U.S. Slave Trade

Introduction

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).

The Growth in Arrivals

By the 1690s, about 15,000 Africans had reached the thirteen colonies, but in the first decade of the eighteenth century, another 13,000 people arrived, and the number increased another 13,000 in the second decade, almost tripling in the 1720s, when close to 37,000 people landed. This dramatic growth continued into the 1730s, with the arrival of 62,000 Africans. Thereafter, their numbers dropped off, averaging about 35,000 people per decade until the American Revolution, before a final surge in arrivals in the last years of the legal trade.

Between 1801 and 1808, 73,000 Africans arrived in the United States, or about 19 percent of the total number of people sent to this country. During the entire slave trade period, two-thirds of the captives traveled on British ships sailing mainly from Liverpool, Bristol, and London, while 28.5 percent were transported on American ships, especially after the Revolution.



Departures from Africa for the United States

Northern USA Chesapeake Carolinas / Georgia Gulf states USA unspecified Totals
1628-1630 0 141 0 0 0 141
1631-1640 0 0 0 0 0 0
1641-1650 0 0 0 0 0 0
1651-1660 505 911 0 0 0 1,416
1661-1670 970 2,361 0 0 0 3,331
1671-1680 66 3,063 0 0 0 3,129
1681-1690 453 2,887 0 0 189 3,529
1691-1700 1,730 6,789 0 0 0 8,519
1701-1710 120 16,001 256 0 0 16,377
1711-1720 1,001 11,734 2,724 612 0 16,071
1721-1730 1,002 26,607 9,420 7,224 355 44,608
1731-1740 7,039 34,486 33,399 0 272 75,196
1741-1750 6,723 14,849 3,642 260 366 25,840
1751-1760 6,230 17,881 27,605 444 0 52,160
1761-1770 6,472 15,898 34,255 386 0 57,011
1771-1780 176 4,197 30,127 2,722 0 37,222
1781-1790 0 0 15,589 946 0 16,535
1791-1800 309 0 15,599 932 439 17,279
1801-1810 416 78 79,948 6,864 187 87,493
1811-1820 0 0 112 5,027 367 5,506
1821-1830 0 0 0 105 0 105
1831-1840 0 0 0 0 0 0
1841-1850 0 0 0 0 0 0
1851-1860 0 0 350 126 0 476
Totals 33,212 157,883 253,026 25,648 2,175 471,944


African Immigration to the United States - All Carriers

Spain/ Cuba Portugal Great Britain Netherlands U.S.A. France Other Totals

1628-1630


100 0 0 0 0 100

1631-1640


0 0 0 0 0 0 -

1641-1650


0 0 0 0 0 0 -

1651-1660


631 434 0 0 0 1,065 0.3

1661-1670


1,511 866 0 0 0 2,377 0.6

1671-1680


2,400 0 56 0 0 2,456 0.6

1681-1690


2,361 0 193 0 0 2,554 0.7

1691-1700


5,282 0 1,402 0 0 6,684 1.7

1701-1710


13,036 0 96 0 0 13,132 3.4

1711-1720


11,211 0 859 608 0 12,678 3.3

1721-1730


28,250 0 2,200 6,385 0 36,835 9.9

1731-1740


55,118 0 7,060 0 0 62,178 16.0

1741-1750


15,842 0 5,081 222 0 21,145 5.4

1751-1760


36,864 0 6,083 0 0 42,947 11.1

1761-1770


35,867 0 10,827 0 0 46,694 12.0

1771-1780


27,668 0 3,151 0 0 30,819 7.9

1781-1790
425
6,221 0 6,664 522 362 14,194 3.7

1791-1800


439 0 13,065 885 0 14,389 3.7

1801-1810
170 192 21,637 0 50,098 255 621 72,973 18.8

1811-1820
1,165 190 0 0 3,280 0 0 4,635 1.2

1821-1830
91
0 0 0 0 0 91

1831-1840


0 0 0 0 0 0 -

1841-1850


0 0 0 0 0 0 -

1851-1860


0 0 413 0 0 413 0.1

Totals
1,851 382 264,438 1,300 110,528 8,877 983 388,359

Percent
0.5 0.1 68.1 0.3 28.5 2.3 0.3

The Main Areas of Destination

Africans were heavily concentrated in two areas that accounted for about 87 percent of their numbers: the Low Country of the Carolinas and Georgia, and the Tidewater region of Virginia and Maryland. The Carolinas and Georgia received more than 210,000 people, or 54.2 percent, while the Chesapeake accounted for more than 127,000 people, or 32.8 percent of all arrivals. About 28,000 people (7.0 percent) went to the area north of the Chesapeake; and the region south and west of Georgia, including Florida and Louisiana, received about 22,000 people (5.6 percent).

The African immigration to the thirteen colonies occurred in several stages, which affected each receiving area. The earliest movement was centered on the Chesapeake, with the northern colonies also receiving a substantial number of people. Some 12,000 Africans had arrived in the Chesapeake by 1700 The Chesapeake was the main destination in the following decades, with almost 13,000 people arriving in the first decade of the eighteenth century, another 9,000 in the 1710s and peaking at over 21,000 in the 1720s and 28,000 in the 1730s. Although there was a significant decline thereafter, still another 43,000 Africans landed before the American Revolution, when arrivals virtually ended. Although the northern colonies received far fewer Africans than the tidewater region of the Chesapeake, nonetheless 24,000 Africans were taken to the northern colonies between 1700 and 1776, all most all arriving after 1730.

By contrast, few Africans were brought to the Carolinas and Georgia before the 1720s. Forced immigration augmented rapidly, however, rising from 2,000 in the 1710s to almost 8,000 in the 1720s, and then increasing enormously to almost 28,000 in the 1730s, the same level as for the Chesapeake. Despite a remarkable decline in the following decade to less than 3,000, as a reaction to the 1739 Stono Rebellion in South Carolina, which had involved Africans, the number of new arrivals rebounded to almost 23,000 in the 1750s, 28,000 in the 1760s, and almost 25,000 in the 1770s.

The War of Independence notwithstanding, it totaled more than 13,000 in the 1780s and about the same in the 1790s. The final seven years of the legal trade saw the introduction of almost 67,000 African men, women, and children to the Carolinas and Georgia. Hence, contrary to the trend in the Tidewater region, Africans came later and in much larger numbers to the Carolinas and Georgia. Indeed the final immigration of Africans to this region at the very end of the legal international slave trade was substantially greater than for any other period.

The Gulf region, including Florida and Louisiana, received about 22,000 Africans in total, and these people largely came in three periods - some 6,000 arriving in the 1720s, another 2,000 in the 1770s and another 10,000 in the first two decades of the nineteenth century, despite legal abolition of the slave trade from Africa after 1808.



Africans Reaching the United States by Destination



Northern
Region

Chesapeake

Carolinas/
Georgia

Gulf Region

Unspecified

Total

Percent

1628-1630


100




100


1631-1640


0




0

-

1641-1650


0




0

-

1651-1660

434

631




1,065

0.3

1661-1670

770

1,607




2,377

0.6

1671-1680

56

2,400




2,456

0.6

1681-1690

193

2,228



133

2,554

0.7

1691-1700

1,461

5,223



0

6,684

1.7

1701-1710

96

12,809

227


0

13,132

3.4

1711-1720

823

9,022

2,225

608

0

12,678

3.3

1721-1730

709

21,586

7,851

6,385

304

36,835

9.9

1731-1740

5,724

28,373

27,859

0

222

62,178

16.0

1741-1750

5,521

12,094

2,983

222

325

21,145

5.4

1751-1760

5,139

14,590

22,856

362

0

42,947

11.1

1761-1770

5,367

12,953

28,047

327

0

46,694

12.0

1771-1780

149

3,508

24,905

2,257

0

30,819

7.9

1781-1790

0

0

13,365

829

0

14,194

3.7

1791-1800

260

0

13,085

673

371

14,389

3.7

1801-1810

337

68

66,680

5,731

157

72,973

18.8

1811-1820



95

4,190

350

4,635

1.2

1821-1830



0

91


91


1831-1840



0

0


0

-

1841-1850



0

0


0

-

1851-1860



303

110


413

0.1

Totals

27,039

127,192

210,481

21,785

1,862

388,359


Percent

7.0

32.8

54.2

5.6

0.5


African Origins in the U.S.

Of the Africans who reached the United States, 90 percent came from Senegambia (Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali), the Upper Guinea Coast (Sierra Leone, Guinea), the Gold Coast (Ghana), the Bight of Biafra (eastern Nigeria, Cameroon), and west-central Africa (Angola, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon). Almost half of the arriving Africans came from two areas — Senegambia and west central Africa.

Although the demographic figures are revealing, the statistics can disguise the odyssey undertaken by each individual forced to cross the Atlantic on a slave ship. Ethnic and regional categories can provide a window through which to examine the slave trade, but the personal histories of individuals are essential in examining the impact on society, both in Africa and in the Americas, of this forced migration and enslavement.

Biography reveals the experience of Africans and their descendants as they were integrated into the Diaspora in the Americas. It is fortunate that autobiographical and biographical accounts have been recorded for several thousand individuals, and while most relate the experiences of people in the nineteenth century, some accounts of individuals born in Africa in the eighteenth century inform our understanding of the defining period of the African Diaspora.



Regional Origins of Africans Arriving in the United States



Senegambia

Sierra Leone

Windward Coast

Gold Coast

Bight of Benin

Bight of Biafra

West Central Africa

South-east Africa

Totals


1628-1630

0

0

0

0

0

0

100

0

100


1631-1640

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0


1641-1650

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0


1651-1660

0

0

0

0

0

631

434

0

1,065


1661-1670

1,511

0

0

0

0

0

866

0

2,377


1671-1680

331

0

0

568

518

983

0

56

2,456


1681-1690

1,592

0

0

0

0

514

0

448

2,554


1691-1700

2,299

0

0

0

0

2,924

0

1,461

6,684


1701-1710

3,214

0

0

3,424

872

5,295

231

96

13,132


1711-1720

2,812

311

0

2,849

740

4,392

220

1,354

12,678


1721-1730

11,755

1,342

1,806

5,457

1,392

9,798

4,434

851

36,835


1731-1740

12,968

0

0

2,286

783

14,120

31,582

439

62,178


1741-1750

5,583

1,846

330

1,977

0

8,576

2,833

0

21,145


1751-1760

12,866

4,952

2,635

5,087

1,001

8,869

7,226

311

42,947


1761-1770

12,454

6,498

7,043

8,610

1,289

2,739

8,061

0

46,694


1771-1780

10,073

5,876

3,387

6,280

1,117

767

3,319

0

30,819


1781-1790

3,514

1,186

987

5,076

425

362

2,644

0

14,194


1791-1800

1,606

7,142

630

4,143

0

0

868

0

14,389


1801-1810

8,072

14,663

4,966

10,488

981

3,710

27,929

2,164

72,973


1811-1820

905

1,080

0

0

0

1,010

1,230

410

4,635


1821-1830

0

0

0

0

0

91

0

0

91


1831-1840

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0


1841-1850

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0


1851-1860

0

0

0

0

110

0

303

0

413


Totals

91,555

44,896

21,784

56,245

9,228

64,781

92,280

7,590

388,359


Percent

23.6

11.6

5.6

14.5

2.4

16.7

23.8

2.0




Africans in the Chesapeake Tidewater



Senegambia

Sierra Leone

Windward Coast

Gold Coast

Bight of Benin

Bight of Biafra

West Central Africa

South-east Africa

Totals

1628-1630

0

0

0

0

0

0

100

0

100

1631-1640

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1641-1650

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1651-1660

0

0

0

0

0

631

0

0

631

1661-1670

1,511

0

0

0

0

0

96

0

1,607

1671-1680

331

0

0

568

518

983

0

0

2,400

1681-1690

1,592

0

0

0

0

381

0

255

2,228

1691-1700

2,299

0

0

0

0

2,924

0

0

5,223

1701-1710

3,214

0

0

3,197

872

5,295

231

0

12,809

1711-1720

1,832

311

0

1,379

266

3,912

220

1,102

9,022

1721-1730

1,913

329

1,806

4,059

0

9,300

3,505

674

21,586

1731-1740

8,233

0

0

1,222

783

8,538

9,597

0

28,373

1741-1750

2,251

897

0

405

0

7,198

1,343

0

12,094

1751-1760

3,524

1,185

868

716

110

4,145

4,042

0

14,590

1761-1770

3,391

618

2,167

2,616

592

1,263

2,306

0

12,953

1771-1780

750

409

0

1,051

0

617

681

0

3,508

1781-1790

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1791-1800

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1801-1860

0

0

0

68

0

0

0

0

68

Totals

30,841

3,749

4,841

15,281

3,141

45,187

22,121

2,031

127,192

Percent

24.2

2.9

3.8

12.0

2.5

35.5

17.4

1.6



Africans in the Carolinas and Georgia



Senegambia

Sierra Leone

Windward Coast

Gold Coast

Bight of Benin

Bight of Biafra

West Central Africa

South-east Africa

Totals

1700-1710

0

0

0

227

0

0

0

0

227

1711-1720

846

0

0

899

0

480

0

0

2,225

1721-1730

5,168

1,013

0

866

0

498

306

0

7,851

1731-1740

3,468

0

0

447

0

5,582

18,362

0

27,859

1741-1750

769

0

330

219

0

1,378

287

0

2,983

1751-1760

7,369

2,559

1,526

2,654

529

4,724

3,184

311

22,856

1761-1770

7,368

5,029

4,354

3,368

697

1,476

5,755

0

28,047

1771-1780

7,888

4,849

3,387

4,876

1,117

150

2,638

0

24,905

1781-1790

3,309

1,186

987

5,076

0

362

2,445

0

13,365

1791-1800

1,606

6,863

630

3,512

0

0

474

0

13,085

1801-1810

6,795

13,545

4,966

9,243

811

3,710

26,440

1,170

66,680

1811-1820

95

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

95

1821-1830

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1831-1840

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1841-1850

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1851-1858

0

0

0

0

0

0

303

0

303

Totals

44,681

35,044

16,180

31,387

3,154

18,360

60,194

1,481

210,481

Percent

21.2

16.6

7.7

14.9

1.5

8.7

28.6

0.7

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.

Senegambia, the Gold Coast, and the Bight of Benin

Of the approximately 388,000 Africans who landed in America, almost 92,000 (24 percent) were Senegambians. In the early decades of immigration to the Chesapeake region before 1700, there were more immigrants from Senegambia (almost 6,000) than from the Bight of Biafra (about 5,000), and they totaled about 31,000 by the end of the migration, representing almost a third of all arrivals from Senegambia. About 45,000 Senegambians were settled in the coastal Low Country of the Carolinas and Georgia, where they constituted 21 percent of African immigrants. Senegambians were also prominent among African immigrants in the northern colonies, accounting for about 28 percent of arrivals, or over 7,000 people. Almost 9,000 Senegambians — often identified as Bambara or Mandingo — went to the Gulf region, especially to Louisiana, where they constituted about 40 percent of the population arriving from Africa.

Hence, people from Senegambia were prominent everywhere in the United States, much more so than virtually anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere, although there were also considerable numbers of Senegambians in the French Caribbean islands and in French Guiana. Senegambia was strongly influenced by Islam, more so than any other region of origin, which means that many enslaved Africans in the United States had been exposed to Islam, more so proportionately than in the rest of the Americas.

There were many Muslims in Brazil in the nineteenth century, mostly in Bahia, but they came from the central Sudan (northern Nigeria and adjacent areas), unlike those who were sent to the United States. Muslims were clearly present in both the low country of Carolina and Georgia and in the Tidewater region of Virginia and Maryland. Adult Muslim males stand out prominently, while there are very few references to Muslim women. This reflects what is known about the slave trade originating in the interior of West Africa, which was composed almost entirely of males.

Another 15 to 20 percent of Africans were originally from the Gold Coast and neighboring parts of the Windward Coast (Ivory Coast). Twi was their common language, and most people were identified as Akan. They were concentrated in the Carolinas and Georgia, where they amounted to perhaps 18-20 percent of immigrants, or up to 70,000 people. In addition, they were also found in the Chesapeake, representing as many as 15-20,000 people, or 12-15 percent of total immigration there. Africans from the Gold Coast were also prominent in the northern colonies, especially New England, because the slave traders of Rhode Island concentrated their activities there, accounting for the enforced immigration of some 7,000 people, or 30 percent of the total arriving there.

Some parts of Africa were important in the overall transatlantic slave trade to the Americas but were under-represented in the United States. Noticeably absent or of minor importance were Yoruba, Ewe/Fon/Allada/Mahi (people who spoke the so-called Gbe languages), and other people, including Muslims, brought from the far interior of the "Slave Coast" or Bight of Benin. This region was one of the most important sources of Africans for the Atlantic crossing, and people from the Bight of Benin were particularly prominent in the French Caribbean, Cuba, Trinidad, and Brazil.

The Creation of the African Diaspora

The most enduring consequences of the migration for the migrants themselves and for the receiving communities were the development of racism and the corresponding emergence and sustenance of an African-American community, with particular cultural manifestations, attitudes, and expressions. The legacy is reflected in music and art, with a significant influence on religion, cuisine, and language. The cultural and religious impact of this African immigration shows that migrations involve more than people; they also involve the culture of those people. "American" culture is not "European" or "African" but its own form, created in a political and economic context of inequality and oppression in which diverse ethnic and cultural influences both European and African (and in some contexts, Native American) can be discerned.

Undoubtedly, the transatlantic slave trade was the defining migration that shaped the African Diaspora. It did so through the people it forced to migrate, and especially the women who were to give birth to the children who formed the new African-American population. These women included many who can be identified as Igbo or Ibibio but almost none who were Yoruba, Fon, or Hausa. "Bantu" women, from matrilineal societies, also constituted a considerable portion of the African immigrants, and it appears that females from Sierra Leone and other parts of the Upper Guinea Coast were also well represented. These were the women who gave birth to African-American culture and society.

Paul E. Lovejoy
Distinguished Research Professor
Canada Research Chair in African Diaspora History
York University

Bibliography

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