Slavery: From Africa->West Indies->Europe-> [A History Student Project]



Slavery Project

[The Elmina slave fort]



In this project, you will have the knowledge of the transatlantic trade in Africa, the way in which African slaves laboured in areas other than sugar production, you will learn of the manufacturing process on a typical sugar plantation before the year 1838. In addition, the writer will identify the markets for the by-products of sugarcane. There are pictures included to give an additional view to the words.



Slavery Project


[Slaves going onto a ship]


The transatlantic trade is a business, which consist of purchasing slaves in the slave market of West Africa and transporting them across the Atlantic trade for sale in the Caribbean and North America. The transatlantic trade began in the early 15th century. The trade based on a system, which required involuntary African labour, to fulfil daily task such as weeding the plants, caring for the house and complete the request of their masters.

The Europeans demand for slaves for the Americas reached its peak from 1650 to 1850.  The physical features of African the landscape such as rivers and mountain as well as the climate were very suitable for the planting. Africa was well placed for cheap trans-shipment of slaves by Europeans to the new world, the triangle trade of coffee, cotton sugar, rum and tobacco from the new world to Europe. Manufactured goods from the Europe to the new world- took only a few months and the Atlantic passage did not have winds or current which made the journey too perilous. Additionally Africans were accustom to the heat and resistant to yellow fever and malaria. They were experience farmers, who knew how to use plough and hoes. Economics also dictated the need for slaves when the Caribbean islands began growing sugar. This is because sugar cane is a crop, which requires many human labourers, so a cheap and plentiful source of slaves or servants had to match that need if sugar planters were to make the maximum profit. This was the main advantage of using Africans, since Europeans and Asians were either not plentiful or would have been too expensive to ship from their homelands. This emphasized and expanded the internal growth both slavery and the slave trade.

The Africans left their home to go to the coast because the Europeans slave traders bought most of them from the African rulers at that time or  merchants, but only a few were obtained by kidnapping. Apart from this, many persons became a part of slavery due to punishment for some crime, as a prisoner of war, or from poverty. The trips to the slave forts were very hard, from the interior of Africa, slaves walked hundreds of miles to the coast. They were usually in groups of hundreds and bounded with iron around the necks and leg to each other. They walked from dawn until early afternoon when it became hottest. During the journey, many of the persons died from malnutrition, exhaustion, exposure to the heat or dysentery.

Slavery Project


[The slaves walking on a path heading to a fort]

The slave hunters placed the slaves   in forts after buying them for example Elmina Castle on the Gold Coast, West Africa. In the forts main building, the corridor in which the chained slaves walked to the halls was set on the outside walls of the building and was so narrow that people could only walk in single file lanes. Therefore discouraging any escape attempts. The holding cell below the fort, where the slaves were imprisoned until it was time to board, had a hole concealed in the roof just outside the door, where a spy who spoke African languages could hide and then inform the slave traders about escape plots.

Furthermore, the slaves were located between the holding and the main deck. Some ships may have had a second tier to hold more slaves. They were arranged in spoon fashion so it was difficult for them to turn or otherwise change position (this method was called tight packing) It was said that the heat from the ship caused persons to faint, it also had a stink so strong that it caused nausea and vomiting.

Slavery Project


                 [Slaves packed on the ship]

The slaves did not eat much food to reach to what the needed portions for their already malnourished African body due to their journey. They received only three pints of water daily.

According to Paul E. Lovejoy, slave traders exported an estimated number of approximately 11,698,000 slaves from Africa during the whole period of Atlantic slave trade. Portugal and subsequently other European kingdom were finally able to expand overseas and reach Africa. The Portuguese first began to kidnap persons from the west coast of Africa and to take those they enslaved back to Europe. However, after a while Africa then entered a unique relationship with Europe, which contributed, largely to the depopulation of Africans but an increase in riches and development of Europe. According to Kevin Baldeosingh and Radica Mahase ‘‘in other words building up one continent and demising another’’.


Slavery Project




Sugar production can be defined as the process by which by-product is made from sugar to be sold; there are many other areas other than sugar production that African labours did on a day-to-day basis. Slave owners rented slaves from different plantations and non-plantation owners to complete the task requested by the slave master.

There were categories for enslaved Africans. There were the non-praedial or house slaves, which included nannies/wet nurses, washerwomen, cooks, butlers, seamstresses, and caretakers.  Some slaves worked as nannies to the children of the slave master when he\she was gone for a business trip or even when they were there they needed assistance with the caring of the children in the main house. The nannies cleaned, bathed, and feed the kids of their chiefs daily. There were wet nurses as well; who breast-fed the babies of their slave owners.

There were washerwomen that washed, opened, and entered clothing for the persons in the household; they were also in charge for washing the tablecloths, linens and bedspreads in the main house. Other slaves worked as cooks in the kitchen. They prepared and cooked food for the individuals in the main house. They washed up the dishes when everyone had eaten.

There were butlers who assisted in the dishing out of food by serving to everyone at the table. Additionally the butlers had other task to complete such as welcoming and sitting new guest in the main house, they were responsible for showing the guest around the main house and the areas around the building. Other slaves did tailor work [seamstress] they sewed garments for their masters and they repaired torn clothes either for new slaves or the persons in the main house. There were slaves who took care of the house, they cleaned and made the house look presentable. In addition, there were waiting maids who assisted the women in the Great Houses, they helped dressed and sometimes kept them company.

Furthermore, other slaves did huckstering; the hucksters promoted or sell goods in an aggressive or showy manner in the streets for their masters. They sold items such fish, fruit, and for the women sometimes they sold garments. The slave owners also had slaves working in small stores called petty shop keeping. Other slaves worked in taverns; they sold beers and alcoholic beverages to individuals in the towns as a means of bringing in more earnings for the slave master. Some slaves worked as drivers for the owner and for the guest of the family. They took the individuals where he/she wanted to go to on a daily basis.

There was also a categories of skilled slaves this included masons, carpenters, wheelwrights, factory workers. Although some of these individuals assisted in the area of sugar production by repairing factories and working buildings, they completed other task. These carpenters made sheds, used for the housing of slaves. They made flower boxes to place at the front of the main house for curb appeal. The carpenters repaired broken down structures on the plantation and other places in need of repair. There were slaves who worked on the docks, they did fishing and brought fish to their masters in the towns.

Additional slaves worked in sex houses. At that time, only the rich and well off individuals went to the sex houses. The slaves would have to sleep with the individual and received sum of money on behalf of their owners. All these extra earnings would go to the owner of the slaves along with his/her family.

The praedial slaves or field slaves divided into three groups: the third gang or the hog meat gang. This gang comprised of children between the ages of four and ten. These children had a task to feeding the animals. They weeded plants and collected wood for fire or used for carpentry.


Slavery Project


[slaves working in cane field]


A sugar production estate has to have a factory to grind the cane and make the sugar. The factory needs raw materials. The raw materials that go into the sugar factory is the sugar cane, the bigger the factory the bigger the cane field needs to be to provide all the cane the factory can take. The bigger the cane field the more people needed to cultivate the cane reap the crop and send it to the factory.

Sugar is a relatively simple crop to grow. Once the soil is fertile and irrigated, planting cane is just a matter of digging shallow holes with hoes to put the stalk in. in about 15 months the cane would be ready to process..

The slaves cleared the land, after which they stalked out and the gangs dug trench for ‘holding’. Using hoes, the slaves worked in a line digging a series of holes planting cuttings, of old cane stalked about half a metre in length. These cuttings, lightly covered with soil soon sprouted at each joint into new plants. Planting was usually being done between the months of October and December, when there was enough rain to make cutting sprouts easy. If all went well, these cane fields became fully-grown in sixteen months later between January and May.

Slavery Project

Source: sugar-chic.

[Slaves working on cutting sugar cane]

In this way, the harvest spread over a number of months during the first half of each year.

Secondly, they would take the cane to the mills for juicing.

Slavery Project


[Some slaves gathering cane to put in the mill]

During crop time the sugar, mill factory kept going day and night; the cane juice run from the mill rollers to the large iron and copper boilers, or ‘teches’, in which the syrup was heated. After the sugar went to the mill, for juicing then goes to the boilers.

Slavery Project


[Slaves working in the boilers]

When the juice came into the boiling house from the mills it goes through a process of clarifying by heating with a little lime. Then it passed into iron or copper boilers standing over a stone furnace fed with wood and cane trash. The last and hottest boiler was the ‘teche’. After the sugar cane went through the boilers, it went in hogsheads to make molasses and to make muscovado sugar.

If the slave master wanted to make alcohol when the sugar went through the process of the mill, the liquid went into fermentation vats then into a distillery system to make the rum.

The products went to the docks for shipment around the world for sell. According to [The Caribbean People, book two by Lennox Honeychurch]

Slavery Project


[An image of a dock]


                  CHAPTER FOUR:

Slavery Project



There were different markets to sell the by-products of sugarcane. The product were taken in the carts from the plantation to the seashore for shipment to Europe.

Slavery Project


                                                                     [Barrels packed on a ship]

Some of the products sold to the persons in and around Europe. Business owners in the towns to put in their small stores to purchase by individual’s daily use would purchase the products. The British persons purchased a lot of sugar because they used a lot of sugar. Items such as molasses, rum and manure obtained from the sugarcane for sale. The raw muscovade still had to go through many grades of white powdered sugar. English laws known as the navigation laws prevented from starting up industries in the colonies. Eighteenth-century English and French leaders believed the purpose of a colony was to bring back raw material for manufacture in Britain or France. Refining became an important part in the chief western ports or Britain. Some of the rum processed naturally in the Caribbean for local sale in the taverns for everyone the slaves and persons in the town and in the petty shops. In addition, the remaining used in the other countries such as Europe. The fuel was a by-product of sugarcane but it was not sold it was used by the slaves to fuel the mills.


Claypole, William. Caribbean History Foundation book 1 fourth edition pr. England: Pearson Education Limited, 2009.

Hall, Douglas. The Caribbean Experience . Great Britain, 1982.

—. The Caribbean Experience . Great Britain : The Bath Press, Bath, 1982.

Honeychurch, Lennox. The Caribbean People. Canada: Thomas Nelson, 1995.

Lovejoy, Paul E. “The Journal of the African History.” The volume (1982): 473-501.

Mahase, Kevin Baldeosingh and Radica. Caribbean History for CSEC. Oxford : VIivar printing Sdn.Bhd, 2011.

[The above project is the graded work of a current History Student.]


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