315 Years of the American Slave Trade in 2 Minutes


The slave trade in the Americas was a more than three-century-long institution that fundamentally shaped how countries like the United States formed. The U.S. is still reckoning with its legacy, and Americans unsurprisingly tend to focus on North America’s role in the triangular trade. But Brazil was also a huge destination for slave ships, especially during the later years of the slave trade, as a new infographic reminds us.

Slate, which is currently tackling the history of American slavery in a nine-episode podcast, created an interactive animation that tracks slave shipments across the Atlantic from the 16th through the 19th centuries, tracking where specific slave ships originated and landed over the course of that period. Each ship carrying human cargo destined for slave markets in the Western Hemisphere is represented as a dot, with the size of the dot corresponding to the size of the group of captured people on board. If you pause the animation and click on one of the dots, information about the specific ship and its origins, when available, and the number of people it ultimately carried into slavery will appear.

Compare the map above, showing slave ships in 1818, with the one showing ships in 1787 during the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. During the intervening decades, the major slave ports in the Americas shifted from the West Indies to Brazil.

Slate reports that over the 315 years of slavery documented in the infographic, some 10 million kidnapped Africans were transported to the Western Hemisphere to serve as slaves, while an estimated 2 million didn’t survive the trans-Atlantic journey. Less than four percent of that total (less than 400,000) came to North America, while 4 million people were shipped to the Caribbean, 4.8 million to Brazil, and 1.3 million to Central America.

While slave trading remained legal for decades afterward, the U.S. banned importing new slaves in 1808, around the same time that Britain and other European powers did the same. Brazil was the last American nation to ban slavery outright, holding out until 1888.

It’s well worth checking out the interactive, animated version over on Slate.

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