The history of the transatlantic slave trade involved the transportation of enslaved African people mainly to the Americas. It existed from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
Current estimates are about 12 million human beings were shipped across the Atlantic. The number purchased by traders was much higher since the passage to the new world had a very high death rate.
Slavery was prevalent in many parts of Africa before the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade. At least 10 centuries of slavery existed for the benefit of Muslim countries from the 9th to the 19th centuries.
Slaves were widely employed for work in irrigation, mining, and animal husbandry, but mostly as soldiers, guards, domestic workers, and concubines. Europeans usually bought enslaved people who were captured in wars between African states.
Some Africans made a business out of capturing Africans from neighboring ethnic groups or war captives and selling them. Several African kings and merchants took part in trading of enslaved people from 1440 to about 1833. Sometimes they would even sell criminals.
The treatment of slaves in Africa was more variable than the Americas. At one extreme, the kings of Dahomey (present-day Republic of Benin) routinely slaughtered slaves in the hundreds of thousands in sacrificial rituals.
In the Americas owners denied slaves the right to marry and were considered as property of the owners. Approximately 1.2 - 2.4 million Africans died during their transport to the New World, which took at least 2½ months. More died upon their arrival.
The number of slaves who died is uncertain but it may exceed the number who survived.
Historian Patrick Manning says that more Africans likely died during the slave raids in Africa and forced marches to the ports. He estimates that 4 million died in Africa after being captured.
Before countries completely banned the African slave trade in 1853, 15.3 million slaves had arrived in the Americas. The first slaves arrived in Hispaniola (Haiti) and in the Dominican Republic in 1502. Cuba received its first slaves in 1513, Jamaica in 1518, and the USA in 1526.
Virginia was the first state to stop the importation of slaves in 1778. Denmark was the first nation to ban slave trade in 1803. The last country to import slaves was Brazil.
The Rastafari movement is a religious and political campaign begun in Jamaica in the 1930's where 98% of the population are descended from victims of Atlantic slave trade. Through reggae music and other media, they want to call attention to slavery so no one will forget what occurred.
In 2009, the Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria wrote an open letter to all African chieftains who participated in slave trade calling for an apology for their role in the Atlantic slave trade: “We cannot continue to blame the white people, as Africans, particularly the traditional rulers, are not blameless. Since the Americas and Europe have accepted the cruelty of their roles and have forcefully apologized, it would be logical, reasonable and humbling if African traditional rulers can accept blame and formally apologize to the descendants of the victims of their collaborative and exploitative slave trade.”
On July 30, 2008, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution apologizing for American slavery and subsequent discriminatory laws. The language included a reference to the “fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery.”
Author Napoleon Hill said that as humans our most serious sin is that of intolerance.
“The bitterest intolerance grows out of religious, racial, and economic prejudices and differences of opinion. How long, O God, until we poor mortals will understand the folly of trying to destroy one another because we are of different religious beliefs and racial tendencies?”