African American History Slave Ships.jpg

The Triangular Trade:

Demand for slaves to cultivate sugarcane and other crops caused what came to be known as the triangle trade. Ships leaving Europe first stopped in Africa where they traded weapons, ammunition, metal, liquor, and cloth for captives taken in wars or raids. The ships then traveled to America, where slaves were exchanged for sugar, rum, salt, and other island products. The ships returned home loaded with products popular with the European people, and ready to begin their journey again.
Between 1662 and 1807 Britain shipped 3.1 million Africans across the Atlantic Ocean in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The Transatlantic Slave Trade was the trading of enslaved people from Africa to the Americas, across the Atlantic Ocean by Europeans. Also referred to as the ‘triangular trade’ which describes three points of the trade route between Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. Africans were forcibly brought to British owned colonies in the Caribbean and sold as slaves to work on plantations. Those engaged in the trade were driven by the huge financial gain to be made, both in the Caribbean and at home in Britain.

The Middle Passage:

Life on the Plantation:

On arrival, the Africans were prepared for sale like animals. They were washed and shaved: sometimes their skins were oiled to make them appear healthy and increase their sale price. Depending on where they had arrived, the enslaved Africans were sold through agents by public auction or by a ‘scramble', in which buyers simply grabbed whomever they wanted. Sales often involved measuring, grading and intrusive physical examination. Sold, branded and issued with a new name, the enslaved Africans were separated and stripped of their identity. In a deliberate process, meant to break their will power and make them totally passive and subservient, the enslaved Africans were ‘seasoned.' This means that, for a period of two to three years, they were trained to endure their work and conditions - obey or receive the lash. It was mental and physical torture. Life expectancy was short, on many plantations only 7-9 years. The high slave replacement figures were one piece of evidence used by the abolitionist, Anthony Benezet, to counter arguments that enslaved people benefited from removal from Africa.
It was a life of endless labour. They worked up to 18 hours a day, sometimes longer at busy periods such as harvest. There were no weekends or rest days.The dominant experience for most Africans was work on the sugar plantations. In Jamaica, for example, 60% worked on the sugar plantations and, by the early 19th century, 90% of enslaved Africans in Nevis, Montserrat and Tobago toiled on sugar slave estates.
The major secondary crop was coffee, which employed sizable numbers on Jamaica, Dominica, St Vincent, Grenada, St Lucia, Trinidad and Demerara. Coffee plantations tended to be smaller than sugar estates and, because of their highland locations, were more isolated. A few colonies grew no sugar.
Children under the age of six, a few elderly people and some people with physical disabilities were the only people exempt from labour. Individuals were given jobs according to gender, age, colour, strength and birthplace. Men dominated skilled trades and women generally came to dominate field gangs. Age determined when enslaved people entered the work force, when they progressed from one gang to another, when field hands became drivers and when field hands were retired as watchmen. The offspring of planters and enslaved African women were often allocated domestic work or, in the case of men, to skilled trades. Children were sent to work doing whatever tasks they were physically able. This could include cleaning, water carrying, stone picking and collecting livestock feed. In addition to their work in the fields, women were used to carry out the duties of servants, child minders and seamstresses. Women could be separated from their children and sold to different 'owners' at any time.

Plantation Life
Understanding Slavery