What was the Slave Trade?
Between 1500 and 1866, more than 12 million Africans were forcibly enslaved and brought to the New World.
Between 1500 and 1866, more than 12 million Africans were forcibly enslaved and brought to the New World in a trade dominated by Great Britain, Portugal, and France. About 500,000 were brought to what eventually became the United States, a relatively small percentage of the total trade. In what was known as the “triangle trade,” ships sailed from Europe carrying manufactured goods such as cloth, guns, copper, and glassware that were traded for enslaved Africans. The ships then carried their human cargo to the Americas and the Caribbean in a journey known as the Middle Passage. The ships returned to Europe with plantation products such as sugar, rum, tobacco, and coffee.
Before the American Revolution, more than 1,100 ships are known to have brought more than 93,000 Africans directly to Virginia. These ships offloaded their human cargo at ports on the York, Rappahannock, South Potomac, and Upper and Lower James rivers. The Virginia General Assembly formally banned the Atlantic trade in 1778. Richmond participated little in the Atlantic trade, and only after becoming the state capital in 1780 did the town develop into an important commercial center.