By the eighteenth century, the slave trade had become an important and well-developed part of imperial and colonial economies. Mali Metro Map England, Portugal, and France were the primary nations involved, shipping well over half of the slaves traded from Africa during this time. Throughout the 1700s, the English dominated the slave trade, primarily because of their preeminence as a maritime power. English traders had access to the necessary resources, both naval and financial. The continued growth of the English colonies and the strength of British manufacturing also served as assets. Operation of the Slave Trade The slave trade began in the interior regions of Africa. Most of the men and women who were captured and sold into slavery came from limited areas along the western coast of Africa, including Benin, the Gold Coast, Gambia, and Guinea.
Captives were chained together in a coffle. The thirty to forty chained men and women were forced to march to the coast, often carrying goods to be traded, and it took several days to reach the slave trade ships. As the slave trade grew, fortresses were established along the African coast to provide housing for the Europeans involved and to hold slaves until ships arrived with traders to purchase them. Fortresses such as Portugal’s Elmina, in Ghana, included dungeons that housed 150 to 200 people at a time. The captives were fed twice a day and were subject to inhumane conditions for as long as three months before being sold to a ship’s captain. After being purchased, the slaves were packed into the holds of ships to be transported to the colonies in what was known as the Middle Passage. These ships were designed specifically to carry large numbers of human cargo, and slaves were chained together and stuffed into small spaces that prevented them from standing upright. The close quarters and lack of care resulted in diseases such as scurvy and dysentery among the captives. Historians estimate that the mortality rate for slaves subjected to the Middle Passage was as high as 13 percent. By the end of the seventeenth century, however, British slavers improved conditions so that the mortality rate dropped to as little as 3 percent.
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