Collar and chain for enslaved child
David Livingstone Centre collection

A long walk - sick and exhausted slaves abandoned
David Livingstone Centre collection

Gold objects
(Early 19th century, Asante [Ashanti], Ghana)
© British Museum

The Scottish slave trader
The slave traders fitted out and sailed the slave ships. They sailed to the West Coast of Africa where they obtained men, women, and children. The captured people were taken to the West Indies or North America to be sold as slaves.

This was an entrepreneurial business – obtaining and equipping a slave ship was expensive and slave traders often had rich backers.If business went well (the ships didn’t sink and they didn’t lose too many captives to disease) the slave traders could make good profits and some became rich themselves.

The African trader
European traders were susceptible to tropical disease and preferred to remain near their ships. They were also unsure of the African rulers so they used African middle-men or slave traders

The Scottish traders might buy slaves from a slave fort – or sail down the coast, drop anchor and take a rowing boat ashore. Here they would meet with African traders. Transactions were not always simple - they might need to bargain hard since there could be several groups of Europeans looking for people to buy.

The African slave trade
Slavery had existed in Africa for many years before the Triangular Trade – but it was a different system. After tribal wars, captives were often kept as slaves and had few rights. They were expected to become part of and support their new tribe, adding strength to the tribe. Some did achieve power, however.

Olaudah Equiano described being a slave in Africa before being sold to European traders (see Resources). Some historians compare African slavery to European feudalism, believing it had closer links to the serfdom system (peasants) of Western Europe in the Middle Ages (or 19th century Russia) – than the slavery system of the West Indies and America.

East and West Coast slave trades
The British (or transatlantic) trade, operating in the 1700s and 1800s, was based along the West coast of Africa. It has been suggested that the provision of guns, by Europeans, increased tribal wars in West Africa, and encouraged African traders to hunt and capture people from opposing tribes.

There was also a slave trade along the East coast of Africa that had been operating for many years and involved Arab traders. David Livingstone (b.1813) later campaigned against this trade. The main slave market at Zanzibar was closed in 1873 – a few weeks after Livingstone’s death. (For more information, visit the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre.)

Chattel Slavery
The British slave trade turned people into goods (chattel slavery) – they became non-people. They had no rights. In the West Indies and America, there were no laws to protect them. They could be abused or even murdered without the perpetrators being punished.

The goods
The captured Africans were exchanged for goods or money. Brass manillas (brass moulded into the shape of bracelets) became a form of money in Africa. Brass and copper were valuable because the Africans were fine metal-workers. They also worked in gold.

Other goods that European traders took to Africa included cotton and guns. Britain manufactured many goods for the slave trade – from brassware to ships (and the ships’ fittings, including the chains). This, along with the colonial plantations (and slave trade system), helped enrich the British economy and to spark off the Industrial Revolution.

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