Slave Coast of West Africa

The Slave Coast is a historical name formerly used for that part of coastal West Africa along the Bight of Benin that is located between the Volta River and the Lagos Lagoon.[1][2] The name is derived from the region's history as a major source of African people sold into slavery during the Atlantic slave trade from the early 16th century to the late 19th century.[3][4]

A 1729 map, showing the Slave Coast.
The Slave Coast is still marked on this c. 1914 map by John Bartholomew & Co. of Edinburgh.
Major slave trading regions of Africa, 15th–19th centuries

Other nearby coastal regions historically known by their prime colonial export are the Gold Coast, the Ivory Coast (or Windward Coast), and the Pepper Coast (or Grain Coast).[5]


European sources began documenting the development of trade in the "Slave Coast" region and its integration into the transatlantic slave trade around 1670.[6] The transatlantic slave trade led to the formation of an "Atlantic community" of Africans and Europeans in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century.[7][8] Roughly twelve million enslaved Africans were purchased by European slave traders from African merchants during the period of the transatlantic slave trade.[9] Enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas to work on cash crop plantations in European colonies.[10][11] Ports that exported these enslaved people from Africa include Ouidah, Lagos, Aného (Little Popo), Grand-Popo, Agoué, Jakin, Porto-Novo, and Badagry.[12] These ports traded slaves who were supplied from African communities, tribes and kingdoms, including the Alladah and Ouidah, which were later taken over by the Dahomey kingdom.[13]

Modern historians estimate that between two and three million people were transported out of this region and traded for goods like alcohol and tobacco from the Americas and textiles from Europe as part of the triangular trade.[14] Historians have noted that though official records state that twelve million enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas from Africa, the actual number of slaves purchased by European slave traders was considerably higher.[15][16][17] Alongside other forms of trade, this complex exchange also fostered cultural exchanges between these three regions, involving religions, architectural styles, languages, and knowledge.[18] In addition to the enslaved people, free men used the exchange routes to travel to new destinations, and both slaves and free travellers helped blend European and African cultures.[19] After the institution of slavery was abolished by successive European governments, the transatlantic slave trade continued for a time, with independent traders operating in violation of their country's laws.[20]

The coast was also called "the White man's grave"[21][22] because of the mass amount of death from illnesses such as yellow fever, malaria, heat exhaustion, and many gastro-entero sicknesses. In 1841, 80% of British sailors serving in military expeditions on the Niger River were infected with fevers.[23] Between 1844 and 1854, 20 of the 74 French missionaries in Senegal died from local illnesses, and 19 more died shortly after arriving back to France.[24][25] Intermarriage has been documented in ports like Ouidah where Europeans were permanently stationed.[26] Communication was quite extensive among all three areas of trade, to the point where even individual enslaved people could be tracked.[27]

Human toll

The trans-Atlantic slave trade resulted in a vast and unknown loss of life for African captives both in and outside the Americas. Over a million people are thought to have died during their transport to the New World.[28] More died soon after their arrival. The number of lives lost in the procurement of slaves remains a mystery but may equal or exceed the number of people who survived to be enslaved.[29]

The savage nature of the trade led to the destruction of individuals and cultures. Historian Ana Lucia Araujo has noted that the process of enslavement did not end with arrival on Western Hemisphere shores; the different paths taken by the individuals and groups who were victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade were influenced by different factors—including the disembarking region, the ability to be sold on the market, the kind of work performed, gender, age, religion, and language.[30][31]

Patrick Manning estimates that about 12 million enslaved people were victims of the Atlantic trade between the 16th and 19th century, but about 1.5 million people died on board ships. About 10.5 million slaves arrived in the Americas. Besides the enslaved people who died on the Middle Passage, more African people likely died during the slave raids in Africa and forced marches to ports. Manning estimates that 4 million people died inside Africa after capture, and many more died young. Manning's estimate covers the 12 million people who were originally destined for the Atlantic, as well as the 6 million people destined for Asian slave markets and the 8 million people destined for African markets.[32] Of the slaves shipped to the Americas, the largest share went to Brazil and the Caribbean.[33]

See also


  1. Law (1989), p.46
  2. "Change and Continuity in Coastal Bénin", West Africa During the Atlantic Slave Trade : Archaeological Perspectives, Bloomsbury Academic, 2001, doi:10.5040/, ISBN 978-1-4742-9104-0, retrieved 2020-08-31
  3. "Freedom", The Atlantic World, Cambridge University Press, pp. 615–660, 2009-02-16, doi:10.1017/cbo9780511816604.018, ISBN 978-0-511-81660-4, retrieved 2020-08-31
  4. "The history of the transatlantic slave trade". National Museums Liverpool. 10 July 2020. Retrieved 26 March 2021.
  5. Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo (2005-09-19), "Lower Guinea: Ivory Coast, Gold Coast, Slave Coast/Bight of Benin", Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas, University of North Carolina Press, pp. 101–125, doi:10.5149/9780807876862_hall.9, ISBN 978-0-8078-2973-8, retrieved 2020-08-31
  6. Green, Toby (2011), "Rethinking the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade from a Cultural Perspective", The Rise of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Western Africa, 1300–1589, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1–28, doi:10.1017/cbo9781139016407.003, ISBN 978-1-139-01640-7, retrieved 2020-08-31
  7. Le Glaunec, Jean-Pierre; Dessens, Nathalie (2020-05-27), "Atlantic New Orleans: 18th and 19th Centuries", Atlantic History, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0337, ISBN 978-0-19-973041-4, retrieved 2020-08-31
  8. Law (1991), p.307.
  9. "The end of the Dutch slave trade, 1781–1815", The Dutch in the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600–1815, Cambridge University Press, pp. 284–303, 1990-05-25, doi:10.1017/cbo9780511528958.013, ISBN 978-0-521-36585-7, retrieved 2020-08-31
  10. "3: Youthful Rebels: Young People, Agency, and Resistance against Colonial Slavery in the British Caribbean Plantation World", Child Slaves in the Modern World, Ohio University Press, pp. 64–83, 2011, doi:10.1353/chapter.370517, ISBN 978-0-8214-4374-3, retrieved 2020-08-31
  11. "Appendix A: The Dutch Slave Trade to the French Caribbean, 1650–1675", The Dutch Moment, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, pp. 267–268, 2018-12-31, doi:10.7591/9781501706127-011, ISBN 978-1-5017-0612-7, S2CID 239310593, retrieved 2020-08-31
  12. Mann, K (2007). "An African Family Archive: The Lawsons of Little Popo/Aneho (Togo), 1841-1938". The English Historical Review. CXXII (499): 1438–1439. doi:10.1093/ehr/cem350. ISSN 0013-8266.
  13. Lombard, J (2018). "The Kingdom of Dahomey". West African Kingdoms in the Nineteenth Century. Routledge. pp. 70–92. doi:10.4324/9780429491641-3. ISBN 978-0-429-49164-1. S2CID 204268220. {{cite book}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. Zhu, Wei; Li, Lin Lin; Songyang, Yiyan; Shi, Zhan; Li, Dejia (9 March 2020). "Table 1: Two hundred thirty-two differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were screened from three profile datasets". PeerJ. 8: e8731. doi:10.7717/peerj.8731/table-1. Retrieved 2020-08-31.
  15. Ronald Segal, The Black Diaspora: Five Centuries of the Black Experience Outside Africa (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995), ISBN 0-374-11396-3, p. 4. "It is now estimated that 11,863,000 slaves were shipped across the Atlantic." (Note in original: Paul E. Lovejoy, "The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on Africa: A Review of the Literature", in Journal of African History 30 (1989), p. 368.)
  16. Eltis, David and Richardson, David, "The Numbers Game". In: Northrup, David: The Atlantic Slave Trade, 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin Co., 2002, p. 95.
  17. Basil Davidson. The African Slave Trade.
  18. Le Goaer, Olivier; Tamzalit, Dalila; Oussalah, Mourad Chabane; Seriai, Abdelhak-Djamel (2008). "Evolution styles to the rescue of architectural evolution knowledge". Proceedings of the 3rd International Workshop on Sharing and Reusing Architectural Knowledge - SHARK '08. Shark '08. New York, New York, USA: ACM Press: 31–36. doi:10.1145/1370062.1370071. ISBN 978-1-60558-038-8. S2CID 12522305.
  19. "3. Rescuing Slaves Today", Ending Slavery, University of California Press, pp. 36–60, 2019-12-31, doi:10.1525/9780520934641-004, ISBN 978-0-520-93464-1, S2CID 226798869, retrieved 2020-08-31
  20. "The slave trade and slavery", After Abolition, I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2007, doi:10.5040/, ISBN 978-1-84511-365-0, retrieved 2020-08-31
  21. Fric, Explorador (1906). "45. Notes on the Grave-Posts of the Kadiueo". Man. 6: 71–72. doi:10.2307/2787741. ISSN 0025-1496. JSTOR 2787741.
  22. McCoy, Tim. (1977). Tim McCoy remembers the West : an autobiography. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-8155-2. OCLC 16866452.
  23. Curtin, Philip D. (1998). Disease and empire : the health of European troops in the conquest of Africa. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521591694. OCLC 39169947.
  24. Cohen, William B. (1971). Rulers of empire: the French colonial service in Africa. [Stanford, Calif.]: Hoover Institution Press. ISBN 0817919511. OCLC 215926.
  25. James, Lawrence (2017-06-06). Empires in the sun : the struggle for the mastery of Africa (First Pegasus books hardcover ed.). New York. ISBN 9781681774633. OCLC 959869470.
  26. Robinson, Harlow (2019-12-03), ""Where the Devil Has He Been?"", Lewis Milestone, University Press of Kentucky, pp. 219–237, doi:10.5810/kentucky/9780813178332.003.0013, ISBN 978-0-8131-7833-2, S2CID 219816178, retrieved 2020-08-31
  27. Law, Robin. The Slave Coast of West Africa 1550–1750: The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on an African Society. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991. p. 319.
  28. Quick guide: The slave trade; Who were the slaves? BBC News, 15 March 2007.
  29. Stannard, David. American Holocaust. Oxford University Press, 1993.
  30. Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities, and Images.
  31. American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission report, page 43-44
  32. Patrick Manning, "The Slave Trade: The Formal Demographics of a Global System" in Joseph E. Inikori and Stanley L. Engerman (eds), The Atlantic Slave Trade: Effects on Economies, Societies and Peoples in Africa, the Americas, and Europe (Duke University Press, 1992), pp. 117–44, online at pp. 119–120.
  33. Maddison, Angus. Contours of the world economy 1–2030 AD: Essays in macro-economic history. Oxford University Press, 2007.


  • Law, Robin, "Slave-Raiders and Middlemen, Monopolists and Free-Traders: The Supply of Slaves for the Atlantic Trade in Dahomey c. 1750-1850", The Journal of African History, Vol.30, No. 1, 1989.
  • Law, Robin. The Slave Coast of West Africa 1550–1750: The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on an African Society. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991.

Further reading

  • Law, Robin and Kristin Mann. "African and American Atlantic Worlds". The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 56:2 Apr. 1999, pp. 307–334.
  • Shillington, Kevin. History of Africa. 2nd Edition, Macmillan Publishers Limited, NY USA, 2005.
  • St Clair, William. The Door of No Return: The History of Cape Coast Castle and the Atlantic Slave Trade. BlueBridge.
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