Slave Coast of West Africa

The Slave Coast is a historical name formerly used for that part of coastal West Africa along the Bight of Benin that is located between the Volta River and the Lagos Lagoon.[1][2] The name is derived from the region's history as a major source of African people taken into slavery during the Atlantic slave trade from the early 16th century to the late 19th century.[3][4]

A 1729 map, showing the Slave Coast.
The Slave Coast is still marked on this c. 1914 map by John Bartholomew & Co. of Edinburgh.
Major slave trading regions of Africa, 15th–19th centuries

Other nearby coastal regions historically known by their prime colonial export are the Gold Coast, the Ivory Coast (or Windward Coast), and the Pepper Coast (or Grain Coast).[5]


European sources began documenting the development of trade in this region and its integration into the trans-Atlantic slave trade around 1670.[6] The slave trade became so extensive in the 18th and 19th centuries that an "Atlantic community" was formed.[7][8] The slave trade was facilitated on the European end by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the British.[9] Slaves went to the New World, mostly to Brazil and the Caribbean.[10][11] Ports that exported these enslaved people from Africa include Ouidah, Lagos, Aného (Little Popo), Grand-Popo, Agoué, Jakin, Porto-Novo, and Badagry.[12] These ports traded in slaves who were supplied from African communities, tribes and kingdoms, including the Alladah and Ouidah, which were later taken over by the Dahomey kingdom.[13]

Researchers estimate that between two and three million people were stolen out of this region and traded for goods like alcohol and tobacco from the Americas and textiles from Europe.[14] Current estimates are that about 12 million African people were shipped across the Atlantic from West Africa, although the number purchased by traders was considerably higher.[15][16][17]

The coast was also called "the White man's grave"[18][19] due to the mass amount of death from illnesses such as yellow fever, malaria, heat exhaustion, and many gastro-entero sicknesses. In 1841, 80% of British sailors on expeditions up the Niger River were infected with fevers.[20] Between 1844 and 1854, 20 of the 74 French missionaries in Senegal died from local illnesses and 19 more died shortly after arriving back to France.[21][22]

Intermarriage has been documented in ports like Ouidah where Europeans were permanently stationed.[23] Communication was quite extensive between all three areas of trade, to the point where even individual enslaved people could be tracked.[24]

This complex exchange fostered political and cultural as well as commercial connections between these three regions.[25] Religions, architectural styles, languages, knowledge, and other new goods were mingled at this time.[26] In addition to the enslaved people, free men used the exchange routes to travel to new places, and both slaves and free travellers aided in blending European and African cultures.[27]

After the institution of slavery was abolished by European countries, the slave trade continued for a time with independent traders instead of government agents.[28]

Human tollEdit

The trans-Atlantic slave trade resulted in a vast and as yet unknown loss of life for African captives both in and outside the Americas. Over a million people are thought to have died during their transport to the New World.[29] More died soon after their arrival. The number of lives lost in the procurement of slaves remains a mystery, but may equal or exceed the number of people who survived to be enslaved.[30]

The savage nature of the trade led to the destruction of individuals and cultures. Historian Ana Lucia Araujo has noted that the process of enslavement did not end with arrival on Western Hemisphere shores; the different paths taken by the individuals and groups who were victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade were influenced by different factors—including the disembarking region, the ability to be sold on the market, the kind of work performed, gender, age, religion, and language.[31][32]

Patrick Manning estimates that about 12 million enslaved people were victims of the Atlantic trade between the 16th and 19th century, but about 1.5 million people died on board ships. About 10.5 million slaves arrived in the Americas. Besides the enslaved people who died on the Middle Passage, more African people likely died during the slave raids in Africa and forced marches to ports. Manning estimates that 4 million people died inside Africa after capture, and many more died young. Manning's estimate covers the 12 million people who were originally destined for the Atlantic, as well as the 6 million people destined for Asian slave markets and the 8 million people destined for African markets.[33] Of the slaves shipped to The Americas, the largest share went to Brazil and the Caribbean.[34]

See alsoEdit

References and sourcesEdit


  1. ^ Robin Law, "Slave-Raiders and Middlemen, Monopolists and Free-Traders: The Supply of Slaves for the Atlantic Trade in Dahomey c. 1715-1850", The Journal of African History, Vol. 30, No. 1 (1989), p. 46
  2. ^ "Change and Continuity in Coastal Bénin", West Africa During the Atlantic Slave Trade : Archaeological Perspectives, Bloomsbury Academic, 2001, ISBN 978-1-4742-9104-0, retrieved 2020-08-31
  3. ^ "Freedom", The Atlantic World, Cambridge University Press, pp. 615–660, 2009-02-16, ISBN 978-0-511-81660-4, retrieved 2020-08-31
  4. ^ "The history of the transatlantic slave trade". National Museums Liverpool. 10 July 2020. Retrieved 26 March 2021.
  5. ^ Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo (2005-09-19), "Lower Guinea: Ivory Coast, Gold Coast, Slave Coast/Bight of Benin", Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas, University of North Carolina Press, pp. 101–125, ISBN 978-0-8078-2973-8, retrieved 2020-08-31
  6. ^ Green, Toby, "Rethinking the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade from a Cultural Perspective", The Rise of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Western Africa, 1300–1589, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1–28, ISBN 978-1-139-01640-7, retrieved 2020-08-31
  7. ^ Le Glaunec, Jean-Pierre; Dessens, Nathalie (2020-05-27), "Atlantic New Orleans: 18th and 19th Centuries", Atlantic History, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-973041-4, retrieved 2020-08-31
  8. ^ Law, Robin. The Slave Coast of West Africa 1550–1750: The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on an African Society. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991. p. 307.
  9. ^ "The end of the Dutch slave trade, 1781–1815", The Dutch in the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600–1815, Cambridge University Press, pp. 284–303, 1990-05-25, ISBN 978-0-521-36585-7, retrieved 2020-08-31
  10. ^ "3: Youthful Rebels: Young People, Agency, and Resistance against Colonial Slavery in the British Caribbean Plantation World", Child Slaves in the Modern World, Ohio University Press, pp. 64–83, ISBN 978-0-8214-4374-3, retrieved 2020-08-31
  11. ^ "Appendix A: The Dutch Slave Trade to the French Caribbean, 1650–1675", The Dutch Moment, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, pp. 267–268, 2018-12-31, ISBN 978-1-5017-0612-7, retrieved 2020-08-31
  12. ^ Mann, K. (2007-12-21). "An African Family Archive: The Lawsons of Little Popo/Aneho (Togo), 1841-1938". The English Historical Review. CXXII (499): 1438–1439. doi:10.1093/ehr/cem350. ISSN 0013-8266.
  13. ^ Lombard, J., "The Kingdom of Dahomey", West African Kingdoms in the Nineteenth Century, Routledge, pp. 70–92, ISBN 978-0-429-49164-1, retrieved 2020-08-31
  14. ^ "Table 1: Two hundred thirty-two differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were screened from three profile datasets". Retrieved 2020-08-31.
  15. ^ Ronald Segal, The Black Diaspora: Five Centuries of the Black Experience Outside Africa (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995), ISBN 0-374-11396-3, p. 4. "It is now estimated that 11,863,000 slaves were shipped across the Atlantic." (Note in original: Paul E. Lovejoy, "The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on Africa: A Review of the Literature", in Journal of African History 30 (1989), p. 368.)
  16. ^ Eltis, David and Richardson, David, "The Numbers Game". In: Northrup, David: The Atlantic Slave Trade, 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin Co., 2002, p. 95.
  17. ^ Basil Davidson. The African Slave Trade.
  18. ^ Fric, Explorador (1906). "45. Notes on the Grave-Posts of the Kadiueo". Man. 6: 71. doi:10.2307/2787741. ISSN 0025-1496.
  19. ^ McCoy, Tim. (1977). Tim McCoy remembers the West : an autobiography. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-8155-2. OCLC 16866452.
  20. ^ Curtin, Philip D. (1998). Disease and empire : the health of European troops in the conquest of Africa. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521591694. OCLC 39169947.
  21. ^ Cohen, William B. (1971). Rulers of empire: the French colonial service in Africa. [Stanford, Calif.]: Hoover Institution Press. ISBN 0817919511. OCLC 215926.
  22. ^ James, Lawrence (2017-06-06). Empires in the sun : the struggle for the mastery of Africa (First Pegasus books hardcover ed.). New York. ISBN 9781681774633. OCLC 959869470.
  23. ^ Robinson, Harlow (2019-12-03), ""Where the Devil Has He Been?"", Lewis Milestone, University Press of Kentucky, pp. 219–237, ISBN 978-0-8131-7833-2, retrieved 2020-08-31
  24. ^ Law, Robin. The Slave Coast of West Africa 1550–1750: The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on an African Society. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991. p. 319.
  25. ^ Retrieved 2020-08-31. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  26. ^ Le Goaer, Olivier; Tamzalit, Dalila; Oussalah, Mourad Chabane; Seriai, Abdelhak-Djamel (2008). "Evolution styles to the rescue of architectural evolution knowledge". Proceedings of the 3rd international workshop on Sharing and reusing architectural knowledge - SHARK '08. New York, New York, USA: ACM Press. doi:10.1145/1370062.1370071. ISBN 978-1-60558-038-8.
  27. ^ "3. Rescuing Slaves Today", Ending Slavery, University of California Press, pp. 36–60, 2019-12-31, ISBN 978-0-520-93464-1, retrieved 2020-08-31
  28. ^ "The slave trade and slavery", After Abolition, I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2007, ISBN 978-1-84511-365-0, retrieved 2020-08-31
  29. ^ Quick guide: The slave trade; Who were the slaves? BBC News, 15 March 2007.
  30. ^ Stannard, David. American Holocaust. Oxford University Press, 1993.
  31. ^ Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities, and Images.
  32. ^ American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission report, page 43-44
  33. ^ Patrick Manning, "The Slave Trade: The Formal Demographics of a Global System" in Joseph E. Inikori and Stanley L. Engerman (eds), The Atlantic Slave Trade: Effects on Economies, Societies and Peoples in Africa, the Americas, and Europe (Duke University Press, 1992), pp. 117–44, online at pp. 119–120.
  34. ^ Maddison, Angus. Contours of the world economy 1–2030 AD: Essays in macro-economic history. Oxford University Press, 2007.


  • Law, Robin and Kristin Mann. "African and American Atlantic Worlds". The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 56:2 Apr. 1999, pp. 307–334.
  • Shillington, Kevin. History of Africa. 2nd Edition, Macmillan Publishers Limited, NY USA, 2005.
  • St Clair, William. The Door of No Return: The History of Cape Coast Castle and the Atlantic Slave Trade. BlueBridge.

External linksEdit