The African slave trade during the Age of Exploration was one of the darkest periods in human history. Millions of Africans were forcibly taken from their homes and transported across the Atlantic along the transatlantic slave routes to be sold into slavery in the Americas.
But how did this system work and what routes did traders use to transport these individuals? Furthermore, how were the slaves treated on the journey and what destinations did they end up in?
This article dives into the intricacies of the transatlantic slave trade routes and explores the most frequent destinations. The impact of the transatlantic slave routes would leave a lasting legacy on the people and communities involved in this terrible trade.
Transatlantic Slave Trade Routes and Destinations
The transatlantic slave routes ultimately comprised just one leg of the larger triangular trade. The transatlantic slave trade sent African slaves to the American colonies, whereupon the slaves helped the colonies produce and export raw materials to the European mainland. Europe would then take the raw materials and produce manufactured goods and weapons to sell to Africans in exchange for their slaves.1
Before slaves could even get to the Americas, they first faced a treacherous path across the Atlantic. The conditions on the trans-Atlantic slave voyages were downright dreadful. Slave traders packed the ships with as many slaves as they could as more slaves delivered equaled more profit.
This sometimes meant leaving slaves chained below deck with meager rations for the duration of the voyage. Through this brutality it’s estimated that about 1.8 million Africans didn’t even survive the crossing.
In total, historians estimate that ~12.5 million Africans embarked on slave ships to destinations primarily in the Americas, with only ~10.7 million disembarking. The most frequent transatlantic slave route destinations included:2
- Brazil (~4.9 million)
- British Caribbean (~2.3 million)
- Spanish Americas (~1.3 million)
- French Caribbean (~1.1 million)
- North America (~0.4 million)
- Other (~0.7 million)
A vast majority of African slaves disembarked in Brazil (4.9 million or ~39%). The burgeoning Brazilian sugar economy required a massive influx of slaves to support the plantations. In addition, African slaves mined the valuable gold and diamonds deposits upon their discovery.
The Caribbean was the next top destinations for slaves. The area was flush with sugar, tobacco, coffee and other plantations that were in need of manual labor to power them. Haiti (France) and Jamaica (British Empire) were two of the largest destinations for slaves.
Other destinations in the western hemisphere included the Dutch Americas, as well as Danish West Indies. A small number of slaves were shipped to other destinations, including Europe, as well as other locations in Africa.
1) Solow, Barbara L. “The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A New Census.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 58, no. 1, 2001, pp. 9–16. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/2674416.