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Captive Passage: The Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Making of the Americas

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
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Arrival: Life in the AmericasPreference for AfricansThe Slave Markets
European RewardsSlave Populations in the AmericasThe Ships Return to EuropeEconomics
Sugar IntroductionSlavery in North AmericaReligionSilver Mines of South America

The Economics of Slave Labor

There is nothing which contributes more to the development of the colonies and the cultivation of their soul than the laborious toil of the Negroes.

King Louis XIV of France, 1670

Tobacco Plantation
Tobacco Plantation

As the major European powers--Portugal, Britain, France, and the Netherlands--looked for ways to exploit the fertile lands of the New World, they looked to Africa for a steady supply of labor. Soon enslaved Africans had become absolutely vital to the cultivation of sugar, tobacco, cotton, and other goods Europeans craved.Based as it was on unpaid labor, the plantation system produced huge fortunes for many nations, companies, and individuals. And the king of all commodities was sugar. As European demand for sugar began to surge in the 17thcentury, plantations sprang up throughout Brazil and the Caribbean. Sugar cultivation created an insatiable demand for slave labor from Africa. Many plantations produced additional crops such as indigo, rice, and coffee, and the owners used their wealth to diversify into banking, insurance, and other industries.

Harvesting the Rice
Harvesting the Rice Indigoterie

Continue to:
Sugar Introduction