Timeline of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

Rise of the Slave Trade

1441: Portuguese explorers take 12 slaves from Africa back to Portugal

1502: First African slaves arrive in the New World in the service of the conquistadors

1525: First slave voyage directly from Africa to the Americas

1560: Slave trading to Brazil becomes a regular occurrence, with anywhere from around 2,500-6,000 slaves transported each year.1

1637: Dutch traders begin transporting slaves regularly.

Until then, only Portuguese/Brazilian and Spanish traders were making regular voyages.

Sugar Years

1641: Colonial plantations in the Caribbean begin exporting sugar. British traders also begin transporting slaves regularly. 

1655: Britain takes Jamaica from Spain. Sugar exports from Jamaica will enrich British owners in the coming years.

1685 France issued the Code Noir, a law that decreed how slaves were to be treated in French colonies and restricted the freedoms and privileges of free people of African descent.

The Abolition Movement Grows

1783 British Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade founded. They will become a major force for abolition.

1788 Société des Amis des Noirs (Society of the Friends of Blacks) established in Paris

1789 The French Revolution begins

  • 1791 a slave revolt, led by Toussaint Louverture begins in Saint-Domingue, France’s most lucrative colony
  • 1794 The revolutionary French National Convention abolishes slavery in French colonies, but it was reinstated under Napoleon in 1802-1803.
  • 1804 Saint-Domingue achieves independence from France and is renamed Haiti. It becomes the first republic in the New World to be governed by a majority black population

1803: Denmark-Norway’s abolition of the slave trade, passed in 1792, takes effect. The impact on the slave trade is minimal, though, as Danish traders accounted for just over 1.5% of the trade by that date.2

1808: U.S. and British abolition takes effect. Britain was a major participant in the slave trade, and there is an immediate impact on the trade. The British and Americans also begin trying to police the trade, arresting ships of any nationality that they find transporting slaves, but it is a hard trade to stop. Portuguese,Spanish, and French ships continue to trade legally according to the laws of their countries.

1811 Spain abolished slavery in its colonies, but Cuba opposed the policy and it was not enforced for many years. Spanish ships can also still legally participate in the slave trade.

1814 The Netherlands abolishes slave trading.

1817 France abolished slave trading, but the law did not go into effect until 1826. 

1819 Portugal agreed to abolish slave trading, but only north of the equator, which meant that Brazil, the largest importer of slaves, could continue to participate in the slave trade.

1820 Spain abolished the slave trade.

The Ending of the Slave Trade

1830 Anglo-Brazilian Anti-Slave trade treaty is signed. Britain pressured Brazil, the largest importer of slaves at that time to sign the bill. In anticipation of the law coming into force, the trade actually jumps between 1827-1830.

It declined in 1830, but Brazil's enforcement of the law was weak and the trade continues.

1833: Britain passes a law banning slavery in its colonies. Slaves are to be released over a period of years, with final emancipation not happening until 1840

1850 Brazil begins enforcing its anti-slave trade laws. The trans-Atlantic trade drops precipitously.

1867 Last trans-Atlantic slave voyage.

1888 Brazil abolishes slavery.

Sources:

1. "List of Voyages," database, Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (accessed 30 September 2015).

2. "List of voyages," Voyages.