Digital History

Introduction by Steven Mintz

The Atlantic Slave Trade Previous Next
Digital History ID 448



Before the 19th century, most immigrants to the New World were African. According to one recent estimate, about 80 percent of women immigrants and 90 percent of child immigrants came from Africa. By 1820, about 8.4 million Africans had been forcibly imported into the Americas compared to just 2.4 million European immigrants. Even in the area that would become the United States, about half of all immigrants to the 13 colonies from 1700 to 1775 came from Africa.

Enslaved Africans arrived in the New World at least as early as 1502. During the peak years of the slave trade, between 1740 and 1810, Africa supplied 60,000 captives a year--outnumbering European migrants by a ratio of 4 or 5 to 1.

By the beginning of the 18th century, black slaves could be found in every New World area colonized by Europeans, from Nova Scotia to Buenos Aires. While the concentrations of slave labor were greatest in England's southern colonies, the Caribbean, and Latin America, where slaves were employed in mines or on sugar, rice, tobacco, and cotton plantations, slaves were also put to work in northern seaports and on commercial farms. In 1690, one out of every nine families in Boston owned a slave. In New York City in 1703, the proportion was even higher. There, two out of every five families owned a slave.

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