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Locke 3

The Transatlantic Slave Trade

A Slave Ship
The transatlantic slave trade represents the biggest movement of peoples in the modern era. During the course of the slave trade, (three and a half centuries) roughly ten million black Africans were landed in the Americas (not counting several million more who died before or during the passage). Eighty percent were transferred between 1700 and 1850 and about a quarter of that total in British ships. Thus, while Locke was in government and engaged with commercial enterprises involving slavery, it was at the beginning, before the great bulk of slaves were moved in English ships in the eighteenth century. The conditions on these ships were usually terrible. Often the black slaves were crowded together in chains and utterly disgusting, unsanitary and inhumane conditions on these long passages. Why shipmasters felt compelled to do this is an interesting economic question. It would seem that more slaves might have survived had they been transported under more humane conditions. Nonetheless, because they were in effect prisoners, being transported under terrible conditions and quite against their will, these black Africans needed to be closely guarded to prevent revolts on board the ship, such as the now famous Amistad revolt.
Revolt on board a slave ship

The slave trade was part of a larger pattern of trade which has come to be know as "the triangular trade." The triangular trade involved sailing from British ports such as Liverpool to the Western coast of Africa carrying trade goods which could be exchanged for slaves. Once the slaves were on board, the ship would sail for the West Indies or other ports in the Americas -- the second leg of the triangular trade. In the West Indies the slaves would be sold, and products such as sugar cane, rum or tobacco would be taken on board for the third and final leg of the trip back to England. No wonder that by 1723 John Houstoun described the trade as: "the hinge on which all of the trade of the globe moves."

The Triangular Trade


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