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The Transatlantic Slave Trade

Primary Source Set

Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Transatlantic Slave Trade brought twelve million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World as part of a broad exchange of trade goods between England, West Africa, South America, the West Indies, and the United States. While the largest numbers of slaves were sent to South America, particularly Brazil, and the West Indies, smaller numbers arrived in the United States where Americans purchased them for labor. Most often from the west and central portions of the African continent, these enslaved people were kidnapped, forced to endure extreme violence, ripped from family and familiar language and culture, and treated as property. They endured the horrors of the Middle Passage, the journey by ship from West African slave trading ports to the New World during which an estimated two million captives died. Once in the United States, enslaved Africans were sold at auctions across the country, from the rice plantations of the South Carolina coast to the small businesses and farms of the rural Northeast. Both England and the United States outlawed the importation of slaves through slave trading in 1807. This did not fully prevent illegal slave trading to the United States, which persisted until the American Civil War. This primary source set include documents, photographs, artwork, and maps that tell the story of the slave trade and its impact.

Additional resources for research

  1. In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience: The Transatlantic Slave Trade, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

  2. African Passages, Lowcountry Adaptations, the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative, the College of Charleston.

  3. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, Emory University.

  4. Transatlantic Slave Trade, UNESCO Culture.

  5. “The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes” animated map, Slate.

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