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Annual number of slaves transported from Africa to the Americas 1501-1866

Between 1501 and 1866, it is estimated that over 12.3 million people were forced onto ships in Africa, and transported to the Americas as slaves. Furthermore, it is estimated that only 10.5 million of these slaves disembarked on the other side of the Atlantic, meaning that roughly 1.8 million did not survive the journey. The transatlantic slave trade was a part of the triangular trade route between Europe, Africa and the Americas, during the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Generally speaking, this route saw European merchants bring manufactured products to Africa to trade for slaves, then transport the slaves to the Americas to harvest raw materials, before taking these materials back to Europe where they would then be consumed or used in manufacturing. Slavery was an integral part in funding the expansion of Europe's colonial empires, which shaped the modern and highly globalized world in which we live today.

The Middle Passage

As with trade, the slave journey was also broken into three parts; the First Passage was the stage where slaves were captured and transported to African ports, the Middle Passage was the journey across the Atlantic, while the Final Passage was where the slaves were transported to their place of work. The death toll in the First Passage is thought to be the highest of the three stages, as millions were killed or fatally wounded as they were captured, however a lack of written data and historical evidence has made this number difficult to estimate. In contrast, shipping records from the time give a much more accurate picture of the Middle Passage's death toll, and this data suggest that roughly 14.5 percent of slaves did not survive the journey. The reason for this was the harsh and cramped conditions on board; slave ships were designed in such a way that they could fit the maximum number of slaves on board in order to maximize profits. These conditions then facilitated the spread of diseases, such as smallpox and dysentery, while malnutrition and thirst created further problems. Generally, slavers aimed to keep slaves as healthy (therefore; profitable) as possible, although there are countless examples of mistreatment and punishment of slaves by their captors, and several cases where slaves were exterminated by the crew as provisions ran low.

Rise and fall of the transatlantic slave trade

The European arrival in the Americas also saw the introduction of virgin soil epidemics (new diseases being introduced to biologically defenseless populations) which decimated the indigenous populations. The abundance of natural resources, but lack of available labor led to the rise of the transatlantic slave trade. Until the mid-1600s, Portuguese traders had a near-monopoly on this trade, supplying slaves to the newly expanding Spanish and Portuguese empires in South America. As other European powers began to expand their empires in the Caribbean and North America, the slave trade grew dramatically, and during the eighteenth century, the number of slaves being brought to the New World increased from an annual average of thirty thousand in the 1690s to 87 thousand in the 1790s. The transatlantic slave trade reached its peak between the 1750 and 1850, and an average of 74 thousand slaves were brought to the Americas each year between these dates. The largest decline came as the slave trade was disrupted during the American War of Independence (1775-1783), although the trade became weakened as the abolitionist movement gained momentum in Europe and the Americas around the turn of the century. The most significant impacts came as the slave trade was abolished in Britain and the U.S. in 1807 and Brazil in 1831, and Britain then used its position as the global superpower to impose abolition on other nations and used the Royal Navy to enforce these measures. While most nations abolished the slave trade in the early 1800s, it would take decades before the actual practice of slavery would be abolished; today, slavery is illegal in almost every country, however modern slavery in the forms of forced labor, human trafficking and sexual exploitation continues to be prevalent across the globe.

Estimated annual number of slaves who embarked on ships in Africa and disembarked in the Americas from 1501 to 1866

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Release date



Africa, North America, Central and South America

Survey time period

1501 to 1866

Supplementary notes

Source includes slaves who were transported to Europe and other parts of Africa in certain years, however these figures have been removed from the data shown here.

The totals given in the description have been calculated using estimates for annual totals. Overall estimates may vary

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