After 1400, when the Portuguese turned to West Africa to enslave its people for its sugar plantations in the Azores Islands, they found slavery well entrenched. Muslim traders and powerful coastal African kingdoms held Africans in bondage and sold them as chattel to remote places throughout Africa and the Mediterranean. On the heels of Portuguese exploration, traders extended their reach into Africa, took control of the slave trade, and as a result this source of enslaved human labor expanded sugar production in the Madeira Islands, the Canary Islands, and the Azores throughout the fifteenth century. The slavery that the Portuguese practiced on these islands was different than the slavery that prevailed in Africa. In Africa, slavery was not necessarily heritable or permanent. It was not based on race, but rather war or tribal conflict. The Portuguese, as did all Europeans, changed the practice of African slavery dramatically. Click on the follow map to learn more about the slave trade.
Did you know...Between the 1500s and the 1800s, about 10 million Africans were captured and carried to the New World. It is estimated that about 1.5 million died en route. Most of these slaves were bound for Central and South America. Only 400,000 Africans were sent to the British colonies in North America.
Following Columbus and the subsequent Spanish conquest of the West Indies and South America, civilizations that had existed apart for centuries came into contact. Tragically, the Europeans created a New World based on slavery. The depopulation of American Indians encouraged the Portuguese and Spaniards to use the already familiar system of African slavery to meet their labor needs. Between 1500 and 1620, Europeans brought at least half a million slaves to the New World from Africa, an enslavement based on race.