Plan, profil et distribution du navire La Marie Séraphique de Nantes - Musée d'histoire de Nantes

Plan, profil et distribution du navire La Marie Séraphique de Nantes - Musée d'histoire de Nantes

The Atlantic slave trade began in the 15th century when the Portuguese began to buy men on the coast of Africa, which they were exploring.

The discovery of the New World and its colonisation by the major European maritime powers accelerated this process exponentially. Enormous manpower was needed to staff mines and plantations as the resources and territories of the Americas were worked. Neither the small number of European immigrants, nor the Native Americans, decimated as they were by exploitation and disease, were sufficient for the task.

Consequently, from the 16th century, Atlantic trade termed « triangular trade » began: European slave traders left Europe with manufactured goods which they exchanged on the coasts of Africa for captives provided by certain kingdoms and African slave traders.

These European ships then transported their human cargo across the Atlantic in a terrible journey which certain historians have called the Great Deportation.

 The captives were then sold to settlers in the West Indies, Brazil and North America, as well as Réunion and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Reduced to a status of slavery, they worked as forced labour, generally in extremely harsh conditions: on average, a plantation slave’s life expectancy was less than ten years. Goods produced by slaves (sugar, coffee, cocoa, cotton, tobacco etc.) were exported to Europe and sold.

Historians estimate that, on average, profits made from slave trading were around 15 to 20%. Slave trading contributed to the economic growth of ports, and more widely of the countries involved in trading human beings.

The system reached its peak in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Between the mid-15th and late-19th centuries, it is estimated that more than 12 and a half million captives were deported from Africa to the Americas and islands in the Atlantic. More than one and a half million people died during the crossing.

Within Africa itself, innumerable victims died when they were captured and during the walk to the coast, before they even boarded the slave ships. We will therefore never know the real number of victims claimed by this criminal trade.

African slave trading in thirty questions by Eric Saguera :

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, international database held by Emory University (USA) :

Breaking the silence, Anti-Slavery International website :