Timeline of Atlantic Slave Trade

At least 10 million Africans were enslaved and transported to Europe and the Americas between the 15th and 19th centuries as part of the Atlantic slave trade. The brutal trade was spurred by a strong demand for labor on plantations in the Americas. Eventually, it became an integral part of an international trading system in which Europeans and North Americans exchanged merchandise for human cargo along Africa’s western and west central Atlantic coasts.

1502 First reported African slaves in the New World.

1640-1680 Beginning of large-scale introduction of African slave labor in the British Caribbean for sugar production.

1791 The Haitian Revolution begins with a slave uprising in the French West Indian colony of Santo Domingo. The revolution will eventually lead to the establishment of the black nation of Haiti ten years later.

1793 Waves of white refugees pour into United States ports, fleeing the insurrection in Santo Domingo.

1794 France emancipates all slaves in the French colonies. In the United States, Congress passes legislation prohibiting the manufacture, fitting, equipping, loading or dispatching of any vessel to be employed in the slave trade.

1795 Pinckney’s Treaty, also known as Treaty of San Lorenzo, establishes commercial relations between the United States and Spain.

1800 The United States enacts stiff penalties for American citizens serving voluntarily on slave ships trading between two foreign countries.

1803 Denmark is first to ban the slave trade.

1804 The Republic of Haiti is declared on January 1, 1804 by General Jean-Jacques Dessalines.

1807 Britain, the principal slave-trading nation, bans the Atlantic slave trade.

1807 The United States passes legislation banning slave trade that will take effect the following year.

1810 British negotiate an agreement with Portugal calling for gradual abolition of slave trade in the South Atlantic.

1815 At the Congress of Vienna, the British pressure Spain, Portugal, France and the Netherlands to agree to abolish the slave trade. However, Spain and Portugal are permitted a few years of continued slaving to replenish labor supplies.

1817 Britain and Spain sign a treaty prohibiting the slave trade. British naval vessels are given right to search suspected slave ships. Still, loopholes in the treaty undercut its goals and the slave trade grows with the slave economies of Cuba and Brazil expanding rapidly.

In the Le Louis case, British courts establish the principal that British naval vessels cannot search foreign vessels suspected of slaving unless permitted by their respective countries. The ruling hampers Britain’s efforts to suppress the trade.

1819 The United States and Spain renew commercial agreements in the Adams-Onis Treaty.

Congress passes legislation stiffening laws against American participation in the slave trade.

Britain stations a naval squadron on the West African coast to patrol for illegal slave ships.

1820 The United States deems slave trading an act of piracy and punishable by the death penalty.

The U.S. Navy dispatches four vessels to patrol the coast of West Africa for slavers. This initial campaign lasts only four years before the Americans recall the cruisers and break off cooperation with the British.

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