Slave Coast of West Africa

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A 1729 map, showing the Slave Coast. Negroland and Guinea with the European Settlements, 1736.jpg
A 1729 map, showing the Slave Coast.
The Slave Coast is still marked on this c. 1914 map by John Bartholomew & Co. of Edinburgh. The Slave Coast on a John Bartholomew & Co. map published c. 1914 (part).jpg
The Slave Coast is still marked on this c. 1914 map by John Bartholomew & Co. of Edinburgh.
Major slave trading regions of Africa, 15th-19th centuries Africa slave Regions.svg
Major slave trading regions of Africa, 15th–19th centuries

The Slave Coast is a historical name formerly used for that part of coastal West Africa along the Bight of Benin that is located between the Volta River and the Lagos Lagoon. [1] [2] The name is derived from the region's history as a major source of African people taken into slavery during the Atlantic slave trade from the early 16th century to the late 19th century. [3] [4]


Other nearby coastal regions historically known by their prime colonial export are the Gold Coast, the Ivory Coast (or Windward Coast), and the Pepper Coast (or Grain Coast). [5]


European sources began documenting the development of trade in the "Slave Coast" region and its integration into the transatlantic slave trade around 1670. [6] The transatlantic slave trade led to the formation of an "Atlantic community" of Africans and Europeans in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century. [7] [8] Roughly twelve million enslaved Africans were purchased by European slave traders from African merchants during the period of the transatlantic slave trade. [9] Enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas to work on cash crop plantations in European colonies. [10] [11] Ports that exported these enslaved people from Africa include Ouidah, Lagos, Aného (Little Popo), Grand-Popo, Agoué, Jakin, Porto-Novo, and Badagry. [12] These ports traded in slaves who were supplied from African communities, tribes and kingdoms, including the Alladah and Ouidah, which were later taken over by the Dahomey kingdom. [13]

Modern historians estimate that between two and three million people were transported out of this region and traded for goods like alcohol and tobacco from the Americas and textiles from Europe as part of the triangular trade. [14] Historians have noted that though official records state that twelve million enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas from Africa, the actual number of slaves purchased by European slave traders was considerably higher. [15] [16] [17] This complex exchange fostered political and cultural as well as commercial connections between these three regions. [18] A cultural exchange of religions, architectural styles, languages, knowledge, and other new goods took place this time. [19] In addition to the enslaved people, free men used the exchange routes to travel to new places, and both slaves and free travellers aided in blending European and African cultures. [20] After the institution of slavery was abolished by successive European governments, the transatlantic slave trade continued for a time with independent traders in violation of their country's laws. [21]

The coast was also called "the White man's grave" [22] [23] because of the mass amount of death from illnesses such as yellow fever, malaria, heat exhaustion, and many gastro-entero sicknesses. In 1841, 80% of British sailors serving in military expeditions on the Niger River were infected with fevers. [24] Between 1844 and 1854, 20 of the 74 French missionaries in Senegal died from local illnesses, and 19 more died shortly after arriving back to France. [25] [26] Intermarriage has been documented in ports like Ouidah where Europeans were permanently stationed. [27] Communication was quite extensive between all three areas of trade, to the point where even individual enslaved people could be tracked. [28]

Human toll

The trans-Atlantic slave trade resulted in a vast and unknown loss of life for African captives both in and outside the Americas. Over a million people are thought to have died during their transport to the New World. [29] More died soon after their arrival. The number of lives lost in the procurement of slaves remains a mystery but may equal or exceed the number of people who survived to be enslaved. [30]

The savage nature of the trade led to the destruction of individuals and cultures. Historian Ana Lucia Araujo has noted that the process of enslavement did not end with arrival on Western Hemisphere shores; the different paths taken by the individuals and groups who were victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade were influenced by different factors—including the disembarking region, the ability to be sold on the market, the kind of work performed, gender, age, religion, and language. [31] [32]

Patrick Manning estimates that about 12 million enslaved people were victims of the Atlantic trade between the 16th and 19th century, but about 1.5 million people died on board ships. About 10.5 million slaves arrived in the Americas. Besides the enslaved people who died on the Middle Passage, more African people likely died during the slave raids in Africa and forced marches to ports. Manning estimates that 4 million people died inside Africa after capture, and many more died young. Manning's estimate covers the 12 million people who were originally destined for the Atlantic, as well as the 6 million people destined for Asian slave markets and the 8 million people destined for African markets. [33] Of the slaves shipped to the Americas, the largest share went to Brazil and the Caribbean. [34]

See also


  1. Law (1989), p.46
  2. "Change and Continuity in Coastal Bénin", West Africa During the Atlantic Slave Trade : Archaeological Perspectives, Bloomsbury Academic, 2001, ISBN   978-1-4742-9104-0 , retrieved 2020-08-31
  3. "Freedom", The Atlantic World, Cambridge University Press, pp. 615–660, 2009-02-16, ISBN   978-0-511-81660-4 , retrieved 2020-08-31
  4. "The history of the transatlantic slave trade". National Museums Liverpool . 10 July 2020. Retrieved 26 March 2021.
  5. Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo (2005-09-19), "Lower Guinea: Ivory Coast, Gold Coast, Slave Coast/Bight of Benin", Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas, University of North Carolina Press, pp. 101–125, ISBN   978-0-8078-2973-8 , retrieved 2020-08-31
  6. Green, Toby, "Rethinking the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade from a Cultural Perspective", The Rise of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Western Africa, 1300–1589, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1–28, ISBN   978-1-139-01640-7 , retrieved 2020-08-31
  7. Le Glaunec, Jean-Pierre; Dessens, Nathalie (2020-05-27), "Atlantic New Orleans: 18th and 19th Centuries", Atlantic History, Oxford University Press, ISBN   978-0-19-973041-4 , retrieved 2020-08-31
  8. Law (1991), p.307.
  9. "The end of the Dutch slave trade, 1781–1815", The Dutch in the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600–1815, Cambridge University Press, pp. 284–303, 1990-05-25, ISBN   978-0-521-36585-7 , retrieved 2020-08-31
  10. "3: Youthful Rebels: Young People, Agency, and Resistance against Colonial Slavery in the British Caribbean Plantation World", Child Slaves in the Modern World, Ohio University Press, pp. 64–83, ISBN   978-0-8214-4374-3 , retrieved 2020-08-31
  11. "Appendix A: The Dutch Slave Trade to the French Caribbean, 1650–1675", The Dutch Moment, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, pp. 267–268, 2018-12-31, ISBN   978-1-5017-0612-7 , retrieved 2020-08-31
  12. Mann, K. (2007-12-21). "An African Family Archive: The Lawsons of Little Popo/Aneho (Togo), 1841-1938". The English Historical Review. CXXII (499): 1438–1439. doi:10.1093/ehr/cem350. ISSN   0013-8266.
  13. Lombard, J., "The Kingdom of Dahomey", West African Kingdoms in the Nineteenth Century, Routledge, pp. 70–92, ISBN   978-0-429-49164-1 , retrieved 2020-08-31
  14. "Table 1: Two hundred thirty-two differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were screened from three profile datasets". Retrieved 2020-08-31.
  15. Ronald Segal, The Black Diaspora: Five Centuries of the Black Experience Outside Africa (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995), ISBN   0-374-11396-3, p. 4. "It is now estimated that 11,863,000 slaves were shipped across the Atlantic." (Note in original: Paul E. Lovejoy, "The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on Africa: A Review of the Literature", in Journal of African History 30 (1989), p. 368.)
  16. Eltis, David and Richardson, David, "The Numbers Game". In: Northrup, David: The Atlantic Slave Trade, 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin Co., 2002, p. 95.
  17. Basil Davidson. The African Slave Trade.
  18. . Retrieved 2020-08-31.Missing or empty |title= (help)
  19. Le Goaer, Olivier; Tamzalit, Dalila; Oussalah, Mourad Chabane; Seriai, Abdelhak-Djamel (2008). "Evolution styles to the rescue of architectural evolution knowledge". Proceedings of the 3rd international workshop on Sharing and reusing architectural knowledge - SHARK '08. New York, New York, USA: ACM Press. doi:10.1145/1370062.1370071. ISBN   978-1-60558-038-8.
  20. "3. Rescuing Slaves Today", Ending Slavery, University of California Press, pp. 36–60, 2019-12-31, ISBN   978-0-520-93464-1 , retrieved 2020-08-31
  21. "The slave trade and slavery", After Abolition, I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2007, ISBN   978-1-84511-365-0 , retrieved 2020-08-31
  22. Fric, Explorador (1906). "45. Notes on the Grave-Posts of the Kadiueo". Man. 6: 71. doi:10.2307/2787741. ISSN   0025-1496.
  23. McCoy, Tim. (1977). Tim McCoy remembers the West : an autobiography. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN   0-8032-8155-2. OCLC   16866452.
  24. Curtin, Philip D. (1998). Disease and empire : the health of European troops in the conquest of Africa. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. ISBN   0521591694. OCLC   39169947.
  25. Cohen, William B. (1971). Rulers of empire: the French colonial service in Africa . [Stanford, Calif.]: Hoover Institution Press. ISBN   0817919511. OCLC   215926.
  26. James, Lawrence (2017-06-06). Empires in the sun : the struggle for the mastery of Africa (First Pegasus books hardcover ed.). New York. ISBN   9781681774633. OCLC   959869470.
  27. Robinson, Harlow (2019-12-03), ""Where the Devil Has He Been?"", Lewis Milestone, University Press of Kentucky, pp. 219–237, ISBN   978-0-8131-7833-2 , retrieved 2020-08-31
  28. Law, Robin. The Slave Coast of West Africa 1550–1750: The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on an African Society. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991. p. 319.
  29. Quick guide: The slave trade; Who were the slaves? BBC News, 15 March 2007.
  30. Stannard, David. American Holocaust. Oxford University Press, 1993.
  31. Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities, and Images.
  32. American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission report, page 43-44
  33. Patrick Manning, "The Slave Trade: The Formal Demographics of a Global System" in Joseph E. Inikori and Stanley L. Engerman (eds), The Atlantic Slave Trade: Effects on Economies, Societies and Peoples in Africa, the Americas, and Europe (Duke University Press, 1992), pp. 117–44, online at pp. 119–120.
  34. Maddison, Angus. Contours of the world economy 1–2030 AD: Essays in macro-economic history. Oxford University Press, 2007.

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The Kingdom of Dahomey was a West African kingdom located within present-day Benin that existed from approximately 1600 until 1904. The kingdom fell when the last king, Béhanzin, was defeated by France, leading to the country being annexed into the French colonial empire. Dahomey developed on the Abomey Plateau amongst the Fon people in the early 17th century and became a regional power in the 18th century by conquering key cities on the Atlantic coast.

Slavery Treatment of people as property

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Atlantic slave trade Slave trade across the Atlantic Ocean from the 16th to the 19th centuries

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Adandozan was a king of the Kingdom of Dahomey, in present-day Benin, from 1797 until 1818. His rule ended with a coup by his brother Ghezo who then erased Adandozan from the official history resulting in high uncertainty about many aspects of his life. Adandozan took over from his father Agonglo in 1797 but was quite young at the time and so there was a regent in charge of the kingdom until 1804. Dealing with the economic depression that had defined the administrations of his father Agonglo and grandfather Kpengla, Adandozan tried to increase slave raiding, increase European trade, and when these failed reform the economy to focus on agriculture. Unfortunately, these efforts did not end domestic dissent and in 1818 at the Annual Customs of Dahomey, Ghezo and Francisco Félix de Sousa, a powerful Brazilian slave trader, organized a coup d'état and replaced Adandozan. He was left alive and lived until the 1860s hidden in the palaces while he was largely erased from official royal history.

Middle Passage Transoceanic segment of the Atlantic slave trade

The Middle Passage was the stage of the Atlantic slave trade in which millions of enslaved Africans were forcibly transported to the Americas as part of the triangular slave trade. Ships departed Europe for African markets with manufactured goods, which were traded for slaves, as rulers of African states were willing to capture and sell members of other tribes.

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The Fon people, also called Fon nu, Agadja or Dahomey, are a Gbe ethnic group. They are the largest ethnic group in Benin found particularly in its south region; they are also found in southwest Nigeria and Togo. Their total population is estimated to be about 3,500,000 people, and they speak the Fon language, a member of the Gbe languages.

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Ouidah Commune and city in Atlantique Department, Benin

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Slavery in Africa Slave trade and various forms of slavery in historical Africa

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The Kingdom of Whydah was a kingdom on the coast of West Africa in what is now Benin. It was a major slave trading area which exported more than one million Africans to the United States and Brazil before closing its trade in the 1860s. In 1700, it had a coastline of around 16 kilometres (10 mi); under King Haffon, this was expanded to 64 km (40 mi), and stretching 40 km (25 mi) inland.

Igbo people in the Atlantic slave trade

The Igbo, whose traditional territory is called the Bight of Biafra, became one of the principal ethnic groups to be enslaved during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. An estimated 14.6% of all slaves were taken from the Bight of Biafra between 1650 and 1900. The Bight’s major slave trading ports were located in Bonny and Calabar. The majority of Igbo slaves were kidnapped during village raids. The journey for Igbo slaves often began in the ancient Cave Temple that was located in Arochukwu Kingdom. During this period, the three Igbo Kingdoms followed the same culture and religion, yet tended to operate very differently from each other. The Kingdom of Nri and the Independent Igbo States did not practice slavery, and slaves from neighbouring lands would often flee to these kingdoms in order to be set free. Arochukwu, on the other hand, practiced a system of indentured servitude that was remarkably different from chattel slavery in the Americas. Eventually, with Europeans beginning to encroach on Igbo territory, causing the kingdoms to desire weaponry to defend themselves. In order to obtain European goods and weaponry, Arochukwu began to raid villages of the other Igbo kingdoms - primarily those located in the Igbo hinterlands. People would be captured, regardless of gender, social status, or age. Slaves could have been originally farmers, nobility, or even people who had committed petty crimes. These captured slaves would be taken and sold to European slave traders on the coast. Another way people were enslaved was through the divine oracle who resided in the Cave Temple complex. All Igbos practiced divination called Afa, but the Kingdom of Arochukwu was different because it was headed by a divine oracle who was in charge of making decisions for the king. During this time, if someone committed a crime, was in debt, or did something considered an "abomination", they would be taken to the cave complex to face the oracle for sentencing. The oracle, who was also influenced by the demands of European slave traders, would sentence these people to slavery, even for small crimes. The victim would be commanded to walk further into the cave so that the spirits could "devour" them, but, in reality, they were taken to an opening on the other side and loaded directly onto a waiting boat. This boat would take them to a slave ship en route to the Americas.

Igbo people in Jamaica were shipped by Europeans onto the island between the 18th and 19th centuries as enslaved labour on plantations. Igbo people constituted a large portion of the African population enslaved people in Jamaica. Some slave censuses detailed the large number of enslaved Igbo people on various plantations throughout the island on different dates throughout the 18th century. Their presence was a large part in forming Jamaican culture, Igbo cultural influence remains in language, dance, music, folklore, cuisine, religion and mannerisms. In Jamaica the Igbo were often referred to as Eboe or Ibo. There are a substantial number of Igbo language loanwords in Jamaican Patois. Igbo people mostly populated the northwestern section of the island.

Dutch Slave Coast

The Dutch Slave Coast refers to the trading posts of the Dutch West India Company on the Slave Coast, which lie in contemporary Ghana, Benin, Togo and Nigeria. The primary purpose of the trading post was to supply slaves for the Dutch colonies in the Americas. Dutch involvement on the Slave Coast started with the establishment of a trading post in Offra in 1660. Later, trade shifted to Ouidah, where the English and French also had a trading post. Political unrest caused the Dutch to abandon their trading post at Ouidah in 1725, now moving to Jaquim, at which place they built Fort Zeelandia. By 1760, the Dutch had abandoned their last trading post in the region.


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Redoshi One of the last surviving victims of the transatlantic slave trade

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Further reading