The forced migration of Africans to the thirteen original British colonies and the United States during the time of slavery involved an estimated 472,000 people who left the African continent. Of them, more than 83,000 never made it to these shores: almost 18 percent died on the notorious Middle Passage. As a result, approximately 388,000 Africans arrived in the United States between the mid-seventeenth century and 1860.

It is likely that more landed in this country because some Africans who first arrived in the Caribbean and later were moved to North America (as on the ships that Olaudah Equiano worked in the 1760s for his “Quaker” master, Robert King) are not included in these figures. After the official abolition of the slave trade in 1808, even more Africans were smuggled in, but not in substantial numbers. Overall, there is good reason to assume that the general patterns described here are reasonably accurate, only that the absolute numbers of people would have been somewhat higher.

These estimates provide a good idea of the relative scale of the forced migration to the United States. As a whole, the transatlantic slave trade displaced an estimated 12.5 million people, with about 10,650,000 surviving the Atlantic crossing. Thus, even though a substantial number of Africans actually reached the United States, they were only a small proportion, about 3.6 percent, of the total number of Africans who were brought to the Americas. More Africans went to Barbados (435,000), while almost three times as many went to Jamaica (1,020,000). The number of African arriving in North America was considerably less than those who were taken to Brazil (4,810,000).

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