The Slave Trade
The blunting effects of slavery upon the slaveholder’s moral perceptions are known and conceded the world over; and a privileged class, an aristocracy, is but a band of slaveholders under another name. ~ American author Mark Twain
Though the largest purchases of slaves were for Spain’s colonies, the Spanish themselves were not very actively engaged in the trade. Instead, slaves were acquired by contract with traders of other nations.
The slave trade was dominated first by the Portuguese, then successively by the Dutch, French, and British. Trade was typically triangular in nature.
A European ship carrying firearms, knives, and other metal wares, cheap trinkets, colorful cloth, and liquor, would sail for the west African coast. The cargo would be exchanged for slaves with local African chieftains, who traded in war captives or undesirables in their own tribes.
When a slave trader had filled his ship with as many manacled and chained slaves as it could possibly carry, he sailed across the Atlantic to the West Indies, or to the mainland of North or South America. Once the slave cargo was unloaded, a trader would return to Europe with desired goods.
The spoilage rate of slaves in transit was fearsome. Often over 50% died from disease or other causes. But the profits were handsome. All told, an estimated 12 million Africans were taken as slaves by both Europeans and Arabs.
The slave trade flourished despite its illegality. Spain was the first country to abolish slavery, in 1542, by imperial decree. Though slavery was illegal in the Netherlands, it thrived there, helping to support the economy. By 1650, the Dutch were the preeminent European slave traders.
The ever-determined Brits overtook the Dutch around 1700, with something akin to religious fervor. The Church of England had slaves on its sugar plantations in the West Indies and used them domestically.
When England entirely outlawed slavery in 1834, the government compensated slave owners. The Bishop of Exeter in Canterbury was among them.
The profitability of slavery and threats of a war between races retarded abolition movements. Of the numerous slave revolts in the Caribbean, only one was successful. In the 1790s, slaves in the French colony of Haiti rose up and slaughtered the whites and mulattoes there and established an independent republic. Europe recoiled in horror.
While the northern states in the United States outlawed slavery between 1777 and 1804, it took a bloody Civil War (1860–1865) for the south to be coerced into abolition. Even then, racial discrimination and exploitation enthusiastically continued.
Brazil and Cuba ended slavery in the 1880s, only after it was no longer profitable for owners. Meanwhile, slavery continued in Africa, where Arabs slavers raided for new captives to be sold. European colonial rule and diplomatic pressure brought the slave trade to a supposed end in Africa.
In Europe, Asia, and elsewhere, slavery persists. Millions are enslaved for sexual and economic exploitation.