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IntroductionDepartureMiddle PassageArrivalAbolitionLegacy

Captive Passage: The Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Making of the AmericasWest African Social and Historical Background

Captive Passage
has been made
possible in part by:
National Endowment for the Humanities
Recognition of
additional sponsors
for this exhibition
can be found by
clicking on
ExhibitionSponsors.

DepartureDeparture from AfricaWest Africa Before Slaving
Contact Between Europeans and AfricaThe Enslavement of AfricansResistance and Endurance

Departure from Africa

North West Africa (inverted)
North West Africa (inverted)

In the 1420s, Prince Henry of Portugal sent ships to the West Coast of Africa to explore and trade. The Portuguese brought back gold, ivory, and eventually slaves. In 1452, Pope Nicholas V granted the Portuguese the authority to attack and enslave, "the Moors, heathens, and other enemies of Christ," who lived south of Cape Bojador near modern day El Aaium. In 1481, the Portuguese set up a trading post called El Mina in what is modern-day Ghana. In 1494, The Spanish signed the Treaty of Tordesillas with Portugal to supply all the Spanish colonies in the Americas with African slaves.

Soon other European nations began to follow Portugal. The Dutch, English, and French began developing trade relations by 1650 with different West African nations. To trade the Europeans built fortifications to house troops and to store trade goods, including slaves. These "castles" as they were called, were located on the coast, near a good harbor.

Slave Trade on the West Coast
Slaves on the West Coast
The North Prospect of the English and Dutch Forts at Accra
The North Prospect of the English and Dutch Forts at Accra

The European representative would develop a relationship with the local tribal leader, who would then in turn help carry out the supply of goods and slaves. The Europeans capitalized on the existing African slave trade.

The first slaves were likely prisoners of war, and debtors. As the European demand escalated, so did the number of peoples captured for the European market.

European Forts
European Country Present Day Location
Dutch
Dutch
Dutch
Dutch
British
British
British
British
French
Portuguese
Portuguese
Portuguese
Portuguese
Portuguese
Gambia
Ghana
Ghana
Benin
Senegal
Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone
Benin
Ivory Coast
Mauritania
Ivory Coast
Ghana
Ghana
Cameroon

Many of the slaves were brought to the European forts from the hinterland of Africa. The areas included the kingdoms of Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Sierra Leone. As the Europeans traded farther south, more Africans were brought from the Congo-Angola and Nigeria. By the 1600s almost all the slaves taken from Africa arrived in the Americas.

Cormantine Castle
Cormantine Castle

Approximately3.6-5 million were taken to Brazil, 4-5 million to the Caribbean, and .4-.5 million to North America. The Europeans sent the majority of slaves from the forts to their American colonies. Britain sent slaves to North America and the Caribbean; the Portuguese sent slaves to the colonies in Brazil. The French supplied the few colonies in North America and the Caribbean. The Dutch supplied their own colonies as well as other European countries.