The Slave Trade and Its Effects on Early America

Slavery played an important role in the development of the American
colonies. It was introduced to the colonies in 1619, and spanned until the
Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The trading of slaves in America in the
seventeenth century was a large industry. Slaves were captured from their homes
in Africa, shipped to America under extremely poor conditions, and then sold to
the highest bidder, put to work, and forced to live with the new conditions of
There was no mercy for the slaves and their families as they were
captured from their homes and forced onto slave ships. Most of the Africans who
were captured lived in small villages in West Africa. A typical village
takeover would occur early in the morning. An enemy tribe would raid the
village, and then burn the huts to the ground. Most of the people who were taken
by surprise were killed or captured; few escaped. The captured Africans were
now on their way to the slave ships. ?Bound together two by two with heavy
wooden yokes fastened around their necks, a long line of black men and women
plodded down a well-worn path through the dense forest. Most of the men were
burdened with huge elephants' tusks. Others, and many of the women too, bore
baskets or bales of food. Little boys and girls trudged along beside their
parents, eyes wide in fear and wonder? (McCague, 14).
After they were marched often hundreds of miles, it was time for them to
be shipped off to sea, so that they could be sold as cheap labor to help harvest
the new world. But before they were shipped off, they had to pass through a
slave-trading station. The slave trade, which was first controlled by Portugal,
was now controlled by other European nations. In the late 1600's, Spain,
Holland, England, France and Denmark were all sending ships to West Africa. The
slave trade was becoming big business (Goodman, 7).
Selection of the slaves by the traders was a painstaking process. Ships
from England would pull up on the coast of Africa, and the captains would set
off towards the coast on small ships. ?If the slave trader was a black chief,
there always had to be a certain amount of palaver, or talk, before getting down
to business. As a rule, the chief would expect some presents, or dash? (Stampp,
26). Once the palaver was over, the slaves had to be inspected. The captain of
the ship usually had a doctor who would check the condition of the slaves. They
would carefully examine the slaves, looking in their mouths, poking at their
bodies, and making them jump around. This was done so that the doctor could see
how physically fit the slaves were. If the slaves were not of the doctors
standards, they were either killed or kept to see if another ship would take
In the 1600's, the journey across the Atlantic for the African slaves
was a horrible one. It was extremely disease-ridden, and many slaves did not
survive the journey. The people were simply thrown into the bottom of the ship
and had to survive the best they could. Often, many slaves had to wait in the
bottom of the ship while they were still docked at the harbor, so that the
traders could gather up more and more slaves. There were usually 220 to 250
slaves in each ship. Then they had to stay down there for the long trip across
the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. ?Women and children were allowed to roam
at large, but the men were attached by leg irons to chains that ran along the
ship's bulwarks. After a breakfast of rice or cornmeal or yams, with perhaps a
scrap of meat thrown in, and a little water, there came the ceremony of ?dancing
the slaves? -a compulsory form of exercise designed, it was said, for the
captive's physical and mental well being? (Howard, 23). Even though there was
ventilation, the air in the crowded hold area quickly grew foul and stinking.
Fierce tropical heat also added to the misery of the slaves. Seasickness was
also a problem.
Conditions on the ships improved as the slave trade continued, but
thousands of Africans still lost their lives on the journey to the new world.
When slaves would try to rebel on the ship, they were immediately killed and
thrown overboard. Some slaves preferred death over slavery. Watching their
chance while on deck, they often jumped overboard to drown themselves (Davis,
Africans were brought to America to work. ?They worked the cotton
plantations of Mississippi and in the tobacco fields of Virginia, in Alabama's