Christopher Columbus believed that Indians would serve as
a slave labor force for Europeans, especially on the sugar
cane plantations off the western coast of north Africa.
Convinced that the Taino Indians of the Caribbean would
make ideal slaves, he transported 500 to Spain in 1495.
Some 200 died during the overseas voyage. Thus Columbus
initiated the African slave trade, which originally moved
from the New World to the Old, rather than the reverse.
the beginning of the sixteenth century, Spain's experiments
in enslaving Indians were failing. To meet the mounting
demand for labor in mining and agriculture, the Spanish
began to exploit a new labor force: slaves from western
was a familiar institution to many sixteenth-century Europeans.
Although slavery had gradually died out in northwestern
Europe, it continued to flourish around the Mediterranean
Sea. Ongoing warfare between Christianity and Islam produced
thousands of slave laborers, who were put to work in heavy
agriculture in Italy, southern France, eastern Spain, Sicily,
and eastern Europe near the Black Sea. Most slaves in this
area were "white"--either Arabs or natives of
Russia and eastern Europe. But by the mid-fifteenth century,
the expansion of the Ottoman empire cut off the supply of
white slaves. It was during the mid-fifteenth century that
Portugal established trading relations along the West African
coast, and discovered that it was able to purchase huge
numbers of black slaves at a low cost.
factors made African slaves the cheapest and most expedient
labor source. The prevailing ocean currents made it relatively
easy to transport Africans to the Caribbean. Further, because
Africans came from developed agricultural societies, they
were already familiar with highly organized tropical agriculture.
The first African slaves were brought to the New World as
early as 1502, where they would mine precious metals and
raise sugar, coffee, and tobacco--the first goods sold to
a mass consumer market.
African slave trade would be an indispensable part of European
settlement and development of the New World. By the mid-eighteenth
century, slaves could be found everywhere in the Americas
from French Canada to Chile. Indeed, the number of Africans
forcibly imported into the New World actually exceeded the
number of whites who would come to the Americas before the
1830s. Between 1492 and 1820, approximately ten to fifteen
million Africans were forcibly brought to the New World,
while only about two million Europeans had migrated. In
this excerpt, Alonzo de Zuazo (1466-1527), the Spanish Judge
of Hispaniola, argues that slavery is essential for Caribbean