First Draft: Final Essay, Atlantic Slave Trade

Millersville Unniversity Hist: 280: Final Essay 12/12/13 Sarah Myers

There was a trading that developed among Africans and Europeans from the 16th-18th Centuries, it went give me guns for slaves and it went, give me slaves for guns.The guns that were traded for slaves increased violence in African tribes. Some tribes prospered. Some grew stronger; these tribes grew wealthy. Other tribes collapsed, these tribes were weakened and fell.

An example taken from the textbook of a tribe that grew stronger from the Atlantic Slave Trade Economy was the Wolof Kingdom. The Wolof kingdom engaged with Europeans in the slave trade by exporting hundreds of slaves a year. Groups of slaves were kept back in the society of the Wolof and produced extra, or surplus, food for the exporting as well as for the King.  This trade created a market that grew well and fed the slaves who were waiting to be exported. The town itself became well established as a result of taking a place in the trade and the important culture of its region, Senegambia. (Page 186: Shillington)

            Trade among Europe and Africa was the result of the Portuguese and other European colonies came to Africa, (1480’s, Kongo Kingdom, Shillington p.143) and Europeans saw a way for profit to take place, by taking captives and selling them as commodities. Slaves were shipped, across the ocean to different places. They went to Brazil. They ended up in the Caribbean, on the French West Indies, East British Indies, Barbados. Some from the islands went to the southern colonies of the newly formed United States to work on cotton plantations. The slaves in Brazil, and the slaves in the Caribbean worked on sugar plantations.

            The Atlantic Slave Trade economy fed into political tension in Africa, and political tension in Europe. The tribes who decided to trade with the Europeans where the tribes who became stronger, but this hurt the tribes, once they realized that Europeans were insatiable. Europeans were too often looking for more captives, and that only gave more reason for war.  Much of the reason the trade was confined to the coast was that inner Africa was just hard journey to. There were trade wars over who had what trading post in Africa, political war. There was no war to take over all of Africa because there was too much in the jungle that could kill a person.

            Slaves were taken by force; they did not go willingly. Throughout the slave trade there were many incidences of rebellions or runaway slaves. In 17th century Brazil runaway slaves set up an independent black republic known as ‘Palmares.’  The republic lasted for one hundred years before the Portuguese too it over, later it became France’s major sugar producing island. Production increased rapidly and, so much, that in early 1790’s, 400,000 slaves rose and killed their masters a year later. (8. Page 11 Richardson) They beat off the French navies. They beat off the British navies. The independent ‘Republic of Haiti,’ was established in 1803. From a political aspect, this revolution, known as the Haitian Revolution, had a major impact upon the readiness of European governments and bankers to supporting the slave trade.

            New England imported a great amount of molasses from the Caribbean. Rum trade, shipbuilding, the distilleries, and employment of artisans and seamen, were all dependent on slave traffic for economic success. The West Indies and Europe has a close relationship, in economic terms. The West Indies exported its goods to the Colonies and was a vital market for Europeans. Massachusetts alone imported 8.3 gallons of molasses from the Caribbean. (6. Table 2: Slavery, Trade, and Capitalism, shows destinations and average annual value (euro) of commodity exports from New England 1768-1772.)  This shows that the colonies played an important role in trade relationships during the time of the Atlantic Slave Trade.

            It was not just the plantations or trade that made the money, but the real voyages themselves played a role in the economy as well. “Expeditions which had low outfitting costs per slave were profitable; at 950-1,000L per slave, the expedition broke even, at less than that it made money, at more it lost.” (5.Profitability of the Nantes slave trade, 1783-1792, p 12 of 16). The effect left on the Atlantic economies by the slave trade would last for decades after the trade was abolished, and shape the world today. 

            Demographic: Up to 1820, the people who were African coming to the America’s outnumbered Europeans 3 to 1. Table 1: Social Science History, shows populations such as in British West Indies as 839,000 black compared to 57,000 white.  In Brazil records show 2,660,000 black to 920,000 white. Other areas included Dutch West Indies, Spanish America, & US. The total calculation showed 8.4 million Africans to 2.4 Europeans. (3. Wards, p.376)

Economically, slavery became a resource, and it was a resource that people were willing to fight for in order to keep the economy going, fought for their desire and wealth.  “Nations took part for economic reasons, for superiority, for dominance and for control. Part of the impact that would take place would be these decisions ruled by economic gain.” (4. Sheridan, Wealth of Jamaica, p.4 of 21). Slavery was a resource that helped to establish capitalism and industrialize the United States. The Atlantic slave trade economics helped fuel the political tension that lead to the United States Civil War.                                                             

Throughout history we see shifts in the pattern of economic activity. The pattern of productivity rises and falls, and the pattern moves in cycles. One of these cycles went as follows, sugar is exported, the price of sugar goes down, and the slave price remained stable. This cycle occurred: 1640s-1670s, but there are other cycles as well. A decrease on one end could mean an increase in another or it could be the other way around, vise versa. Productivity moved around during the slave trade years from good to great to greater still and then not so good at all. “Such large variations in measured productivity are not unusual in activities based on primary products, since output price of fluctuation can be considerable.” (8. Page 16 Richardson) What this says is the productivity of the slaves is based on supply and demand. The big differences in how hard the slaves are working across the board are not uncommon to see if we examine the product they are producing, because is the demand for sugar is high, the productivity will be higher, and the price of that product will also be higher. Supply and demand occurs in the basics of economics, that is what we saw took place here, within the Atlantic Slave Trade.

                        Most slaves were destined to produce sugar. The series of recorded slave and sugar prices allows us to derive an annual record of slave productivity, which may be measured all the way across the Caribbean. There is also information for estimated population of slaves and numbers of slave imports. If we combine the two, inferences can be made about the shifts in slave labor, and the productivity change in slave agriculture, spanning across the Caribbean, which was the center of the slave economies in America. It was not North America and it was not Brazil, according to late 17th century and early 19th Century exports. In 1850 the output in the Caribbean was 10x greater than a 150 years earlier. (8. Page 22 Richardson)

            We see a permanent decline in British slave economy that took place later in the 18th Century, but this does not seem to be the reason the slave trade ended. There was a growing belief among European intellectuals that humans had universal rights freedom and equality. It was the growth of anti-slave feeling in England that caused decline of plantation profits and not decline of profits that encourage anti-slave feeling, as some have supposed. (3.Ward, p.207) Probably the most important factor, by the early 19th Century slavery and the slave trades were becoming uneconomic. There recently been an overproduction at the Caribbean sugar plantations of Late 18th century that caused a fall in the selling price of sugar just as west African merchants and rulers were charger higher prices for their slaves.

            The overproduction makes sense when we analyze the growing numbers of slave exports. Slave exports from west: decade: 1760-9, slave export: 391,000. 1770-1779:417,000. 1800-1807:281,000. (1.Table one: British Slave Exports from the West Coast of Africa, 1700-1807 by decades: Richardson, p.3: 4 of 23).

            The fall in the selling price of sugar combined with the higher price of slaves reduced European profit levels further. The plantation owners may not pay the debt owed to the banks, but Europeans saw another opportunity: that if slaves were left in Africa they may provide Europeans with raw materials. This should allow Europeans to continue profit without losing wealth, but slavery was not abolished over time, not right away.

            Slavery was not finally abolished until 1832 in British Colonies and 1888 in the United States. Others who were involved with the slave trade fell in-between.

            The rising income per person in pre-20th century America can be credited back to the Atlantic Slave Trade. Slavery was essential to the development of the new world.  This was the effect it left on Atlantic Economies; there would be no rise of various economic bases, product, or in profit without the slave trade, or the millions of slaves that were forced to be apart of it. Their contribution cannot be ignored.  

            The affect left on the Atlantic economies by the slave trade would last for decades after the trade was abolished, and shape the world today. The profit and economic success of the slave trade, and the slave produced led to the establishment of a national economy in the United States. (3.Ward) 

                        Sociocultural: The social culture aspect was negative. Millions of people were forced from their homes, torn from families, endured endless violence generation after generation.  The interior of Africa was disrupted, developments were distorted, and the local agriculture was disrupted. The use of slave labor spread across regions throughout the continent. There was a greater level of internal violence, war and deep class division. Now society was deeply divided by rich traders, rulers, and poor peasantry or the enslaved. A positive aspect was that farmers in Africa experimented growing new crops brought from America. They developed Maize, Cassava.            

Olaudah Equian was an ex-slave in England, who wrote an autobiography, speaking to his experience of being a slave. His personal experiences of the trade were one of the first to publicize the violence and evils of trade (p. 232-233, Shillington). Equian toured England giving speeches and selling his book. Others, such as Ottabah Cugoano, followed in his footsteps.


1.Slave Exports from West and West – Central Africa, 1700-1810: New Estimate

of Volume and Distribution

David Richardson. The Journal of African History , Vol. 30, No. 1 (1989), pp. 1-22

Published by: Cambridge University Press

Article Stable URL:

2. Ideology versus the Tyranny of Paradigm: Historians and the Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on African Societies

Joseph E. Inikori. African Economic History , No. 22 (1994), pp. 37-58

Published by: African Studies Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Article Stable URL:

3. The Profitability of Sugar Planting in the British West Indies, 1650-1834

J. R. Ward. The Economic History Review , New Series, Vol. 31, No. 2 (May, 1978), pp. 197-213. Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Economic History Society

Article Stable URL:

4. The Wealth of Jamaica in the Eighteenth Century

R. B. Sheridan. The Economic History Review , New Series, Vol. 18, No. 2 (1965), pp. 292-311. Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Economic History Society

Article Stable URL:

5. The Profitability of the Nantes Slave Trade, 1783-1792


Robert Stein

The Journal of Economic History , Vol. 35, No. 4 (Dec., 1975), pp. 779-793

Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Economic History Association

Article Stable URL:

6. The Slave(ry) Trade and the Development of Capitalism in the United States: The Textile Industry in New England

Ronald Bailey

Social Science History , Vol. 14, No. 3 (Autumn, 1990), pp. 373-414

Published by: Duke University Press on behalf of the Social Science History Association

Article Stable URL:

7.  The Rise of Europe: Atlantic Trade, Institutional Change, and Economic Growth

Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson and James Robinson

The American Economic Review , Vol. 95, No. 3 (Jun., 2005), pp. 546-579

Published by: American Economic Association

Article Stable URL:

8. Slave Prices, the African Slave Trade, and Productivity in the Caribbean, 1674-1807


David Eltis, Frank D. Lewis and David Richardson

The Economic History Review , New Series, Vol. 58, No. 4 (Nov., 2005), pp. 673-700

Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Economic History Society

Article Stable URL:

9. Shillington, Kevin. “Chapter 11.” History of Africa. 2nd Edition ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. 143, 186, 232, 233. Print.



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