1 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.
2 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.
3 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.
4 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 families.
5 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.
6 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.
7 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.
8 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.
9 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.
10 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.
11 Back in European ports, the goods from the plantations were sold to European buyers. The ships had completed their three-way trade.
12 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.
13 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.
14 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.