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Reigan Gilbertson

C3275675
Word Count (not including Bibliography): 946

Why did the Atlantic slave trade come into existence, and how did it work
commercially?
The Atlantic Slave trade was one of the most prominent, profiting and vile displays of human
enslavement in history. The organised brutality of the African populace, co-ordinated and capitalised
by Europe, Northern and Southern British Colonies in America and West Indies is recorded to have
profited a staggering amount and further solidified Europes growing domination as the New World.
The reason why the Atlantic Slave trade came into existent and worked efficiently was the massive
economical differences between the African people and their captors, more precisely, the ability to
use the mental and physical abuse to force enslavement.
Africa, compared to Europe, America and the West Indies, lacked in the fundamental aspects that the
aforementioned countries involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade viewed as necessities. It lacked
industrial growth, mercantilism and a flourishing economy beginning to run on trade. This was a very
significant difference between the towns and tribes that the African populace had grown up in. Once
seeing the stark differences, the Europeans believed that African society was barbaric and
uncivilised.1
In The African Slave Experience by Olaudah Equiano, the writer recounts his experience
when first faced with his captors, And I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad
spirits, and that they were going to kill me.2. As African people would have very limited, or non-
existent knowledge, the complexion, the characteristics and even the language the shipmen spoke
caused great fear among the captured slaves.
The treatment of the slaves while voyaging across the Atlantic Slave triangle was only upheld by the
interest of the Captain. A Fixed Melancholy by Ramesh Mallipeddi expands on the diseases, both
psychological and physical that caused the most deaths when voyaging across the ocean. Mallipeddi
states here; feeding them at regular intervals, keeping the hold clean, and making them jump and
dance for an hour on the deck every day3 and that the Captain believed their expectations were only
defeated by their own mortality.4
Interestingly, Mallipeddi states the fact that the ships carting the slaves across the ocean were
coined the name floating coffins.5 This proves that the journey was perilous and even without a
thoughtful Captain, many of the slaves still died from diseases. Equiano states in his writings, that
when himself or his fellow countrymen did not eat what they were given; whether the reasons be
sickness or stubbornness, they were subject to brutal beatings and whippings.

1
Muhammad, Patricia. THE TRANS-ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE: A FORGOTTEN CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY AS
DEFINED BY INTERNATIONAL LAW." Pg. 888
2
Ed. Peter T. Stearns, The African Slave Experience: Olaudah Equiano Pg. 47
3
Mallipeddi, Ramesh. "A Fixed Melancholy": Migration, Memory, and the Middle Passage." Pg. 235
4
Mallipeddi, Ramesh. "A Fixed Melancholy": Migration, Memory, and the Middle Passage." Pg. 236
5
Mallipeddi, Ramesh. "A Fixed Melancholy": Migration, Memory, and the Middle Passage." Pg. 236
In the collective work Africa, Slavery and the Slave Trade, by David Eltis, it references that;
Shipwreck and slave revolts were partly responsible for this pattern (high rates of per day deaths) but
the major factor was the incidence of infectious disease.6 This shows the mental instability and
torment that the African slaves endured, along with the physical abuse.
Additionally, Mallipeddi makes an interesting point of that homesickness or nostalgia, that plagued
the ships captives, More significantly, it appeared to be a psychosomatic affliction, for by
constantly thinking about home, individuals easily became sad and fell into illness. 7 As most
Europeans would not understand the massive upheaval the Africans endured when pulled from their
homeland in such a devastating manner, it was ruled off as a weakness therefor creating more
distinct characteristics between the slaves and their owners.
The physical and mental hardships were most prominent during these long voyages to an unknown
land. Many captives committed suicide, or attempted to, believing that they would join their land and
their people in death. This was the fact of many horrible deaths, as the very mental stability of the
African slaves could constantly be questioned. In John Barbots work, The Slade Traders View, he
explains how the slaves were handled when finally reaching land; They are brought out into a large
plain, where the surgeons examine every part of every one of them, such as are allowed good and
sound, are set on one side, and the others by themselves. 8 These others he mentions are the unfit,
unwell or above the age of 35 which were classified as Mackrons.9
The writings of THE TRANS-ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE: A FORGOTTEN
CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY AS DEFINED BY INTERNATIONAL LAW, by Patricia
Muhammed outlines the profits and laws used for slavery. Muhammed states here; Some Europeans
were appalled to hear the Africans ruled themselves and possessed their own system of
government,10 which further solidifies the aggressive, pedantic thought process that led to the
ideological justification for enslaving other human beings.
As argued above the very core of the profitable success was the economic and psychological and
technological advantages the Europeans had against the African populace. Using intimidation, force
and coercion, the countries involved in the Atlantic slave trade were able to dominate and exploit the
free-labour forced enslavement that the African populace promised.

6
David Eltis, Africa, Slavery, and the Slave Trade, mid Seventeenth to mid-Eighteenth Centuries Pg. 281
7
Mallipeddi, Ramesh. "A Fixed Melancholy": Migration, Memory, and the Middle Passage." Pg. 240
8
ed Peter T. Stearns, The Slave Traders View: John Bardot pp. 181
9
ed Peter T. Stearns, The Slave Traders View: John Bardot pp. 181
10
Muhammad, Patricia. THE TRANS-ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE: A FORGOTTEN CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY AS
DEFINED BY INTERNATIONAL LAW." pp. 896
Bibliography
Peter T. Stearns (ed) The Slave Traders View: John Bardot, in World History in Documents: A
Comparative Reader (New York: New York University Press, 2008), pp. 179-184.
Peter T. Stearns (ed) The African Slave Experience: Olaudah Equiano, in World History in
Documents: A Comparative Reader (New York: New York University Press, 2008), pp. 184-89.
Muhammad, Patricia M. 2004. "THE TRANS-ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE: A FORGOTTEN CRIME
AGAINST HUMANITY AS DEFINED BY INTERNATIONAL LAW." American University
International Law Review 19, no. 4: 883-947. Business Source Ultimate, EBSCOhost (accessed
August 10, 2017).
Curtin, Philip D. The Atlantic slave trade: a census. n.p.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969. ACLS
Humanities E-Book, EBSCOhost (accessed August 11, 2017).
Mallipeddi, Ramesh. "A Fixed Melancholy": Migration, Memory, and the Middle Passage."
Eighteenth Century: Theory & Interpretation (University of Pennsylvania Press) 55, no. 2/3
(Summer/Fall 2014 2014): 235. Complementary Index, EBSCOhost (accessed August 10, 2017).
David Eltis, Africa, Slavery, and the Slave Trade, mid Seventeenth to mid-Eighteenth Centuries, in
Philip D. Morgan and Nicholas Canny (ed), Oxford Handbook of Atlantic History (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2011), pp. 271-86.