Author: Joseph C. Miller

the T. Cary Johnson Professor of History, emeritus, at the University of Virginia, where he taught African history and the history of slavery and the slave trade. He died in 2019.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Middle Passage

The transatlantic slave trade involved the purchase by Europeans of enslaved men, women, and children from Africa and their transportation to the Americas, where they were sold for profit. Between 1517 and 1867, about 12.5 million Africans began the Middle Passage across the Atlantic, enduring cruel treatment, disease, and paralyzing fear aboard slave ships. Of those, about 10.7 million survived, with about 40 percent of them going to work on sugarcane plantations in Brazil. Most others labored in the Caribbean, while about 3.5 percent ended up in British North America and the United States. In total, an estimated 388,000 Africans landed alive in North America and about 140,000 of these came to the Chesapeake Bay region. Most enslaved people reaching the Chesapeake Bay region before the 1670s were purchased from the English West Indies. The Royal African Company then brought about 7,000 Africans directly to Virginia between 1670 and 1698. The number of enslaved Africans imported to the colony rose steeply after 1698, when the Royal African Company lost its monopoly. The number of enslaved Africans imported into the Chesapeake Bay region peaked in the decade between 1721–1730, when 13,000 men, women, and children arrived, although it continued at robust levels until around 1780. The abolitionist movement, which began in Great Britain, helped end the British trade to the United States. The United States outlawed the importation of enslaved people through the transatlantic trade beginning in 1808. Virginia planters supported these bans, which due to a surplus of enslaved laborers positioned them as suppliers in a new, domestic slave trade.