How Britain Came to Outlaw Slave Trafficking in 1838

Doku KW12 | Menschenhandel - Eine kurze Geschichte der Sklaverei

Slave Routes: A Short History of Human Trafficking

Part 3 From Sugar to Rebellion

DW (2020)

Film Review

Part 3 is about the Middle Passage and the commencement, by white Europeans, of industrial level human trafficking.

By the time of the 1620 Sugar War, the average slave only lived to age 30, translating into constant demand for replacements. Because women labored alongside side men (and both were drastically underfed), infant mortality was extremely high. Only one out of ten slave infants survived to adulthood.

In 1620, the French, English and Dutch formed an alliance to break the Portuguese/Spanish monopoly on the sugar industry.

The triangular British-slave-sugar trade provided the capital foundation for the emergency of European and North American capitalism. In the 17the century, it would totally transform the British banking system. After wealthy London merchants invited the Dutch businessman William of Orange man to assume the British throne, he granted the (private) Bank of England control over the money supply by enabling them to create the official national currency.*

In France slave trading families would be responsible for building the modern cities of Nantes, Bordeaux, La Rochelle and Le Havre around the slave/sugar trade.

Vastly outnumbered by the slaves they oversaw, especially in the Caribbean islands, white plantation owners were terrified of  slave revolts, which were occurring constantly.

The frequent slave revolts, along with the highly publicized Zong Massacre** in early 1781, would help enlighten the white population of Europe of the ugly role the slave trade played in sugar production.

A 1789 biography published by former slave Gustavo Vassa describing the Middle Passage, also strengthened the British abolition movement. In 1838, Parliament enacted on total ban on slave trading in the British empire.


**During the Zong massacre, the slave ship’s captain threw 130 enslaved Africans overboard in pursuit of a fraudulent insurance claim. When Lloyd’s of London denied the claim, the Zong owners took the company to court – and lost.

For information on viewing times consult

Hidden History: How 13 Million Kidnapped Africans Built Global Capitalism

Slavery Routes – Part 2 From Sugar to Revolution

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

Part 2 of Slavery Routes covers the so-called “Sugar Wars”* and the entry of the rest of Europe (Holland, Prussia, Denmark, England, Spain, France)  into Portugal’s lucrative slave trade. It also explores the role of European banks and insurance companies in making this expansion possible. Slave traders always undertook cross-Atlantic voyages on credit, which meant they had to be insured against losing their “cargo.” Insurance companies (Lloyd’s of London was the most prominent) were happy to ensure an enterprise in which a trader stood to triple his stake.

In this way, the slave trade provided the financial capital for both European and American capitalism.

Too Valuable to Kill

Rebellions by captive slaves were continual on both sides of the Atlantic. Because it took four years of plantation work to pay off the price of a captive, rebellious slaves were too valuable to kill. Instead ship captains and plantation owners became quite ingenious in devising brutal methods to compel submission.

In 1685 Louis XIV of France (funny I majored in French history and they never mentioned this) enacted the Code Noir, which made it legal to beat slaves but not torture them or mutilate their limbs.

The European Abolition Movement

By the late 1780s there was growing awareness and opposition in European society against the brutal conditions of the Middle Passage.** Britain’s abolition movement gained considerable momentum following the 1783 lawsuit in which a slave trader sued his insurance company for refusing to reimburse him after he threw his cargo of 133 living slaves overboard.

The English outlawed the slave trade in 1807. By 1815 there navy was strong enough to prevent other European nations from engaging in slave trading.

In all, 13 million Africans were kidnapped to the New World between 1520 and 1815.

The video can’t be embedded but can be seen free at the following link:

From Sugar to Revolution

*”Sugar Wars” refers to a series of naval conflicts between European nations seeking the upper hand in the slave market.

**The Middle Passage was the stage of the triangular trade (resulting in large exports of sugar to Europe) in which millions of Africans were shipped across the Atlantic as slaves.