery?

Merchants in Britain, the Americas, Europe and Africa became very rich from the slave trade.

The trade also created, sustained and relied on a large support network of shipping services, ports, and finance and insurance companies, employing thousands of people.

New industries were created processing the raw materials harvested or extracted by slaves in the Americas. Plantation owners profited from the free labor provided by slaves.

The slave trade contributed significantly to the commercial and industrial revolutions of the 18th and 19th Centuries. Cities such as Liverpool and Amsterdam grew wealthy as a result of the trade in humans.

How did it end?

The movement against slavery began in the late 18th Century.

Thomas Clarkson worked against the trade for more than 50 years, traveling Britain to organize meetings and distribute abolitionist literature. He pioneered a string of tactics - including boycotts of goods - which are still employed by campaign groups today.

The publication of "slave narratives" from writers such as Olaudah Equiano helped to change public perceptions of slavery.

British MP William Wilberforce campaigned vociferously against the trade for 35 years and is often given much credit for the parliamentary act banning it in 1807, and the legislation which later freed and gave rights to slaves in British territories in 1833.

While the 1807 act made slave trading illegal on paper, it took a further 60 years of dedicated Foreign Office diplomacy and Royal Navy enforcement to finally eradicate it.

In the United States, slavery officially ended with the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Emancipation Proclamation, however, was the foundation for that Amendment.

Are there still slaves today?

Although slavery is illegal in every country, it still exists in many parts of the world.

In A Persistent Evil: The Global Problem of Slavery, a report published by the Harvard International Review in 2002, Richard Re suggested: "Conservative estimates indicate that at least 27 million people, in places as diverse as Nigeria, Indonesia, and Brazil, live in conditions of forced bondage"

While this figure is far higher than the total transported during the historical slave trade, it represents a far smaller a proportion of the current global population.

Modern slavery is often more complicated than "chattel slavery" - where one person simply 'owns' another as their material possession.

Practices which amount to slavery include sex trafficking and bonded labor, where a person's work is 'security' for a debt which they can never repay.

Sources: BBC News; Emancipation Proclamation; Thirteenth Amendment

Recommended Reading: The SLAVE TRADE: THE STORY OF THE ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE: 1440 - 1870. From School Library Journal: Thomas concentrates on the economics, social acceptance, and politics of the slave trade. The scope of the book is amazingly broad as the author covers virtually every aspect of the subject from the early days of the 16th century when great commercial houses were set up throughout Europe to the 1713 Peace Treaty of Utrecht, which gave the British the right to import slaves into the Spanish Indies. The account includes the anti-slavery patrols of the 19th century and the final decline and abolition in the early 20th century. Continued below.

Through the skillful weaving of numerous official reports, financial documents, and firsthand accounts, Thomas explains how slavery was socially acceptable and shows that people and governments everywhere were involved in it. This book is a comprehensive study from African kings and Arab slave traders to the Europeans and Americans who bought and transported them to the New World. Despite the volatility of the subject, the author remains emotionally detached in his writing, yet produces a highly readable, informative book. A superb addition and highly recommended.

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Recommended Reading: Uncle Tom's Cabin (Wordsworth Classics), by Harriet Beecher Stowe (Author). Description: Edited and with an Introduction and Notes by Dr Keith Carabine, University of Kent at Canterbury. Uncle Tom's Cabin is the most popular, influential and controversial book written by an American. Stowe's rich, panoramic novel passionately dramatizes why the whole of America is implicated in and responsible for the sin of slavery, and resoundingly concludes that only 'repentance, justice and mercy' will prevent the onset of 'the wrath of Almighty God!'.


Recommended Reading: American Slavery, American Freedom. Description: "If it is possible to understand the American paradox, the marriage of slavery and freedom, Virginia is surely the place to begin," writes Edmund S. Morgan in American Slavery, American Freedom, a study of the tragic contradiction at the core of America. Morgan finds the key to this central paradox in the people and politics of the state that was both the birthplace of the revolution and the largest slaveholding state in the country. With a new introduction. Winner of the Francis Parkman Prize and the Albert J. Beveridge Award. Continued below... 

About the Author: Edmund S. Morgan is Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University and the author of Benjamin Franklin. Morgan was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2000.


Recommended Viewing: Slavery and the Making of America (240 minutes), Starring: Morgan Freeman; Director: William R. Grant. Description: Acclaimed actor Morgan Freeman narrates this compelling documentary, which features a score by Michael Whalen. Underscoring how slavery impacted the growth of this country's Southern and Northern states; the series examines issues still relevant today. The variety of cultures from which the slaves originated provided the budding states with a multitude of skills that had a dramatic effect on the diverse communities. From joining the British in the Revolutionary War, to fleeing to Canada, to joining rebel communities in the U.S. the slaves sought freedom in many ways, ultimately having a far-reaching effect on the new hemisphere they were forced to inhabit. AWARDED 5 STARS by


Recommended Reading: Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America (Simon & Schuster) (February 5, 2008) (Hardcover). Description: In 1858, Abraham Lincoln was known as a successful Illinois lawyer who had achieved some prominence in state politics as a leader in the new Republican Party. Two years later, he was elected president and was on his way to becoming the greatest chief executive in American history. What carried this one-term congressman from obscurity to fame was the campaign he mounted for the United States Senate against the country's most formidable politician, Stephen A. Douglas, in the summer and fall of 1858. Lincoln challenged Douglas directly in one of his greatest speeches -- "A house divided against itself cannot stand" -- and confronted Douglas on the questions of slavery and the inviolability of the Union in seven fierce debates. As this brilliant narrative by the prize-winning Lincoln scholar Allen Guelzo dramatizes, Lincoln would emerge a predominant national figure, the leader of his party, the man who would bear the burden of the national confrontation. Continued below... 

Of course, the great issue between Lincoln and Douglas was slavery. Douglas was the champion of "popular sovereignty," of letting states and territories decide for themselves whether to legalize slavery. Lincoln drew a moral line, arguing that slavery was a violation both of natural law and of the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence. No majority could ever make slavery right, he argued. Lincoln lost that Senate race to Douglas, though he came close to toppling the "Little Giant," whom almost everyone thought was unbeatable. Guelzo's Lincoln and Douglas brings alive their debates and this whole year of campaigns and underscores their centrality in the greatest conflict in American history. The encounters between Lincoln and Douglas engage a key question in American political life: What is democracy's purpose? Is it to satisfy the desires of the majority? Or is it to achieve a just and moral public order? These were the real questions in 1858 that led to the Civil War. They remain questions for Americans today.


Recommended Reading: The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom: A Comprehensive History (Dover African-American Books). Description: This pioneering work was the first documented survey of a system that helped fugitive slaves escape from areas in the antebellum South to regions as far north as Canada. Comprising fifty years of research, the text includes interviews and excerpts from diaries, letters, biographies, memoirs, speeches, and other firsthand accounts.


Recommended Viewing: Roots (Four-Disc 30th Anniversary Edition) (DVD) (573 minutes). Description: Based on Alex Haley's best-selling novel about his African ancestors, Roots followed several generations in the lives of a slave family. The saga began with Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton), a West African youth captured by slave raiders and shipped to America in the 1700s. The family's saga is depicted up until the Civil War where Kunte Kinte's grandson gained emancipation. Roots made its greatest impression on the ratings and widespread popularity it garnered. On average, 130 million - almost half the country at the time - saw all or part of the series. Interesting fact: Alex Haley was also the founding father of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Public Affairs Office.

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