Do you wonder what the slave trade looked like? Imagine the dark, wet hold of a ship where hundreds of men, women and children are chained together in the semi-dark. They cannot move. They cannot even sit up, yet here they lie for some two months as the ship pitches and rolls on its way from Africa to the Americas. Groaning, crying, vomiting, those people – as many as 12 million of them over 400 years – were part of the most horrific mass movement of people from one continent to another that history has ever recorded. They were victims of the European slave trade in Africa.

Slavery has existed for thousands of years in almost every part of the world. The ancient Greeks and Romans enslaved prisoners of war, along with whole populations of defeated peoples. Slavery continues to this day in some countries. But the European trade was especially horrific. It started in the 1400s, when Portuguese ships first sailed along the coast of Africa and discovered the Black races. During the next four centuries, many generations of human beings were kidnapped and shipped to Brazil, the Caribbean and – later, when Britain got involved – to North America. Millions died of illness, despair or violence before delivery to market on the far side of the ocean. Some 200 years ago, Europeans started to wake to the horror and protest.

Janet Uren (WordImage Inc.)
Maggie Fawcett, Claire Brodie, Parks Canada Agency, Multiculturalism Program / Department of Canadian Heritage

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