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Who carried out the slave trade?

Captive Africans forced to walk to a slave portProduce from their overseas colonies was in great demand in European countries. To grow crops such as sugar, cotton, coffee and tobacco, the European colonists needed people to work on plantations. They got them from Africa. Captive Africans were forcibly transported to the Americas in their millions. This was the slave trade.


Slaves cutting sugar cane, Caribbean

Plan of a slave ship

Sugar was popular in Europe, because it could be used to sweeten the new drinks that were also arriving from overseas colonies—coffee, tea and cocoa. Spanish colonists in the Caribbean quickly discovered that sugar cane grew well in the hot, wet climate of the islands. In the early 1500s the first captives were brought in from Africa to work as slaves on the plantations. The trickle soon turned to a flood, as millions of people were transported across the Atlantic Ocean. Many died on the journey from the terrible conditions on board ship. 
A map of the triangular slave trade

Triangular trade

Between the 15th and 19th centuries, about 12 million enslaved Africans were transported across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas.

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