The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade marks the largest forced migration in human history. From the 1600s to the mid-1800s, it is estimated that at least 12 million Africans were forcibly taken to the American colonies, bringing with them an estimated 50 cultural and linguistic groups.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is also known as the Triangle Trade for its three-legged route from Europe to Africa to the Americas and back to Europe. Europeans exchanged goods for people in Africa and then shipped enslaved Africans to the Americas. The second leg of the journey, known as the Middle Passage, lasted roughly two to three months and brought about the deaths of an estimated 1.5 to 2 million Africans. Those who survived the treacherous journey were key in the development and building of the “New World.” While the majority of the slaves were transported to South America and the Caribbean, the census counted roughly four million enslaved people in the southern United States by 1860. Enslaved Africans were considered the property of their owners and continuously risked their lives for freedom. They were central to strengthening the United States cash economy with farming crops such as cotton, tobacco and rice.