Slavery is a topic the overwhelming majority of Americans know something about. They learn about the peculiar institution in history class. They watch films about slavery, read slave narratives and even fiction about the subject. Despite the amount of materials readily available about slavery, much of the public would be hard pressed to answer basic questions about the slave trade. For example, when did slavery begin? How many African slaves were imported to the United States? This overview of interesting facts about slavery and its legacy puts the peculiar institution into perspective.
Millions of Africans Shipped to New World During Slavery
While it’s common knowledge that six million Jews died during the Holocaust, it’s not as well known how many Africans were shipped to the New World during the transatlantic slave trade that took place from 1525 to 1866. According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, the answer is 12.5 million. Of those, 10.7 million managed to live through the horrific journey known as the Middle Passage.
Where Were Enslaved Africans Taken?
Slave traders shipped Africans throughout the New World—to North America, South America and the Caribbean. Far more Africans ended up in South America than in North America, however. Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University, estimates that a single South American country—Brazil—received 4.86 million, or about half of all of the slaves brought to the New World. The United States, on the other hand, received 450,000 Africans. In 2012, 42 million blacks live in the United States. Most of them are descendants of the Africans forced into the country during the slave trade.
Slavery Practiced Throughout Country
Initially, slavery wasn’t just practiced in the Southern states of the United States but in the North as well. Vermont stands out as the first state to abolish slavery, a move it made in 1777 after the liberated the nation from Britain. Twenty-seven years later, all of the Northern states vowed to outlaw slavery. But slavery continued to be practiced in the North for years. That’s because the Northern states implemented legislation that made slavery’s abolition gradual rather than immediate. PBS points out that Pennsylvania passed its Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in 1780. Gradual turned out to be an understatement. In 1850, hundreds of Pennsylvania blacks continued to live in bondage. So, just more than a decade before the Civil War kicked off in 1861, slavery was practiced in the North.
When Did The Slave Trade End in U.S.?
Congress passed a law in 1807 to ban the importation of African slaves in the United States. Similar legislation went into effect in Great Britain that same year. The U.S. law went into effect on Jan. 1, 1808. Given that South Carolina was the only state at this time that hadn’t outlawed the importation of slaves, Congress’ move wasn’t exactly groundbreaking. What’s more, by the time Congress decided to ban the importation of slaves, more than four million slaves already lived in the United States, according to Ira Berlin author of Generations of Captivity: A History of African American Slaves. Since the children of those slaves would be born into slavery and it wasn’t illegal for slave-owning Americans to trade slaves among themselves, the congressional act did not have a marked impact on slavery in the United States. Elsewhere, slaves were still being imported, however. African slaves were shipped to Latin America and South America as late as the 1860s.
More Africans in U.S. Now Than During Slavery
African immigrants don’t generally receive a great deal of press, but in 2005 the New York Times reported, “For the first time, more blacks are coming to the United States from Africa than during the slave trade.” Just under a half-million Africans were shipped to the U.S. during the slave trade. Annually, during that time, about 30,000 enslaved Africans came to the country By 2005, however, 50,000 Africans yearly were entering the U.S. The Times estimated that year that more than 600,000 Africans lived in the U.S. That constituted about 1.7 percent of the African-American population. The Times suspected that the actual number of African immigrants living in the United States might be higher if the amount of unauthorized African immigrants—those with expired visas and such—were factored into the equation.