DK History: Slave Trade
People have been bought and sold as slaves around the world through much of history. This trade reached new heights in the 16th to 19th centuries, as Arabs and Europeans plundered Africa. In the 18th century, it is believed that up to eight million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean.
West African slaves were normally captured by African raiders. At the coast they were exchanged for European guns or textiles. The European traders packed the slaves into ships and sailed for the New World. Once the Africans were sold, the European captains picked up cargoes before sailing home.
After the ordeal of the Atlantic crossing, the slaves were prepared for auction. Once sold, they were forced to work long hours on PLANTATIONS for no pay. Many slaves were treated with cruelty, and were chained and branded. Those who tried to escape were punished by whipping or even hanging.
Toussaint was a freed slave from the French colony of St. Dominique (Haiti). He joined a slave uprising in 1791. When revolutionary France abolished slavery, Toussaint became a respected leader. However, after a change of government, he was seized and imprisoned.
Slaves in the Caribbean and the US were forced to work on plantations—estates where sugar cane, cotton, or other crops were grown. The owners paid workers no wages, so their profits were huge.