Great Britain and Slavery

The triangular trade route.
Captured Africans being taken to Africa’s west coast.
Captured Africans being transferred to European slave traders.
Scene below deck on a European slave ship.
Slaves processing sugar cane in the Americas.
An enslaved European woman presented to a North African or Arab man.

When Britain colonized parts of North America, they set up large plantations there. These plantations, in order to produce yield, then needed manual laborers who worked on them, prompting British seafarers to set out for Africa to obtain slaves. Subsequently, in Africa, the Brits bought black slaves from other black Africans who held them captive, and paid with such trade goods as guns, cloths and alcohol. Thereafter, once the transactions had been made, the slave traders forced their newly-acquired slaves onto ships bound for America.

A horrific journey

The transatlantic passage on which the captured Africans embarked took several weeks. On this journey, slaves were habitually packed tightly together below deck, and men were often shackled to each other to be kept under control. A lack of proper toilets and fresh air below deck, furthermore, made the dark compartments really disgusting, and the confined spaces fostered both disease and claustrophobia. Many Africans, including women and children, died of hardship in the crammed compartments, and on the rare occasions when captives had an opportunity to move around on deck, some of them threw themselves overboard in the middle of the ocean to avoid continued pain and humiliation.

Once ashore in the Americas, the Africans who had endured the transatlantic passage were sold to plantation owners as slaves, leaving the slave ships’ cargo spaces empty again. At this point, the British sailors generally picked up sugar, tobacco or other crops produced on the plantations and loaded it onto their boats. The new cargo of agricultural products was then transported back to Britain and sold in British markets, or, sometimes, in foreign markets in Europe. This completed the so-called triangular trade route, which had started with British sailors departing for Africa with shipments of guns and other goods that the African slave traders demanded. Through this method, with three-sided trade, and starting around the year 1500, many millions of Africans were enslaved before the slave trade was finally outlawed around the year 1800.

Brits taken slaves

It should be noted that, as the triangular trade with black slaves went on, an estimated one million white Britons and other Europeans were also taken prisoner and being held as slaves under gruesome conditions in Africa. The Europeans in question were kidnapped from their villages or from their ships by pirates from North Africa who later sold them as manual laborers or, in the case of women, sex slaves to African or Arab buyers. The enslaved Europeans were then abused, with many being forced to work themselves to death, for example on board galley ships in the Mediterranean Sea. Nevertheless, some white slaves were fortunate enough to eventually be bought back by Europeans who sought to return their freedom.