Student Activities for Atlantic Slave Trade Include:
Throughout American history, no institution has divided the country more than slavery. Despite being beacons of democracy and independence for the world to see, many of America’s founders were also slave owners. Understanding the institution of slavery is essential in the study of American history, as it played a major role in America’s economy, society, and political systems. From the first colony of Jamestown, to the ratification of the 13th Amendment, America’s dependence on slave labor remains a contentious topic and has left a permanent scar on America’s past.
Preface to the Atlantic Slave Trade
The institution of slavery has existed for thousands of years; most great societies had, and depended on, slaves. Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, China, and Japan are only a few places where slavery had once been legal. As European explorers discovered new lands in the fifteenth century, they gathered treasures in the forms of spices, minerals, goods, and people. Some Europeans thought themselves greatly superior to other peoples, and subverted others into servitude, particularly into manual labor roles. Without needing to pay their laborers, plantation owners were able to become extremely wealthy. As the demand for slave labor increased over the years in the New World, the Slave Trade exploded. Capturing, buying, and selling slaves became a flourishing economic industry.
In this teacher guide, students will research the Slave Trade, one of the most significant institutions in American history. Students will develop an understanding of how the Slave Trade impacted America from before its founding to after the Civil War. Students will create storyboards that will help them understand the role of the Triangular Trade, analyze the the slave ship experiences of the Middle Passage, and connect slavery’s individual impacts to the broader context of American history.
Essential Questions for the Atlantic Slave Trade
- What was the triangular trade?
- What was the Middle Passage?
- What kind of treatment did slaves receive?
- How did the Atlantic Slave Trade impact American history? American society?
Help Share Storyboard That!
Usually, when we say “American slavery” or the “American slave trade,” we mean the American colonies or, later, the United States. But as we discussed in Episode 2 of Slate’s History of American Slavery Academy, relative to the entire slave trade, North America was a bit player. From the trade’s beginning in the 16th century to its conclusion in the 19th, slave merchants brought the vast majority of enslaved Africans to two places: the Caribbean and Brazil. Of the more than 10 million enslaved Africans to eventually reach the Western Hemisphere, just 388,747—less than 4 percent of the total—came to North America. This was dwarfed by the 1.3 million brought to Spanish Central America, the 4 million brought to British, French, Dutch, and Danish holdings in the Caribbean, and the 4.8 million brought to Brazil.
This interactive, designed and built by Slate’s Andrew Kahn, gives you a sense of the scale of the trans-Atlantic slave trade across time, as well as the flow of transport and eventual destinations. The dots—which represent individual slave ships—also correspond to the size of each voyage. The larger the dot, the more enslaved people on board. And if you pause the map and click on a dot, you’ll learn about the ship’s flag—was it British? Portuguese? French?—its origin point, its destination, and its history in the slave trade. The interactive animates more than 20,000 voyages cataloged in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. (We excluded voyages for which there is incomplete or vague information in the database.) The graph at the bottom accumulates statistics based on the raw data used in the interactive and, again, only represents a portion of the actual slave trade—about one-half of the number of enslaved Africans who actually were transported away from the continent.
History of American Slavery, Ep 2: The Atlantic slave trade during its heyday and the remarkable life of Olaudah Equiano.
There are a few trends worth noting. As the first European states with a major presence in the New World, Portugal and Spain dominate the opening century of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, sending hundreds of thousands of enslaved people to their holdings in Central and South America and the Caribbean. The Portuguese role doesn’t wane and increases through the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, as Portugal brings millions of enslaved Africans to the Americas.
In the 1700s, however, Spanish transport diminishes and is replaced (and exceeded) by British, French, Dutch, and—by the end of the century—American activity. This hundred years—from approximately 1725 to 1825—is also the high-water mark of the slave trade, as Europeans send more than 7.2 million people to forced labor, disease, and death in the New World. For a time during this period, British transport even exceeds Portugal’s.
In the final decades of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Portugal reclaims its status as the leading slavers, sending 1.3 million people to the Western Hemisphere, and mostly to Brazil. Spain also returns as a leading nation in the slave trade, sending 400,000 to the West. The rest of the European nations, by contrast, have largely ended their roles in the trade.
Enroll now in a different kind of summer school. Slate’s Jamelle Bouie, Rebecca Onion, and our nation’s leading historians on our foundational institution. Included in your Slate Plus membership!
By the conclusion of the trans-Atlantic slave trade at the end of the 19th century, Europeans had enslaved and transported more than 12.5 million Africans. At least 2 million, historians estimate, didn’t survive the journey. —Jamelle Bouie
Correction, June 30, 2015: The interactive originally displayed incorrect locations for Quilimane (also spelled Quelimane), Malembo, and Cardenas. They are in Mozambique, Angola, and Cuba, respectively, not Sudan and Spain. Furthermore, the map had located a port called “Spanish Americas” in eastern North America. The revised map does not show this port or voyages to it.
Correction, June 25, 2015: The interactive originally displayed incorrect locations for St. Vincent and Zion Hill. They are in the Caribbean, not in the U.S. and Canada, respectively.