History of the Atlantic Slave Trade

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Table of contents

  1. Beginning of the Slave Trade
  2. Columbus’s Exploration
  3. Atlantic Histories

The history of the Atlantic is one of the most important aspect of history due to the fact that it is what produced the Americas. From 1400 to 1800, millions of African slaves were forcibly moved from Africa to the Americas. Where Africans came from and went to changed over time. The first real European slave trade began after the Forth Crusade in 1204. Italian merchants imported thousands of Armenians and Georgian slaves to Italy, leaving many of these slaves to process sugar, which is a crop that African slaves later cultivated in the Caribbean. The impact that these slaves would leave not only effected the slaves and their descendants, but the economies and histories of large parts of the world.

Beginning of the Slave Trade

Through the Mediterranean, there has continuously been large connections between the northern and western African people and the Europeans. In the 1400s, Portuguese settlements in West Africa and the Spanish colonies that were created in the Caribbean’s are what shaped what is known today as Atlantic history. Indentured servants and slaves were used in intense labor conditions in order to cultivate the new products that were desired back in Europe. Some of these crops included sugar canes and coffee and later tobacco. American indigenous people were also enslaved, however, many died from new diseases, while many other indigenous people rebelled. This was not enough to keep up with the high demand for these products back in Europe. This resulted in the Europeans looking for another source of labor, Africans.

Many people are known to believe that when the Europeans came to Africa for slaves, they captured the African people and turned them into slaves and sent them over to the Caribbean’s to begin working their short lives in harsh conditions. However, when the Europeans came to Africa, they traded for the slaves the had in an organized matter. Just like in Europe and other parts of the world, Africans lived the same way; in smaller villages to massive empires.

Before the Europeans came to Africa, slavery had already occurred on the continent. Some slaves were known to be indentured servants who had the chance to work off their debts or crimes through intense labor. With the combination of the Europeans needing someone to perform labor on their crops, and the new technology and goods that the Europeans had to offer to the African kings, the two were able to coincide with each other and enhance both of their economies.

The slaves and indentured servants were not considered by African kings as equivalent Africans. These slaves were captured prisoners of war, people who fell into debt, and people who have committed severe offences. As these slaves began to be traded more and more, African kings were able to build their empire in order to protect themselves from rivals so that they would not fall into the same fate as the other Africans who became slaves and later traded. Unfortunately, in doing so, competition was created. More and more slaves were needed as well as more products to trade to the Africans. Rivalries was created between different African kingdoms, smaller offences became bigger offensives in order to create more slaves, and these two factors still impact Africa today and has created more motivations for war.

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Columbus’s Exploration

Christopher Columbus is one of the most well-known explorers of the Atlantic Ocean. Columbus believed that sailing west could lead to a faster way of reaching India. At first, this idea was rejected in Portugal, which leads Columbus to go to Spain and bring the idea to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela. In doing so, Columbus was able to receive the right amount of money and ships to begin his new voyage on August of 1492.

After two months at sea, Columbus and his crew landed on what they thought was India, which was actually present-day Bahamas. Upon landing on the island, him and his crew were greeted by the local populous and noticed the vast amounts of gold that the islanders were wearing. In order for him to justify this discovery, Columbus was going to have to bring back the gold and spices to both Ferdinand and Isabela in order to keep his exploration underway.

After establishing a settlement on what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Columbus set sail for Spain. He became immediately famous upon arriving in Spain, which leaves Ferdinand to figure out how to exploit this. As a result, Ferdinand puts Columbus in charge of a new voyage of colonization.

Upon arriving back in the Caribbean’s, Columbus found his settlement destroyed. Due to this, he enslaved the indigenous people and used them to mind for gold and to rebuild the settlement. Unfortunately, the new colony that Columbus was creating was not the colony that he had promised. Conditions here were poor and deuterated even further. This pushed Columbus to leave the settlement and continue exploring the other surrounding Caribbean Islands. During his final voyage, Columbus reached the island of Venezuela. Unfortunately for Columbus, King Ferdinand heard of the poor management of the original colony and in 1504 he had him arrested and returned to Spain where he lost almost everything.

Atlantic Histories

Atlantic historian David Armitage developed three categories that help better study the important events that the Atlantic has created over time; circum-Atlantic history, trans-Atlantic history, and cis-Atlantic history. Circum-Atlantic history shows the impact that the main countries, Africa, Europe, and the Americas, had on the indigenous peoples. Trans-Atlantic history looks into the four different countries on the Atlantic Ocean and compares their cultures and societies overtime. On the other hand, cis-Atlantic history looks more in-depth in a particular location or a specific society that created a significant impact on history.

Circum-Atlantic history can be viewed through the eyes of Christopher Columbus. Columbus was one of many explorers who traveled across the Atlantic Ocean who were scrambling to find a faster, more direct route to Asia in order to increase trade. Some of the earliest contacts the Columbus had with the indigenous people that were discovered in the Caribbean’s and the surrounding islands are what shaped the Americas for decades to come. Almost everywhere that the explorers went, they brought death. This included the indigenous people who were forced into slavery, indigenous people who died from war, as well as diseases that the Europeans brought over from Europe that the indigenous populations immune system could not handle. Diseases like small pox spread from tribe to tribe around the Caribbean’s and nearby islands. As a result of this, massive amounts of the native people were killed due to the conquering European explorers.

A good example of the Trans-Atlantic view of history is all four continents as a whole. Trading became one large cycle that impacted everyone surrounding the Atlantic. As stated before, the Europeans had technology and other goods that they could trade with the Africans. In doing so, they did boost the African economy, but at the same time they created war between neighboring nations. On the other hand, these African kings gave the Europeans slaves, which altered the western hemisphere forever. Slaves were brought to work in the Caribbean’s, and later the Americas. This impacted the world up into the 20th century and somewhat today, as well.

Circum-Atlantic history and cis-Atlantic history coincide greatly. However, cis-Atlantic history studies more in-depth of the unique locations. When Columbus came back from the Caribbean’s to Spain to tell King Ferdinand of his great findings he had discovered, the king wanted to exploit all of his findings due to the fact that he knew they could bring in an even larger profit. This location was prime for the king. Not only was the king bringing in gold and silver from these islands, but he was able to expand his empire from across the ocean in order to grow and create products to boost his kingdom.

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