Why Slave Trade Defined Transatlantic Commerce

Human servitude and slave trade history traces back to time immemorial, although it became evident during the Atlantic commercial activities between 1450 and 1850. The onset of this trade in the early 1400s disrupted African social settings, and it became a significant activity both for some African leaders and the colonialists. As the Portuguese looked for the ways to explore natural resources in the east, European countries began to consider colonies as a way of acquiring labor from the African continent. Thus, the struggle for natural resources, labor, and the need to supply finished goods to Africans resulted in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Slavery and the Atlantic Trade

Slavery was more dominant from the 15th to 18th centuries. It became dominant from 1720 to 1730 with the independent traders carrying fewer crew members compared to their cargoes. The European demand for laborers in different plantations across the countries instigated colonies’ culture, which became the leading cause of the slavery during trans-Atlantic commercial engagement period. The transatlantic dominated the Atlantic trade from 1450 to the 1850s when Portugal, Spain, and England began buying the slaves from western Africa to work in their plantation farms in the eastern Atlantic colonies. During the period, the European countries began developing their colonies, key amongst them being the United States of America. The rising demand for the workers in the cotton, sugar, and tobacco plantations meant that the European farmers needed adequate human resources to work on the farms. Portugal and Conquistadores bought the African slaves in 1480 and 1502, respectively, with Portugal owning the Eastern Atlantic Sugar Plantations. The ravaging disease and calamities had affected the local population, thus, compelling the European nations to seek labor from the African continent to run their economic activities. Slavery was perceived as one of the highest commodities during the transatlantic trade; thus, its domination increased from 1450 to 1850.

Captivity defined the transatlantic trade for a set of reasons. First, the supply of the finished goods to Africa meant that the European colonies would exchange their final products with the slaves from the African leaders to help in the farms and expand their capitalistic territories. Clothes, iron, weapons, and wine were granted to the African rulers in exchange for the slaves. Second, the enhanced labor provided by the sales in the tobacco, coffee, and sugar plantations produced valuable goods shipped to the European and Americas continents. Such activities would then lead to the growth of commercial activities within the two continents. Mass production without advanced technologies means that the colonialists relied on primitive energy from the slaves to enhance their production activities. Therefore, the colonial masters identified Africa as the principal market for their goods as would sell finished product and acquire free labor in return.

Impact of the Slave Trade

The slave trade changed the Atlantic world in terms of commerce, culture, politics, and society at large. The transformation was realized owing to the interactions between European, American, and African continents. Slaves were a valuable commercial product with a financial worth attached to them which would improve the fortunes of the merchant. The slaves were valuable when they arrived healthy and alive as such would mean that they would be beneficial to their masters. The operation of Ship Zong primarily for the transport of slaves from African to the American continent by Captain Luke Collingwood affirms that slavery was an integral commercial activity during the transatlantic trade. Slavery also poses critical economic benefits to the African continent. In essence, slavery was deemed Africa’s major export and was a wealth source for the African elders involved in the trade. The growth of the British economy relied on the output of the slaves within the American plantations. From 1450 to 1850, Britain was deemed the most industrialized country, with its economic status being primarily premised on America’s agricultural imports. The cotton mills were drawn from the imports of the transatlantic trade, which had a beneficial impact on the country’s economic growth.

Economically, slave trade was an established business in some African states, for instance, Gambia. Thus, the European colonial presence only elevated the practice by acquiring human resource to help in their plantations. The move culminated into an expanded conquest across the Atlantic area. There were multiple trading activities that ensued during this era as the colonial masters strived to conquer the other parts of the world for resources. Culturally, there was a disproportional impact which slavery had on the male population both within the American continents and Africa. In the latter whose higher proportion were young males, there was a potential labor force. Depriving the Africans of their male population denied them their cultural prestige of having energetic young men since the males was deemed to have a higher social status compared to the females. Males were preferred due to their ability to withstand the harsh conditions during transportation and punishments in the plantations. In the Americas, there was a huge influx of males brought about by slave ships, and it disproportionately impacted the gender compositions of both north and South Americas. Thus, the activities of Euro-Americans slave trade greatly altered the socio-cultural and political structure within the African countries.

The exploitative commercial activities drawn from the trade negatively impacted the African nation’s political structure aggressively involved in the business. The religious and political aristocracies of the sub-Saharan African people grew from the support from the European countries such as Britain and Portugal, primarily from the weapons brought to them in exchange for the slaves. The building of political aristocracies impoverished African societies by undermining their ability to create an industrial economy due to their youthful population’s oppression and mass extraction of their raw materials. The political structure of the African nations such as Ashanti, modern Ghana, benefited the political class such as the clan elders to the local population’s detriment. The change in political structure was also evident in Europe, with Britain being ruled by the colonial administrators who operated the slave trade and voyages. In essence, the colonial power used the transatlantic trade to assert their political conquest using religion, weapons and other approaches to ensure that Africans remained submissive.

To conclude, the Atlantic slave trade has the significant history in the global development and evolution of societies. The colonial territories scrambled for colonies to capture labor and supply their goods. Likewise, the need to exploit natural resources in the colonies became a significant agenda during this endeavor as the locals surrendered the slaves to foreign countries. Some of the Africans became the slaves in European countries, working as gardeners in various plantations. At the same time, the events disrupted family setups and resulted in a massive evolution in culture, agriculture, mining, and other forms of commercial activities both in Africa and colonial territories.


Ashcraft-Eason, Lillian. “She Voluntarily Hath Come’: A Gambian Woman Trader in Colonial Georgia in the Eighteenth Century.” Identity in the Shadow of Slavery (2000): 202-21.

Collins, Robert O., ed. Documents from the African past. Markus Wiener Publishers, 2001.

Northrup, David. Africa’s discovery of Europe: 1450-1850. Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Thornton, John. “Sexual demography: The impact of the slave trade on family structure.” (1983): 39-48.

Whatley, Warren. “The Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Evolution of Political Authority in West Africa.” Africa’s Development in Historical Perspective (2012): 460-88.

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