Africa and Atlantic World

Jonathan Thompson and Steven Kim


Powerful Africans who engaged in slave dealing could make a sizeable profit from the trade, especially in view of the relatively high prices that European merchants were prepared to pay for African slaves. By the eighteenth century, slaves had become Africa's main export.

Politically, as African rulers organised the capture of slaves, traditions were created of brutal and arbitrary intervention by the powerful in people's lives. Meanwhile, as rival African rulers competed over the control of slave-capture and trading, wars could result.

The Americas:

Black slaves were especially important as a labour supply for the "plantation" agriculture that developed in the New World, first in Brazil, and later in the Caribbean and the southern parts of North America. The plantation system had begun in medieval times on Mediterranean islands such as Crete and Cyprus - it was an unusually sophisticated form of agricultural operation for its day, producing sugar for the international market at a time when most of European agriculture concentrated on the basics of local subsistence. But from its inception, it used slaves; and when plantations were set up in the Americas, black slaves became the backbone of the workforce.


The British cotton mills, which became the emblem of the "Industrial Revolution", depended on cheap slaved-produced cotton from the New World; cotton would have been more costly to obtain elsewhere. British consumers also benefited from other cheap and plentiful slaved-produced goods such as sugar. The profits gained from the slave trade gave the British economy an extra source of capital. Both the Americas and Africa, whose economies depended on slavery, became useful additional export markets for British manufactures. Certain British individuals, businesses, and ports prospered on the basis of the slave trade.

Plantation System in the New World:

The plantation system was used to create large quantities of cash crops such as sugarcane. This required lots of laborers, who's main role was nothing but growing crops.

Resistance to Slavery:

Many slaves resisted, often in the forms of running away. A more mild and common course of action was working slowly or even breaking tools and sabotaging work routines.