Essay on Europeans and Africans in the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Published: 2021/12/01
Number of words: 1077


Historically, slavery has been prevalent in Africa. Servitude and slavery systems were prevalent in various parts of Africa during ancient times. When various slave trades started, numerous local African slave systems that existed previously commenced supplying prisoners for slave markets to foreign regions that were not within Africa. Slavery in modern Africa is still put into practice despite the fact that it is illegal. There are several factors that brought about the establishment of the slave trade. The factors included labor shortage, lack of alternative labor sources, religious aspects, military factors, racial attitudes, etc. Also, African slavery was practiced in numerous forms, including debt slavery, war captives’ enslavement, prostitution slavery, military slavery, and criminal enslavement. All these forms of slavery were practiced in different African regions. The paper’s primary purpose is to enlighten more on the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which includes the establishment of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the enslavement and expansion of Africans in the hands of the Europeans and African leaders.


The trans-Atlantic slave trade can be described as the most significant long-distance intimidating movement of individuals in documented history. From the 16th to the end of the 19th century, more than 12 million Africans, including men, women, and kids, were taken as slaves, moved to America, and purchased and sold mainly by European and Euro-America slave-owners as individual properties (Jones, Ebony, & Jennifer, 23-38). The slaves were used for free labor and capabilities. The trans-Atlantic slave trade took place within a more extensive trade system between Western Europe, North and South America, and West and Central Africa.

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Inside African ports, traders from Europe exchanged beads, textile, guns, metals, and armament for enslaved Africans that were gotten from Central Africa to the coast, mainly by African merchants. Numerous African slaves died at the time of the lengthy overland voyages from the Central to the coast. European traders imprisoned those African captives that survived in secure slave castles like Elmina inside the central region, which is current Ghana, Goree Island (present Senegal), and Bunce Island (Current Sierra Leone). After that, the African slaves were forced into ships for a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. It is estimated that roughly 10 to 19 million African slaves forced in the travel died on the way due to bad conditions that they encountered on those slave ships.

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Establishment

During the 15th century, Portugal was the initial European country to take a noteworthy part in the African slave trade. The Portuguese mainly obtained slaves to provide free labor on the plantations of Atlantic African Island and later for Brazil and Caribbean plantations. However, the Portuguese also sent a few slaves to Europe. At first, Portuguese explorers tried to obtain African slaves via direct attacks along the coast (Ferreira & Silva, 375-392). However, they realized that these invasions were expensive and frequently not effective against the military approaches in the West and Central Africa. Therefore, Portuguese traders developed commercial connections with the leaders from the West and Central Africa.

The leaders agreed to trade slaves acquired from different African warfare or household trading, and even gold and various commodities. In exchange, the Portuguese traders were to give these leaders North African and European trade items. The Portuguese were the dominators of the initial African coast trans-Atlantic slave trade during the 16th century. However, other European countries first managed to access African slaves via privateering during battles between them and the Portuguese and not via direct trade. Privateering was when an aggressive nation hired a privately possessed equipped vessel to attack an enemy ship (Radburn 1640-1808). Privateers like French, Dutch, etc., took control of Portuguese ships at the time of the Atlantic maritime disputes and found African slaves and Atlantic trade commodities. They then took all the African captives to become slaves in their colonies.

African Slavery and why it expanded

The trans-Atlantic slave trade mostly grew due to the intense labor demand in the Americas and was driven by plantation produce and valuable metals’ consumers early in Europe. Also, numerous Amerindians died, forcing the inadequate European numbers to cross the Atlantic to obtain slaves. European ships arrived in Africa and offered trading commodities in exchange for African slaves (Green 1300-1589). That was the primary reason several African kingdoms agreed to form a trade connection with the Europeans, which disadvantaged Africans. Things got worse that Africans could be given out as slaves to be punished for a committed crime or even as a kind of family debt payment.

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Generally, the slave trade was seen as rulers, wealthy, or even the influential traders’ business, who were only concerned about their selfish interests since they failed to consider their fellow powerless Africans. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the Europeans’ slave demand, especially for the Americas’ sugar plantations, increased that African slaves could only be obtained via instigating raids and battles. For that reason, various African societies started preying on others to acquire slaves. They traded the slaves and were given European firearms. They believed that these firearms were crucial since they would be able to defend their territories against their rivals.


In conclusion, the trans-Atlantic slave trade resulted from labor demand by the European countries to boost their businesses. European countries took advantage of the African countries by enticing the African leaders with their unique trade commodities, which the leaders could not resist. African leaders and powerful merchants saw the trade relation between them and the Europeans as a golden opportunity to gain wealth without considering the suffering of their fellow Africans. On the other hand, Europeans highly benefited from the trade relation, and numerous Africans were taken as slaves. In the process, many African slaves lost their lives due to the harsh conditions and treatment at the hands of the Europeans.

Works Cited

Ferreira, Roquinaldo, and Pablo Miguel Sierra Silva. “Portugal, Spain, and the transatlantic slave  trade.” The Iberian World. Routledge, 2019. 375-392.

Green, Toby. The rise of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in Western Africa, 1300–1589. Vol. 118.  Cambridge University Press, 2011.

JonEs, Ebony, and JEnnifEr L. Morgan. “Slavery and the Slave Trade.” A Companion to  American Women’s History (2020): 23-38.

Radburn, Nicholas. The long middle passage: the enslavement of Africans and the trans-Atlantic slave trade, 1640-1808. Diss. The Johns Hopkins University, 2016.

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