The Atlantic slave trade began in the 15th century when the Portuguese, during their exploration of the coasts of Africa, started buying men.
The discovery of the New World and colonization by the great European naval powers exponentially accelerated this process. The exploitation of American wealth and territories required abundant labor to operate mines and plantations. Neither the insufficient number of European immigrants nor the decreasing numbers of Native Americans, decimated by exploitation and disease, could have provided the volume of labor.
As early as the 16th century, a transatlantic trade called “triangular trade” was established: European slave merchants left Europe with manufactured goods, which they exchanged along the coasts of Africa for captives provided by slave traders and certain African kingdoms.
European vessels then transported their human cargo across the Atlantic in a terrible journey that some historians refer to as the Great Deportation.
Captives were then sold to settlers in the West Indies, Brazil, and North America as well as in the Reunion Island and Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean. Once enslaved, they were coerced to work, frequently under extremely harsh conditions. The average life expectancy of a slave working on a plantation did not exceed 10 years. The goods produced by slaves, such as sugar, coffee, cocoa, cotton and tobacco, were then exported to Europe.
Historians estimate the average profit derived from these expeditions at 15%-20%. The slave trade contributed to the economic prosperity of ports and participating countries.
The system was most active during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Between the mid-15th century and the end of the 19th century, more than 12.5 million captives were deported from Africa to the Americas and the Atlantic islands. More than 1.5 million died during the crossing.
Countless victims died in Africa while being captured or during forced marches to the coast before even reaching the slave ships. The actual number of victims of this criminal trade will never be known.