Peoples from the Kongo and the Bight of Biafra

About one quarter of the Africans — roughly 92,000 people — hailed from west-central Africa, specifically from the Kingdom of Kongo, Angola, and the region north of the Congo River. About 65 percent of them ended up in the lowlands of Carolina and Georgia, and thus accounted for almost 30 percent of all Africans who arrived in this area. They shared a common cultural background and spoke closely related languages, often referred to as Bantu, which included Kikongo, Kimbundu, and similar languages. They were also heavily represented in other parts of the Americas, especially Brazil. The presence of closely related Bantu-speaking peoples had an important impact on the religion and culture of the enslaved population in America, as it did elsewhere. In part, this reflected a familiarity with Christianity, since many people in Kongo and neighboring states were Catholics in their homelands.

Approximately 65,000 Africans came from the Bight of Biafra, which was about 16 percent of the total number, but 45,000 went to the Chesapeake where they represented about 36 percent of the African population. Moreover, they arrived early and were the largest group of immigrants from the 1690s through the 1750s. By contrast, they comprised less than 9 percent (about 18,000 people) of the total African population in the Carolinas and Georgia, with arrivals concentrated in the 1730s (over 5,000), the 1750s (over 4,000), and the years before 1808 (almost 4,000).

The people from the Bight of Biafra were mostly Igbo and Ibibio, or became associated with these dominant groups in the course of the Atlantic crossing. They stand out in the demography of the eighteenth century slave trade because of the relatively high numbers of women in comparison with all other parts of the African coast. These women were particularly important in giving birth to a new generation in the Americas, in sharp contrast with the virtual lack of women from Muslim areas.