The Transatlantic Slave Trade saw
millions of African captives transported in horrendous conditions
to European colonies in North and South America and the Caribbean.
On the first leg of a British slaving voyage, ships set out
from ports such as Bristol, Liverpool, Dartmouth, Exeter and
Plymouth laden with manufactured goods. They sailed to the African
trading centres of the Gold Coast, Angola and the Bight of Benin
where they would exchange their goods for slaves provided by
local traders. The enslaved people had been captured from across
West Africa in inter-tribal wars and in raids on villages.
The National Archives at Kew holds the trade book of Captain
John Goodrich of the Bristol ship Sarah, which shows what he
traded for each individual slave he acquired on a slaving voyage
that took place between 1789 and 1790. A young boy, for example,
was exchanged by the local traders for:
28 yards of cloth, 5 guns, 8 kegs of gunpowder, 1 iron bar,
2 brass rods, 1 chest, 1 looking glass, 2 watch glasses, 6 knives,
1 axe, 6 flints, 1 hat, 1 cap, 1 kettle, 1 basin, 1 lead bar
and 1 mug.
Negotiating exchanges on an individual basis made the trading
of slaves a long-winded process and the captive Africans could
be held in squalid cells within the trading centre for months
before they began the terrible journey across the Middle Passage
to the colonies.
Map of the transatlantic trading routes (from PortCities:
When the slaves arrived in the colonies they would be sold in
private sales, at auction or in a free-for-all ‘scramble’.
The ships would then load up with local goods (mainly sugar,
but also tobacco, coffee, rum, cocoa and tropical woods) and
return home on the third and final leg of their journey.
The enslaved Africans were routinely treated with cruelty, suffering
barbaric punishments, their family and tribal ties severed. They
were considered to be their owners’ personal property or
chattels, given no more consideration or care than their masters’ livestock.
Almost a third of those who survived the voyage to the colonies
died within three years of their arrival.
It was the appalling brutality and scale of the Transatlantic
Slave Trade that led to some of the first concerted attempts
to ban slavery – a form of labour that has existed since
ancient times. This resulted in the passing of the Slave Trade
Abolition Bill in 1807 and the eventual abolition of slavery
in the British Empire.
Map of the island of Jamaica (Glasgow Libraries).
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has written that
the 200th bicentenary of the passing of the Abolition Bill
offers a unique opportunity for the people of Britain to reflect
on the wider story of transatlantic slavery and its abolition,
and to the roles of ordinary people and politicians, alongside
other Britons, Africans and West Indians, in helping to bring
an end to slavery. (from Reflecting
on the Past and Looking to the Future)
In this section of the website we will look at the movement
to ban the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the legacy of that trade
and the continuing international efforts to bring an end to slavery.
You can find out more about the slave trade by downloading the
Transatlantic Slave Trade section
from the printed readers’ guide, and following
the Read More links on the pages in this section.
Map of the Caribbean. Read more...
Slaves on the West Coast of Africa by Francois-Auguste
Biard. The picture is set at Freetown Bay, Sierra Leone and portrays
a West African Slave Market, with slaves being inspected and
branded before being taken on ships across the Atlantic. It was
given to Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton to commemorate the abolition
of slavery in 1833 (Wilberforce House Museum, Hull City Council).
on abolitionist Zachary Macaulay
Download PDF of
article by Rosemary Goring from The
Herald Magazine, 6 January 2007. Reproduced with permission
from The Herald (Glasgow) Newsquest
(Herald & Times) Ltd
© Newsquest Media Group Ltd.
Michael Wood, Town Crier for Hull, and Terry
Fisher, as Hull MP and abolitionist William Wilberforce, with Hull
residents in Princes' Quay Shopping Centre on launch day.