Timeline of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

1890s crop haul
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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 enslavement of Black people was abolished in the mid-nineteenth century, the scars from this long period of 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
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  • 1441: Portuguese explorers take 12 enslaved people from Africa back to Portugal.
  • 1502: First enslaved African people arrive in the New World in the forced service of the conquistadors.
  • 1525: First voyage of enslaved people directly from Africa to the Americas.
  • 1560: Slave trading to Brazil becomes a regular occurrence, with anywhere from around 2,500-6,000 enslaved people kidnapped and transported each year.
  • 1637: Dutch traders begin transporting enslaved people regularly. Until then, only Portuguese/Brazilian and Spanish traders made regular voyages.

Sugar Years

Sugar Harvest
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  • 1641: Colonial plantations in the Caribbean begin exporting sugar. British traders also begin capturing and shipping enslaved people 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 enslaved people 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
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  • 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
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  • 1791: An uprising of enslaved people, 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 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 enslaved people, 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 enslaved people, could continue to participate in the slave trade.
  • 1820: Spain abolishes the slave trade.

The Ending of the Slave Trade

Emancipation
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  • 1830: Anglo-Brazilian Anti-Slave trade treaty is signed. Britain pressures Brazil, the largest importer of enslaved people 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. Enslaved people are to be released over a period of years, with the 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 voyage of captive enslaved people.
  • 1888: Brazil abolishes slavery.