A 500-year-old shared history

The transatlantic slave trade is often regarded as the first system of globalization and lasted from the 16th century through much of the 19th century. Slavery, and the global political, socio-economic and banking systems that supported it, constitutes one of the greatest tragedies in the history of humanity both in terms of scale and duration.

The transatlantic slave trade was the largest mass deportation of humans in history and a determining factor in the world economy of the 18th century where millions of Africans were torn from their homes, deported to the American continent and sold as slaves, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – or UNESCO.

The transatlantic slave trade that began about 500 years ago connected the economies of three continents with Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, England and France acting as the primary trading countries.

“The transatlantic slave trade transformed the Americas,” wrote Dr. Alan Rice, a Reader in American Cultural Studies at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston in the United Kingdom.

“Three factors combined to cause this transformation. Large amounts of land had been seized from Native Americans and were not being used,” Rice said. “Europeans were looking for somewhere to invest their money and very cheap labor was available in the form of enslaved Africans [thus] the Americas became a booming new economy.”

The transatlantic slave trade also formed an essential bridge between Europe’s New World and its Asia trade and, as such, it was a crucial element in the development of the global economy in the 18th century, Professor Robert Harms wrote for Yale University’s “Global Yale.”

Harms, a professor of History at Yale and chair of the Council on African Studiescontinued:

“There was one basic economic fact – little noticed by historians – that provides the key to the relationship between the direct trade and the circuit trade.

“When a French ship arrived in the New World with a load of slaves to be bartered for sugar, the value of the slaves equaled about twice as much sugar as the ship could carry back to France. For that reason, the most common form of slave contract called for fifty percent of the sugar to be delivered immediately and the remainder to be delivered a year later.

“The second delivery carried no interest penalty, and so the slave sellers were in effect giving the buyers an interest-free loan.”

In total, UNESCO estimates that between 25 to 30 million people — men, women and children — were deported from their homes and sold as slaves in the different slave trading systems.

More than half – 17 million – were deported and sold during the transatlantic slave trade, a figure that UNESCO historians said doesn’t include those who died aboard the ships and during the course of wars and raids connected to the slave.

The trade proceeded in three steps. The ships left Western Europe for Africa loaded with goods which were to be exchanged for slaves.

Upon their arrival in Africa, the captains traded their merchandise for captive slaves. Weapons and gun powder were the most important commodities but textiles, pearls and other manufactured goods, as well as rum, were also in high demand.