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Slave trade

Black African captives are roped together.Black African captives are roped together. Overseas colonies brought huge wealth to countries in Europe. Spain plundered its colonies on the American mainland, carrying vast amounts of gold and silver to Europe. Portugal, too, had rich sources of gold in its colony in Brazil. Goods such as sugar (from the Caribbean), tea (from China), coffee and chocolate (from South America) also became popular across Europe. To exploit these resources, the European colonists needed labourers. They turned to Africa, from where captives were transported to the Americas in their millions. This was the slave trade.

Plan of a slave shipPlan of a slave ship

Sugar cane plantations

Spanish colonists in the Caribbean quickly discovered that sugar cane grew well in the hot, humid climate of the islands. Sugar was increasingly popular in Europe, particularly as it could be used to sweeten the new drinks that were also arriving from overseas colonies—coffee, tea and cocoa.

The Spanish colonists planted sugar cane plants in plantations, where they forced the local Indians to work. But so many of the local people died, from ill-treatment and from disease epidemics, that there was soon a shortage of labourers. In the early 1500s the first captives were brought from Africa to the Americas to work as slaves on the plantations. The trickle soon turned to a flood, as millions of people were transported across the Atlantic Ocean. Many died on the journey from the terrible conditions on board ship.

Triangular trade

Between the 15th and 19th centuries, about 12 million enslaved Africans set sail across the Atlantic for the Americas. Around 40% were from west central Africa (present-day Angola, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo) and another 35% were from the Bights of Benin and Biafra on the west coast of Africa.

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