King Charles I of Spain gave a charter of August 28, 1518, to merchants to transport slaves directly from Africa to the new world marking the start of the Atlantic Slave Trade. That charter remains the darkest document in history as it heralded nearly 4 centuries of the worst industry in human history. The industry of the human slave trade reshaped the globe more than any other event in history and the economic and social impacts are still being suffered today. When the British and the French merchants joined the trade a few decades later, they bested their Spanish and Portuguese colleagues at bringing hell on Africa. Here is a look at the 10 forgotten facts about the trade…
The Trade Began Way Earlier Than Stipulated
The first slave ship arrived in Jamestown in 1619 and that date is referred to as the beginning of the TAST, but that was nowhere close to the beginning of the shipment of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic. The trade had been happening for over 150 years by then. Most historians refer to Charles I of Spain’s 1518 charter as the beginning of the Transatlantic trade but that charter was only written because the trade was already happening illegally and no taxes could be collected on smuggled slaves.
Portuguese and Spanish merchants were buying over 800 African slaves a year from Arabic slavers by 1455 to be used as cheap labour in their country. When the first Spanish colony was established in the Americas in 1493, the demand for African slave labour rose immediately since the enslavement of local Indians failed terribly. by 1511 when the colonies had expanded to Cuba, and African slaves were already being smuggled to the Americas.
Less Than 70% Of The Captured Slaves Made It To The Americas
Most historical accounts agree that between 10 and 15 million Africans were shilled across the Atlantic between the 15th and the 20th century as slaves. That number only accounts for the slaves that were received in the new world though. Before slaves reached the Caribbean, they had to be captured and that was the bloodiest process of all. Up to 30% of the people in the communities that stood against slavers died during the capturing process.
Another 15 to 30 percent of those captured would die during the long marches that went to over 300 miles to the coast where the slave markets were located. Another 15% died on the overcrowded ships from suffocation, executions, disease or rough seas. In the end, arriving alive in the Americas was a miracle in itself.
The Traders Gave Incentives To Communities To Enslave Their Neighbors
Back in Africa, the merchants didn’t have the capacity to go from community to community in the interior to capture able-bodied Africans. The Merchants, therefore, devised methods of convincing chiefs and warlords in coastal communities to establish successful capturing operations in the interior. It became an open market where whoever captured the most able-bodied young men and women of childbearing age got more goodies from Europe including clothes, guns, sugar and other highly demanded products at the coast. When the demand was too high and a ship needed a quick fill-up, the merchants could easily pay off one chief or warlord that sold slaves to turn on a neighbour even if they did the same trade. There was no honour in this business, a slave was a slave, it didn’t matter where they came from.
The Decimation Of Caribbean Indians Fueled The Demand For African Slaves
When Columbus arrived in America, there were millions of indigenous inhabitants. The island of Hispaniola alone had an estimated 2 million Indians in 1492. As more Spanish settlers came, they brought diseases that the locals had no immunity against causing most of them to die.
The rest were killed in the revolts against the governments because the Spanish sought to enslave them hoping they would provide the labor in the mines and on the farms. By 1514, less than 2 decades later, there were less than 30,000 Indians left in the Spanish colony of Hispaniola and the population was still expected to decline because of disease and wars. African slaves became Europe’s last resort to achieving the dreams of The New World.
Slavers Could Ask For Reimbursement For Dead Africans
People wonder today how trading in human beings thrived for so long if most people were not in favour of the trade but the truth is that most of Europe considered it normal to capture and sell slaves. It was so acceptable, those insurance companies classified slaves as perishable goods that could be insured next to domestic animals and farm produce.
Enslaved Africans were put in the same category as cows, so when they revolted and got killed or simply died of starvation or illness, the shipowner could claim compensation for each slave. In 1781, there is a record of a claim for compensation for dead slaves on a British slave ship named Zong. In the claim, it is stated that an infectious disease started killing slaves and crew and the captain got scared. The captain then had 130 sick slaves thrown overboard then claimed compensation once the ship docked.
Less Than 5% Of Slaves Came To The US
Whenever someone mentions the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, most people think about the American South but that is because Central and South America where the bulk of the trade was happening has ignored its slave history. Of the 10 to 15 million Africans that were shipped across the Atlantic, only about 388,000 came directly to the US. Even at the peak of the trade, US ships accounted for only 6% of the total shipment of slaves that was happening around the world.
The highest demand for slaves was in Brazil (40%) and the Caribbean (40%) where the mortality rates of slaves were also very high leading to the need for more slaves. Most slaves that came to the US were second or third-generation descendants of Caribbean, Central and Southern American slaves that had been born and trained into the institution of Slavery.
The Caribbean Islands and Brazil Had Horrific Mortality Rates
Mortality rates for slaves were high wherever they were taken but the main reason why the demand for slaves in Brazil and the Caribbean was so high, is because most of the slaves that went there died. The seasoning camps in the Caribbean and in Rio De Janeiro were especially worse than in the US. Mass graves have been uncovered in the regions over the years proving that the numbers are way higher than what was previously imagined.
The famous middle passage saw between 1.2 to 2.4 million slaves die in transit and in seasoning camps which represents nearly 30% of slaves that came to the Caribbean and South America. The Slavers in these regions bought excess slaves intentionally because most of them were expected to die within a year of their arrival.
In Britain, The Slavers and Not The Slaves Were Compensated After Abolition Of Slavery
At the peak of the Atlantic Slave Trade in the 1700s and early 1800s, Britain was controlling more than 40% of the entire industry despite its late entry. At that time, many families, some even middle class, owned slaves who either worked for them on plantations and the family got paid for the service or performed their chores at home back in Britain. Some organizations like the Church of England also owned slaves that worked on their plantations.
When the government abolished slavery in 1833, the parliament agreed to pay former slave owners for “loss of service” because of the slaves they lost. The government borrowed £20 million which made over 40% of total government expenditure that year to pay off slave owners. That would make nearly £100 billion today. Sadly, former slaves were not considered eligible for any compensation. Actually, most of them were re-enslaved in a new method called apprenticeship where they had to work without pay for decades to have access to food and shelter.
The Last Slave Ship Docked 60 Years After The Trade Was Banned
Remember Spain was the first country to charter slave transport directly from Africa to the Americas? Well, it was also the last to abolish the slave trade. The royal decree banning the capture and sale of slaves in Spain and its territories came in 1886 after pressure from Britain and the US because Spanish Cuba and other islands had become the hub of illegal capture and sale of slaves from Britain and the US.
The last slave ship docked off the coast of Cuba in 1867, 60 years after Britain banned the capture and sale of slaves from Africa in 1807, the US did the same in 1808. However, the bans were only laid in paper, in the real sense, trading locally in Slaves by local slave merchants such as the DeWolff family continued to thrive. The US had an established local slave trading industry with “well-trained 3rd to 5th generation slaves” and so there was little demand for slaves coming directly from Africa.
Southern States Were Not The Biggest Beneficiaries Of Slave Trade In The US
Did you know that the very wall that Wall Street was named after was built by enslaved people? Yes, it is true that southern plantation owners held the majority of slaves in the US but they didn’t make the greatest profits. Actually, the biggest slave markets in the US were located in New York and not the south. In 2005, JP Morgan Chase, the biggest bank in the US gave a public apology saying they accepted slaves as collateral for loans to plantation owners. To calculate the wealth of any farm owner or company, the number of slaves they owned were included. The biggest insurance firms in the US started by issuing insurance to slave owners and traders and compensating them for slaves that were injured or died in transit or in service. From investment banks to shipping companies, every big company across the US today considered slaves as assets.