Did the people who initiated the trans-Atlantic slave trade think they were doing something new?

Did the people who initiated the trans-Atlantic slave trade think they were doing something new?

I'm trying to get at an insider's perspective on the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and on the institution of slavery in the New World more generally. Partly I'm puzzled by why it took until the 18th century for slavery to be seen as bad (which is discussed nicely in this related question). Taking the question back a step: did the people who initiated the trans-Atlantic slave trade see themselves as doing something new?

I'd like to understand the issue in the context of other non-free labor of the era, as it had grown out of feudalism. Serfdom died out in England in the 16th century; the serfs in Russia were not freed until the 19th century. So there was some kind of social category for “people who had to work the land and couldn't leave.” Did early slavers just see themselves as carrying on the feudal system in a new place, or did they think of it as something new?

Slavery in Americas didn't appear in United States in the 18th century; it originates much earlier in Spanish and Portuguese colonies. So we should look whether slavery existed in Christian Iberian kingdoms before the discovery of the New World. And it surely did.

Slavery distinct from mere serfdom existed in Europe in medieval era without interruptions. Unlike serfdom which was represented as local tenants still enjoying certain freedoms, slavery was largely associated with captives from war and raiding which were deemed unfit for ransoming. Slave markets traded people who were often captured thousands miles away whereas serfs usually lived in the same place for generations. Slaves were considered property like cattle, unlike serfs who still enjoyed some important amount of personal freedom.

The major slave traders in the medieval Christendom were Genoa and Venice who used their access to the Mediterranean and Black Sea slave markets. In fact slaves of Slavic origin constituted such a large portion of the medieval slaves that it's usually assumed that the very word "slave" is a derivative of the "Slav". The eastern markets also supplied large number of the captives from steppes and the Caucasus. All those people constituded very large proportion of the slaves in medieval Iberian kingdoms, which you can read e.g. in "La esclavitud en Valencia durante la baja edad media (1375-1425)" by Francisco Javier Marzal Palacios. In addition, during Muslim-Christian wars, both sides practiced enslavement of captives in part to pay for the war, e.g. in 1147 almost 10000 Muslim women and children from Almeria were sold to Genoese slavers.

However, towards the end of the Reconquista and especially with the conquest of Ceuta the Iberian kingdoms, primarily Portugal, gained access to the African West Coast; and European participation in the Sub-Saharan slave trade begins. In 1444 the first large group of the African slaves was brought into Europe by Lançarote de Freitas. By 1452 the first sugar plantations start appearing in Madeira.

By the time Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, a system with slaves captured from the West African Coast brought to European owned sugar plantations was already operating in the Old World. This system already began to transfer to the New World at the beginning of the 16th century - the first large group of 4000 African slaves was sent to New Spain in 1518. Reliance on African slaves increased as the Native American population declined largely due to epidemics but also from the overexploitation on encomiendas.

So, no: Slavery by itself was nothing new, and it was separate from serfdom. It dates before the discovery of the Americas. What was novel was its widespread use on plantations. It was caused by sudden access to new productive lands and direct access to many slaves.

The history of Russian serfdom is a completely separate topic, I'm afraid, and had a VERY different nature than the Atlantic Slave trade. Until the very end when some centralized agricultural estates appear it was not associated with high production plantation economy. Russian serfs at least officially never were considered a simple property of their lords, but subjects of the Tsar given to dvoryans (Russian nobles) for their support, and until the 18th century, the government opposed the trade of serfs. It took the ugliest form in the times of Catherine the Great when nobles were freed from any responsibilities and given excessive rights over the lives of their serfs. Still, they enjoyed certain personal freedoms in comparison with European and American slaves.

As for rationalization, the following is largely my opinion (and I'm not a historian to be authoritative). In the medieval period, religious differences were extremely important. It was much easier to accept enslavement of Muslim, "pagan" or "wrong Christian" captive rather than fellow Christian. You should remember that it was a time of many conflicts with religious justifications. Crimes against humanity were done by practically everyone then. Muslims were eagerly enslaving Christians (and vice versa) both in war and piracy. But in general, if you were in a weak position anywhere, you very likely faced imprisonment, slavery or death. This hostile world only further supports the mentality where all "others" are considered natural enemies. This produced a comfortable atmosphere for slave markets to operate as those "others" are acceptable targets. The decline of this justification and transition to straightforward racism is probably connected to the rise of the European dominance and much improved order in world affairs (for Europeans at least).

Slavery certainly did not "grow out of feudalism". Slavery is a much older and much more global institution than feudalism.

Those who started transporting slaves from Africa to North America did not do anything new. Long before that, slaves were transported from Africa to Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the Caribbean and to South America. Slavery in Africa itself existed since pre-historic times, and a large scale export of African slaves was performed by the Muslim traders since the establishment of the first Caliphate. Historians estimate the total volume of East African slave trade (performed mostly by the Muslims) as approximately equal to to the volume of the West African trade (performed by the Christians). But Islamic slave trade lasted much longer (from 7th to 19th century). Africa was not the only major source. Another major source was Eastern Europe. And not only Muslims were involved in Eastern Europe. For example, the state which later become known as Rus (on the territories of modern Ukraine and Russia) was established by the pagans from North Europe whose main business was slave trade. This business was discontinued when the Rus became Christians, but later a massive slave trade from Eastern Europe as continued by the Muslims. They sold these Slav slaves everywhere, including Western Europe, until slavery was prohibited in Western Europe.

Both Christian and Muslim religions in principle ban or restrict slavery of people of the same religion. So after antiquity slavery slowly declined in Europe, and in some Muslim countries. But this did not prevent from performing it "abroad".

Some sources:

  • P. Frankopan, The silk roads, Bloomsbury, 2016,

  • M. White, The great big book of horrible things, Northon and Co, NY, London, 2011.

  • А. П. Толочко, Очерки начальной Руси, Киев, 2015.

Were 80 million black slaves killed in the USA by the end of the civil war?

I was listening to a speech by Malcolm X, where he said (at 1:57) that over 80 million black people were killed in America (100 million brought over as slaves, but less than 20 million remained at the end of the civil war).

You haven't got no time to cry for no Jew, cry for yourself. Let him solve his problem and you solve your problem. Why, they only killed 6 million Jews. Only 6 million Jews were killed by Hitler. Uncle Sam killed 100 million black people, bringin' em here, yeah. 100 million! 100 million! Don't let no Jew get up in your face and make you cry for him. . 100 million black people were taken from Africa, and when the Civil War was over there weren't 6 million black people in America. There weren't 20 million black people in the western hemisphere. What happen to 80 million? Where did they go? Where did they disappear? Why, that dog dropped 'em in the water and worked them to death. He murdered them! He butchered them! He mutilated them! I mean 80 million of your and my forefathers. . 80 million black people dead, murdered, and these Jews got the audacity to run around here and want you to cry for them.

But this figure seems like an exaggeration: According to PBS (quoting the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database) around 13 million African slaves were brought to the New World between 1525 and 1866, and less than 400,000 were brought to North America. Even allowing for some significant error, those numbers are different by orders of magnitude.

Was Malcolm X's number accurate?

Time to Abolish Columbus Day

Once again this year many schools will pause to commemorate Christopher Columbus. Given everything we know about who Columbus was and what he launched in the Americas, this needs to stop.

Columbus initiated the trans-Atlantic slave trade, in early February 1494, first sending several dozen enslaved Taínos to Spain. Columbus described those he enslaved as "well made and of very good intelligence," and recommended to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that taxing slave shipments could help pay for supplies needed in the Indies. A year later, Columbus intensified his efforts to enslave Indigenous people in the Caribbean. He ordered 1,600 Taínos rounded up—people whom Columbus had earlier described as "so full of love and without greed"—and had 550 of the "best males and females," according to one witness, Michele de Cuneo, chained and sent as slaves to Spain. "Of the rest who were left," de Cuneo writes, "the announcement went around that whoever wanted them could take as many as he pleased and this was done."

Taíno slavery in Spain turned out to be unprofitable, but Columbus later wrote, "Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold."

The eminent historian of Africa, Basil Davidson, also assigns responsibility to Columbus for initiating the African slave trade to the Americas. According to Davidson, the first license granted to send enslaved Africans to the Caribbean was issued by the king and queen in 1501, during Columbus's rule in the Indies, leading Davidson to dub Columbus the "father of the slave trade."

From the very beginning, Columbus was not on a mission of discovery but of conquest and exploitation—he called his expedition la empresa, the enterprise. When slavery did not pay off, Columbus turned to a tribute system, forcing every Taíno, 14 or older, to fill a hawk's bell with gold every three months. If successful, they were safe for another three months. If not, Columbus ordered that Taínos be "punished," by having their hands chopped off, or they were chased down by attack dogs. As the Spanish priest Bartolomé de las Casas wrote, this tribute system was "impossible and intolerable."

The soldiers mowed down dozens with point-blank volleys, loosed the dogs to rip open limbs and bellies, chased fleeing Indians into the bush to skewer them on sword and pike, and [according to Columbus's biographer, his son Fernando] "with God's aid soon gained a complete victory, killing many Indians and capturing others who were also killed."

All this and much more has long been known and documented. As early as 1942 in his Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Samuel Eliot Morison wrote that Columbus's policies in the Caribbean led to "complete genocide"—and Morison was a writer who admired Columbus.

If Indigenous peoples' lives mattered in our society, and if Black people's lives mattered in our society, it would be inconceivable that we would honor the father of the slave trade with a national holiday. The fact that we have this holiday legitimates a curriculum that is contemptuous of the lives of peoples of color. Elementary school libraries still feature books like Follow the Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus, by Peter Sis, which praise Columbus and say nothing of the lives destroyed by Spanish colonialism in the Americas.

No doubt, the movement launched 25 years ago in the buildup to the Columbus Quincentenary has made huge strides in introducing a more truthful and critical history about the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. Teachers throughout the country put Columbus and the system of empire on trial, and write stories of the so-called discovery of America from the standpoint of the people who were here first.

But most textbooks still tip-toe around the truth. Houghton Mifflin's United States History: Early Years attributes Taíno deaths to "epidemics," and concludes its section on Columbus: "The Columbian Exchange benefited people all over the world." The section's only review question erases Taíno and African humanity: "How did the Columbian Exchange change the diet of Europeans?"

Too often, even in 2015, the Columbus story is still young children's first curricular introduction to the meeting of different ethnicities, different cultures, different nationalities. In school-based literature on Columbus, they see him plant the flag, and name and claim "San Salvador" for an empire thousands of miles away they're taught that white people have the right to rule over peoples of color, that stronger nations can bully weaker nations, and that the only voices they need to listen to throughout history are those of powerful white guys like Columbus. Is this said explicitly? No, it doesn't have to be. It's the silences that speak.

For example, here's how Peter Sis describes the encounter in his widely used book: "On October 12, 1492, just after midday, Christopher Columbus landed on a beach of white coral, claimed the land for the King and Queen of Spain, knelt and gave thanks to God. " The Taínos on the beach who greet Columbus are nameless and voiceless. What else can children conclude but that their lives don't matter?

Enough already. Especially now, when the Black Lives Matter movement prompts us to look deeply into each nook and cranny of social life to ask whether our practices affirm the worth of every human being, it's time to rethink Columbus, and to abandon the holiday that celebrates his crimes.

More cities—and school districts—ought to follow the example of Berkeley, Minneapolis, and Seattle, which have scrapped Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day—a day to commemorate the resistance and resilience of Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas, and not just in a long-ago past, but today. Or what about studying and honoring the people Columbus enslaved and terrorized: the Taínos. Columbus said that they were gentle, generous, and intelligent, but how many students today even know the name Taíno, let alone know anything of who they were and how they lived?

Last year, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant put it well when she explained Seattle's decision to abandon Columbus Day: "Learning about the history of Columbus and transforming this day into a celebration of Indigenous people and a celebration of social justice . allows us to make a connection between this painful history and the ongoing marginalization, discrimination, and poverty that Indigenous communities face to this day."

We don't have to wait for the federal government to transform Columbus Day into something more decent. Just as the climate justice movement is doing with fossil fuels, we can organize our communities and our schools to divest from Columbus. And that would be something to celebrate.

Bill Bigelow is curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools magazine and co-director of the Zinn Education Project. He co-edited Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years and A People's Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis. This article is part of the Zinn Education Project's If We Knew Our History series. Learn more about the Zinn Education Project and how you can help bring people's history to the classroom.

Columbus and the Lens of History

For Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we feature an excerpt from Chapter One of A People’s History of the United States. Howard Zinn describes why he tells the story of Columbus’s arrival “from the viewpoint of the Arawaks” and “the inevitable taking of sides which comes from selection and emphasis in history.” This is followed by additional resources for examining the impact of Columbus.


“Chapter 1: Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress” begins with a journal entry by Bartolome de las Casas, a young priest, who participated in the conquest of Cuba.

Thus husbands and wives were together only once every eight or ten months and when they met they were so exhausted and depressed on both sides … they ceased to procreate. As for the newly born, they died early because their mothers, overworked and famished, had no milk to nurse them, and for this reason, while I was in Cuba, 7000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation….in this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk … and in a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile … was depopulated…. My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write….

When he arrived on Hispaniola in 1508, Las Casas says, “there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it….”

Thus began the history, five hundred years ago, of the European invasion of the Indian settlements in the Americas. That beginning, when you read Las Casas—even if his figures are exaggerations (were there 3 million Indians to begin with, as he says, or less than a million, as some historians have calculated, or 8 million as others now believe?)—is conquest, slavery, death. When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure—there is no bloodshed—and Columbus Day is a celebration.

Past the elementary and high schools, there are only occasional hints of something else. Samuel Eliot Morison, the Harvard historian, was the most distinguished writer on Columbus, the author of a multivolume biography, and was himself a sailor who retraced Columbus’s route across the Atlantic. In his popular book Christopher Columbus, Mariner, written in 1954, he tells about the enslavement and the killing: “The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide.”

That is on one page, buried halfway into the telling of a grand romance. In the book’s last paragraph, Morison sums up his view of Columbus:

He had his faults and his defects, but they were largely the defects of the qualities that made him great—his indomitable will, his superb faith in God and in his own mission as the Christ-bearer to lands beyond the seas, his stubborn persistence despite neglect, poverty and discouragement. But there was no flaw, no dark side to the most outstanding and essential of all his qualities—his seamanship.

One can lie outright about the past. Or one can omit facts which might lead to unacceptable conclusions. Morison does neither. He refuses to lie about Columbus. He does not omit the story of mass murder indeed he describes it with the harshest word one can use: genocide.

But he does something else—he mentions the truth quickly and goes on to other things more important to him. Outright lying or quiet omission takes the risk of discovery which, when made, might arouse the reader to rebel against the writer. To state the facts, however, and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: yes, mass murder took place, but it’s not that important—it should weigh very little in our final judgments it should affect very little what we do in the world.

It is not that the historian can avoid emphasis of some facts and not of others. This is as natural to him as to the mapmaker, who, in order to produce a usable drawing for practical purposes, must first flatten and distort the shape of the earth, then choose out of the bewildering mass of geographic information those things needed for the purpose of this or that particular map.

My argument cannot be against selection, simplification, emphasis, which are inevitable for both cartographers and historians. But the mapmaker’s distortion is a technical necessity for a common purpose shared by all people who need maps. The historian’s distortion is more than technical, it is ideological it is released into a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports (whether the historian means to or not) some kind of interest, whether economic or political or racial or national or sexual.

Furthermore, this ideological interest is not openly expressed in the way a mapmaker’s technical interest is obvious (“This is a Mercator projection for long-range navigation—for short-range, you’d better use a different projection”). No, it is presented as if all readers of history had a common interest which historians serve to the best of their ability. This is not intentional deception the historian has been trained in a society in which education and knowledge are put forward as technical problems of excellence and not as tools for contending social classes, races, nations.

To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves—unwittingly—to justify what was done. My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism nuclear proliferation, to save us all)—that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly.

The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks)—the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress—is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders. It is as if they, like Columbus, deserve universal acceptance, as if they—the Founding Fathers, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, the leading members of Congress, the famous Justices of the Supreme Court—represent the nation as a whole. The pretense is that there really is such a thing as “the United States,” subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests. It is as if there really is a “national interest” represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, the decisions of the courts, the development of capitalism, the culture of education and the mass media.

“History is the memory of states,” wrote Henry Kissinger in his first book, A World Restored, in which he proceeded to tell the history of nineteenth-century Europe from the viewpoint of the leaders of Austria and England, ignoring the millions who suffered from those statesmen’s policies. From his standpoint, the “peace” that Europe had before the French Revolution was “restored” by the diplomacy of a few national leaders. But for factory workers in England, farmers in France, colored people in Asia and Africa, women and children everywhere except in the upper classes, it was a world of conquest, violence, hunger, exploitation—a world not restored but disintegrated.

My viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is different: that we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.

Sultan Moulay Ishmael

Sultan Moulay Ishmael ran Meknes one of the largest cities in all of Morocco. For over 70 years he kept hundreds of thousands of white slaves to help build more and more of the city.

And he didn&apost hold back with his punishments. It was said that if he was wearing yellow, every single slave or even a palace member would be terrified as it showed he was ready to slaughter without thought.

A slave who dropped something on the floor was instantly dispatched by cutting off his head, sometimes being chopped to pieces.

Slaves were kept in a dungeon in their own filth being systematically taken out and beaten, mainly on their feet until their legs were broken.

And this was just for fun.

The woman prisoners were raped and tortured, to try and make them turn to Islam. Many died as Christians.

The British government sent dozens of envoys to visit the Sultan and hand over gold, silver, horses, and so on in exchange for the slaves.

But the sultan would take the gifts and refuse to release the slaves. Many white slaves turned to Islam to save their lives.

But there was one problem with this.

The European governments refused to buy back anyone who had turned Muslim.

Portuguese, Dutch, French, English, and Irish. Thousands all working together in huge slave pits, burnt by lime that was used to make the building walls, tortured, blinded, and beaten.

Slave Trade History

The act of slavery is as old as mankind itself.

The history of slave trade dates back to the past, been accepted by the cultural set up of the people of the West African coasts.

Nigeria was no exception as the traditional setting slave trade had been part and parcel of their lives.

Treatments of slaves cannot be compared to that of the Europeans, especially the gruesome and cruel treatment from these Europeans.

The European needed more hands to work on their sugar, tobacco and cotton plantation slaves were the best option for labor.

The question is what was Slave Trade like in Nigeria back then? In the course of this article, you will see learn more about the history of slave trade in Nigeria and causes.

However, there were different forms of acquiring slaves back then, below are some ways

  • Through inter-tribal and communal warfare
  • Kings fighting their neighbors and extensively raid and subdue prisoners. These prisoners automatically assume the status of slaves
  • Internal occasional raids, like in the market places, along the pathway leading to the streams and other places within the community
  • Selling of people as slaves, in the case of some children, relations and community members been sold as result of so much burden to bear.

How sad that can be! Some were even captured and preserved to serve the royal family or the community at large, or sold to boost other community’s economic prowess.

These slaves are all made to work and contribute manual labor on farms, agricultural fields, used as domestic servants or even reserved for sacrifices during festivals.

All these capturing were thus done by the kings and traditional chieftains who were well groomed in the aspect of capturing, raiding, preserving and selling of humans as slaves.

These led to what was called the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, where millions of Africans were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to America.

The Europeans needed more manual man-power labor to execute work in their home country on their plantation.

These slaves were bought from west coast of Africa by the European slave traders away from their homelands to work rigorously on farmlands.

This reminds me of a popular marching song that goes thus

When shall I see my native land?

I will never forget my home.

My father at home, my mother at home,

When shall I see my native land I will never forget my home?

Did you know that this song was actually sang by the victims of the Trans-Atlantic slaves taken away from home while working on these Europeans plantation?

African Slave Trade – When Did Slavery Start In Africa?

Prior to the start of the Trans-Atlantic slavery in Africa, slavery was reported to have been occurring in almost every society.

There had been business transactions of consumable goods on-going between the local people and the European traders.

Some items such as guns, gunpowder, mirrors, and fabrics among others were brought in by these Europeans which the local people back then found very appealing.

Now these European traders would drop these above mentioned items and step backward while the African traders represented by the then chieftains drop theirs and step backward as well.

That process in time calls in for proper negotiation when both parties become satisfied, they pick items in exchange and solely depart.

This process had been on-going because the two parties had been able to build trust between each other.

Overtime the trade relationship graduated to exchange of humans and exchange of Africans for the purchase of European items. Too bad.

This gave leverage for some kings and chieftains to acquire fellow people and exchange them for peanut benefits.

We can then say these African kings, chieftains, prominent and wealthy ones co-operated with the Europeans in capturing fellow Africans and sold them into slavery.

Once the chieftains have done their part, Trans-Atlantic slave trader merchants came with intentions of buying of slaves from Africa.

The exchange of gifts for the valuable things in place of incomparable lives of African as slaves

How slaves were obtained during the transatlantic slave trade

There were a number of ways that the Europeans obtained African slaves to be shipped outside Africa. The most common sources of slaves included the following:

  1. Slaves of war: Before and during the transatlantic slave trade era, Africans were already involved in the slave business. Prisoners and captives of wars and conflicts between ethnic groups were usually taken as slaves by chiefs and warriors. These slaves were then sold to the Europeans during the transatlantic slave trade, making Africa play a very prominent role during the slave trade.
  2. Criminals and prisoners: Another source of slaves was prisoners or people who had committed crimes against the gods or their various communities. During the olden days in Africa, people found guilty of criminal activities or offending the gods were often punished by being banished from their villages or by enslavement since at that time there were no prisons. With slavery becoming a very lucrative business, many of these convicted criminals or ‘sinners’ were punished by enslavement instead of banishment. African chiefs and kings sold these enslaved criminals or ‘sinners’ to the European slave buyers. The main reason why these convicted criminals or ‘sinners’ were sold into slavery was so that they could no longer stay within their various communities and commit sins and crimes. Another major reason why these offenders were sold into slavery was because of the fact that it was extremely lucrative selling them to the Europeans.
  3. Tribute slaves: Tribute slaves were slaves who were gifted to kings and chiefs by other prominent people in society in order to show appreciation or to say thank you to the chiefs or kings. During the transatlantic slave trade era, most chiefs ended up selling their tribute slaves to the European slave traders.
  4. Kidnappings: Some slaves were innocent people who were captured during raids and kidnappings. Seeing how extremely lucrative the slave trade business was with the Europeans, some unscrupulous chiefs and ordinary Africans began raiding and kidnapping their own people from their farms and other desolate places to be sold into slavery. Sometimes these unscrupulous men would raid entire communities and villages and capture mainly women and children to be sold into slavery.
  5. Collateral slaves: There was also a group of slaves known as 𠇌ollateral slaves”. These slaves were innocent people who were given out to others as surety for loans so that when the person who went in for the loan failed to pay the loan, the creditor took possession of the innocent person. Most of these collateral slaves were sold by their masters to African middlemen (African slave buyers) who in turn sold them to the European slave buyers.

As a result of how lucrative the slave trade business was, slaves were sometimes even sold in the open market.

It is worth noting that the European slave buyers rarely went inland to buy the slaves. They mainly stayed at the coasts and waited for the slaves to be brought to them. The job of going inland to get slaves was done by their African middlemen or agents who bought the slaves and transported them to the coastal areas where the Europeans eventually bought them off the middlemen. The reason the European slave traders couldn’t go into the interior of West Africa to get the slaves was because of the fact that they were afraid of catching certain diseases from the local people. Also, they were afraid of being attacked by the Africans who disliked their presence on African soil.

Ideas about slavery

What established the case for using Africans as slaves was not merely the availability of Africans in such large, economic numbers, but European ideas about slavery itself. Europe was, of course, divided against itself at home. Periodic wars between monarchs, their nations and their European allies and foes spawned rivalries that lasted centuries. Europeans, however, seemed united on one thing: they would not use other Europeans as slaves.

They were prepared to settle new lands with certain types of labour shipped from Europe. Indentured labour and vagrants were transported to the colonies in huge numbers. Portugal, for example, dispatched boatloads of convicts to its new colonies. Prisoners of war - from the English Civil War, for instance - were also sent across the Atlantic to the new settlements by the thousand.

Europeans were united, however, in their unwillingness to send fellow Europeans as slaves on the same ventures. Although they killed each other in warfare and executed fellow citizens for a host of crimes, they were, utterly disinclined to treat those same people as slaves and transport them to the Americas.

Details of horrific first voyages in transatlantic slave trade revealed

Almost completely ignored by the modern world, this month marks the 500th anniversary of one of history’s most tragic and significant events – the birth of the Africa to America transatlantic slave trade. New discoveries are now revealing the details of the trade’s first horrific voyages.

Exactly five centuries ago – on 18 August 1518 (28 August 1518, if they had been using our modern Gregorian calendar) – the King of Spain, Charles I, issued a charter authorising the transportation of slaves direct from Africa to the Americas. Up until that point (since at least 1510), African slaves had usually been transported to Spain or Portugal and had then been transhipped to the Caribbean.

Charles’s decision to create a direct, more economically viable Africa to America slave trade fundamentally changed the nature and scale of this terrible human trafficking industry. Over the subsequent 350 years, at least 10.7 million black Africans were transported between the two continents. A further 1.8 million died en route.

This month’s quincentenary is of a tragic event that caused untold suffering and still today leaves a legacy of poverty, racism, inequality and elite wealth across four continents. But it also quite literally changed the world and still geopolitically, socially, economically and culturally continues to shape it even today – and yet the anniversary has been almost completely ignored.

“There has been a general failure by most historians and others to fully appreciate the huge significance of August 1518 in the story of the transatlantic slave trade,” said one of Britain’s leading slavery historians, Professor David Richardson of the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation.

The sad reality is that there currently are only two or three academics worldwide studying the origins of the transatlantic slave trade – and much of our knowledge about it has only been discovered over the past three years.

“The discoveries we’ve made are transforming our understanding of the very beginnings of the transatlantic slave trade. Remarkably, up till now, it’s been a shockingly understudied area,” said Professor David Wheat of Michigan State University, a historian who has been closely involved in the groundbreaking research.

In the August 1518 charter, the Spanish king gave one of his top council of state members, Lorenzo de Gorrevod, permission to transport “four thousand negro slaves both male and female” to “the [West] Indies, the [Caribbean] islands and the [American] mainland of the [Atlantic] ocean sea, already discovered or to be discovered”, by ship “direct from the [West African] isles of Guinea and other regions from which they are wont to bring the said negros”.

Although the charter has been known to historians for at least the past 100 years, nobody until recently knew whether the authorised voyages had ever taken place.

Now new as-yet-unpublished research shows that those royally sanctioned operations did indeed take place with some of the earliest ones occurring in 1519, 1520, May 1521 and October 1521.

These four voyages (all discovered by American historians over the past three years) were from a Portuguese trading station called Arguim (a tiny island off the coast of what is now northern Mauritania) to Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. The first three carried at least 60, 54 and 79 slaves respectively – but it is likely that there were other voyages from Arguim to Hispaniola (modern Haiti and Dominican Republic). The discoveries were made in Spanish archives by two historians – Dr Wheat, of Michigan State, and Dr Marc Eagle, of Western Kentucky University.

It is likely that at least the 1520 voyage – and conceivably also the 1519 one – was by a Portuguese or Spanish caravel called the Santa Maria de la Luz, captained by a mariner called Francisco (or Fernando) de Rosa. The new research also shows that one of the 1521 voyages was by another caravel, the San Miguel, captained by a (probably Basque) sailor called Martin de Urquica, who was acting on behalf of two prominent Seville-based businessmen, Juan Hernandez de Castro and Gaspar Centurion.

The Arguim story had had its genesis more than 70 years earlier when, in 1445, the Portuguese established that trading post so that Portugal could acquire cheaper supplies of gold, gum Arabic and slaves.

By 1455, up to 800 slaves a year were being purchased there and then shipped back to Portugal.

Arguim island was just offshore from a probable coastal slave trade route between a series of slave-trading West African states, who almost certainly sold prisoners-of-war as slaves, and the Arab states of North Africa.

In that sense, the direct transatlantic slave trade that began in 1518/1519 was a by-product of the already long-established Arab slave trade.

However, any reliance on buying slaves from Arab slave trade operations did not last long, for in (or by) 1522, some 2,000 miles southeast of Arguim, direct slave voyages started between the island of Sao Tome off the northwest coast of central Africa and Puerto Rico and probably other Caribbean ports.

Academic research shows that this 1522 voyage carried no fewer than 139 slaves. Another voyage in 1524, discovered in 2016, carried just 18 – plus lots of other non-human merchandise. But other mostly recently discovered voyages in 1527, 1529 and 1530 carried 257, 248 and 231 slaves respectively. On average, therefore, each early voyage from Sao Tome carried much greater numbers of slaves than the ones from Arguim. It’s also likely that there were many other slave voyages between 1518 and 1530 which still await discovery by archival researchers.

There were also at least six early slave voyages from the Cape Verde Islands off the West African coast to the Caribbean between 1518 and 1530, laden with Black African captives acquired by Cape Verdean slave traders mainly from local African rulers and traders in what is now Senegal, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

But, apart from the Spanish king himself, who were the people who launched the direct transatlantic slave trade from Africa to the Caribbean exactly 500 years ago?

The most senior was the man Charles awarded the slave trade charter to in August 1518. He was Laurent de Gouvenot (Lorenzo de Gorrevod in Spanish) – an aristocrat in the Flemish court and member of the Spanish king’s council of state (Flanders, predominantly the northern part of modern Belgium, was part of the Burgundian Netherlands, ruled by Charles).

But, for Laurent, the charter was simply a licence from an old chum to make money without actually doing the appalling dirty work himself.

As he was specifically allowed to by the charter, he subcontracted the operations to Juan Lopez de Recalde, the treasurer of the Spanish government agency with responsibility for all Caribbean matters, who in turn sold the rights to transport 3,000 of the 4,000 slaves to a Seville-based Genoese merchant, Agostin de Vivaldi, and his Castilian colleague, Fernando Vazquez, and the right to carry the remaining thousand slaves to another Genoese merchant, Domingo de Fornari.

Vivaldi and Vazquez then (at a profit) resold the rights to transport their 3,000 slaves to two well connected Castilian merchants, Juan de la Torre and Juan Fernandez de Castro, and to a famous Seville-based Genoese banker, Gaspar Centurion, who, along with Fornari, subcontracted the work directly or indirectly to various ships’ captains.

All these businessmen had substantial mercantile experience – and Fornari came from a slave-trading family with a long experience of human trafficking in the Eastern Mediterranean.

At least four voyages from Arguin to Puerto Rico were organised and carried out between 1519-1521. It is likely that Vivaldo and Fornet (still probably acting on the basis of Lorenzo de Gorrevod’s charter) then, after 1521, hired captains to operate from Sao Tome to Puerto Rico. It is perhaps significant that the first Sao Tome-originating slave voyage to the Caribbean took place in 1522 – the year that the Portuguese crown (under the newly enthroned very pro-Spanish Portuguese king, John III) assumed direct control over Sao Tome. This implies that the Spanish and Portuguese crowns may well have been working in close cooperation in the early development of the transatlantic slave trade.

The trade was a catastrophe for Africa. The Arab slave trade had already had a terrible impact on the continent – but European demand for slave labour in their embryonic New World empires worsened the situation substantially. Although many of the slaves for the Arab and transatlantic markets were captured and/or enslaved and sold by African rulers, the European slave traders massively expanded demand – and consequently, in the end, triggered a whole series of terrible intra-African tribal wars.

For, by around the mid-16th century, in order to satisfy European/New World demand, African slave raiders needed more captives to sell as slaves to the Europeans – and that necessitated starting and expanding more raids (and, subsequently, wars) to obtain them. The issuing of the royal charter 500 years ago this month not only led to the kidnapping of millions of people and a lifetime of subjugation and pain for them, but also led to the political and military destabilisation of large swathes of an entire continent.

But this African catastrophe was linked to another terrible human disaster on the American side of the Atlantic, the sheer scale of which is only now being revealed by archaeology. For the main reason that the Europeans needed African slaves to be shipped to the Caribbean was because the early Spanish colonisation of that region had led to the deaths of up to three million local Caribbean Indians, many of whom the Spanish had already de facto enslaved and had intended to be their local workforce.

When Columbus had discovered Hispaniola in 1492, the island had probably had a population of at least two million. By 1517, this had been reduced by at least 80 per cent – due to European-introduced epidemics (the Indians had no immunity), warfare, massacres, starvation and executions. Many of the surviving Indians had also fled into Hispaniola’s mountainous interior where they were beyond the reach of the Spanish state. Ongoing archaeological investigations on the island are only now revealing the sheer scale of its pre-Columbian population.

The reality was that, by 1514, according to a government census, there were only 26,000 Indians left under Spanish control – and the Spanish feared that number would further reduce. It was this population collapse and the fear that it would continue that appears to have forced the Spanish king to, for the first time, authorise direct slave shipments from Africa to the Americas. Spain was desperate to ensure that its royal goldmines and agricultural estates in Hispaniola and its economic projects on the other Caribbean islands would not founder for lack of manpower.

The Roots of African American Cultural and Artistic Traditions

The story of African Americans in the United States is about a people kidnapped and forced into slavery who went on to mark every element of American culture, from the highbrow to the low. Black Americans have participated in virtually every field of American cultural endeavor and established the very roots of some great American contributions to the world, such as jazz and rock-and-roll. At its heart that expression, rock-and-roll, is deeply rooted in various traditions of African American culture.

The roots of many trademark elements of African American culture, such as call and response structure and the exchange of humorous insults known as "signifying," can be traced to West African roots. West African cultures are known for their strong sense of irony and fate. In the Yoruba tradition, for example, there is a pantheon of gods, each with a two-sided nature. The god of iron, Ogun, represents both the will to control one's surroundings and the destruction and chaos that may result from this impulse to control. This brand of ironic, allegorical dialectic has had a strong influence on American personality and self-expression.

Watch the video: Lisa Kristine: Photos that bear witness to modern slavery