Slave Trade Reading

The Slave Trade
By Sharon Fabian
Years after slavery had ended in most of Europe, it returned in a different form. Not slavery itself,
but the slave trade. The slave trade was a money-making business that traded in human lives.
It began soon after England, Spain, and other European countries established colonies in the
New World. In many of these colonies, businessmen began plantations where they planned to grow
crops such as sugar cane, coffee, cotton, and tobacco. These plantations required many workers.
Plantations in North America, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean Islands all
needed workers. At first, the owners tried to find native residents to work on the plantations. When
this didn't fill all of their labor needs, they began to look elsewhere.
Soon, they began to look to Africa. Africa seemed far away from Europe and the Americas.
African people were not well known to Europeans or Americans, and somehow it didn't seem as bad
taking Africans for slaves. These African workers could do the work on the plantations, and everyone
involved tried not to think about the harm that was being done to the workers themselves and their
Soon, a prosperous trade in slaves developed. European countries with their fleets of merchant
ships were at the center of it all. It was a three-way trade; merchant ships sailed from Europe, to
Africa, to the Americas, and back to Europe.
On the first leg of the journey, ships carried goods such as guns, fabrics, and alcohol from Europe
to Africa. There the goods were traded for slaves.
The slaves had been captured in Africa, some during tribal wars and some in raids. They were
kept in "slave factories" along the west coast of Africa waiting for the arrival of a ship.
Once aboard the ship, the slaves were transported across the Atlantic to a plantation somewhere
in the Americas. This middle passage was a horrible experience. Hundreds of slaves were chained
together by their hands and feet in the bottom of the ship. Conditions were so unbelievably crowded
that the slaves became ill from not having enough fresh air to breathe. Many died during the voyage.
Slave narratives about life on the ships tell us that others considered suicide.
Upon reaching the Americas, the slaves were delivered to plantations where they were traded for
products to take back to Europe. Their destinations included the United States where they were sold
in various states including Virginia and the Carolinas. Others went to South American countries
including Brazil and to Cuba, the West Indies, and other islands. Wherever they went, the slaves
faced a lifetime of hard work and harsh treatment.
The ships then reloaded with crops from the plantations. Cotton, tobacco, and sugar were some
of the main products. Next, the ships re-crossed the Atlantic taking their new cargo back to Europe.
Back in European ports, the goods from the plantations were sold to European buyers. The ships
had completed their three-way trade.
Spain and Portugal were two of the first European countries to engage in the slave trade. As the
trade became more profitable, however, other countries joined in. The slave trade continued off and
on for several hundred years. Eventually, England became the leading slave trader.
European countries became wealthy from the slave trade. Although some people disagreed with
the idea of slavery, almost everyone seemed willing to look the other way as long as the slave trade
was so profitable.
Some reformers did try to stop the trade in human lives. Religious groups, especially the
Quakers, stirred up opposition to the slave trade. Leaders in Parliament like William Wilberforce
worked to abolish the trade. After a long struggle, the slave trade was abolished about two hundred
years ago. A sad chapter in the history of Europe had finally ended.
Copyright © 2011 edHelper
Name _____________________________
Date ___________________
The Slave Trade
1. This article is about _____.
Slavery in Europe
Europe's slave trade
Slavery in America
None of the above
2. Which happened first?
The slave trade was abolished.
Plantations prospered and sold many
products to European countries.
The European slave trade began.
European countries established
3. Merchant ships used on the slave trade were
mainly from which continent?
South America
North America
4. The first stage of the triangular trade was a
voyage from _____ to _____.
Europe, Africa
America, Europe
Africa, Europe
Africa, America
5. Describe the Middle Passage.
horrible experience slaves endured on
transporting slaves across the Atlantic
to the Americas
terrible conditions where many slaves
All of the Above
6. What items were shipped from the American
plantations to Europe?
guns, fabric, & alcohol
slaves sold for hard labor
cotton, tobacco, & sugar
All of the Above
7. One reason why many people did not object
to the slave trade was because it was so
8. William Wilberforce was a/an _____.
Plantation owner
Opponent of the slave trade
Slave trader