Breaking the Silence – Learning about the Transatlantic Slave Trade
3. Economics and Organisation
The earliest shipments of enslaved Africans
The earliest known English slave trading voyages to Africa and America were the
in 1562. The last known voyage was
the Liverpool ship
in 1807. In the intervening 245 years, over 11,000 other
slaving voyages left from English ports to Africa for slaves, carrying some 3.3 million
enslaved Africans from their homeland to the Americas. The numbers of enslaved
Africans carried by English ships represented up to a third of all the Africans forcibly
carried to the Americas during the history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Initially the largest shippers of enslaved Africans were the Portuguese, who continued to
carry slaves from Africa for almost half a century after the English outlawed their slave
trade in 1807. But for a century and a half after 1660, the English were the main slave
carriers in the western world. The other major carriers of slaves across the Atlantic were
the French, the Dutch, the Spanish and, in 1783-1808, the Americans.
The Triangular ‘Trade’
Most of the
– the ships that carried enslaved Africans – went from ports in Europe
to Africa. Bristol, Liverpool, London and Nantes became major slave trading ports after
the middle of the seventeenth century. After loading enslaved Africans at the Atlantic
coast of Africa, ships from these ports went directly to the Americas, where they sold the
African slaves who had survived the Atlantic crossing. This crossing was known as the
. Most European ships ranged in size from 50 to 300 tons. Each carried
between 200-450 enslaved Africans. On average, one in six slaves died during the Middle
Passage. But in some cases many more Africans died from disease and shipboard
rebellion, sometimes more than one in two slaves.
After the surviving enslaved Africans had been sold in the Americas, ships returned to
Europe, usually to the same port they had left from. This completed the ‘triangular’
voyage that the Transatlantic Slave Trade is now usually identified with. These voyages
normally took between 12 and 18 months, much of the time was spent either in Africa
collecting and enslaving Africans or in the Americas selling and recovering payment for
them. The goods that slave ships brought back to Europe were sugar, tobacco, precious
metals (or bullion), and African goods such as ivory, dyewoods, and gum.
Numbers and losses on the Trans-Atlantic Crossing
The numbers of Africans who died during the trans-Atlantic crossings were horrendous.