Timeline of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

1890s CAUCASIAN MAN...
A Caucasian Man Weighs the Cotton Picked by Black Slaves in the 1890s. Charles Phelps Cushing/ClassicStock / Getty Images

The slave trade in the Americas began in the 15th century, when the European colonial forces in Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands forcibly stole people from their homes in Africa to do the hard labor that it took to power the economic engine of the New World. 

While white American slavery of an African labor force was abolished in the mid-nineteenth century, the scars from this long period of enslavement and forced labor have not healed, and hinder the growth and development of modern democracy to this day.

Rise of the Slave Trade

Dutch Slave Ship Arrives In Virginia
Engraving shows the arrival of a Dutch slave ship with a group of African slaves for sale, Jamestown, Virginia, 1619. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

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 kidnapped and transported each year.

1637: Dutch traders begin transporting slaves regularly. Until then, only Portuguese/Brazilian and Spanish traders made regular voyages.

Sugar Years

Sugar Harvest
Black labourers working on a sugar plantation in the West Indies, circa 1900. Some of the workers are children, harvesting under the watchful eye of a white supervisor. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

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

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

1685: France issues the Code Noir (Black Code), a law that decrees how slaves are to be treated in French colonies and restricts the freedoms and privileges of free people of African descent.

The Abolition Movement Is Born

Jan Tzatzoe, Anrdris Stoffes, Reverend Philips, Reverend Read Senior and Reverend Read Junior giving evidence
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

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

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

The French Revolution begins

Women from the Halles market going to Versailles
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

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 is 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 account for just over 1.5 percent of the trade by that date.​

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

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

1814: The Netherlands abolishes slave trading.

1817: France abolishes slave trading, but the law does not go into effect until 1826. 

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

1820: Spain abolishes the slave trade.

The Ending of the Slave Trade

Emancipation
Buyenlarge / Getty Images

1830: Anglo-Brazilian Anti-Slave trade treaty is signed. Britain pressures 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 declines in 1830, but Brazil's enforcement of the law is weak and slave trade continues.

1833: Britain passes a law banning slavery in its colonies. Slaves are to be released over a period of years, with final release scheduled for 1840.

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

1865: America passes the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.

1867: Last trans-Atlantic slave voyage.

1888: Brazil abolishes slavery.