How Many Africans Were Really Taken to the U.S During the Slave Trade?

By Henry Louis Gates Jr., TheRoot.com

Perhaps you, like me, were raised essentially to think of the slave experience primarily in terms of our black ancestors here in the United States. In other words, slavery was primarily about us, right, from Crispus Attucks and Phillis Wheatley, Benjamin Banneker and Richard Allen, all the way to Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass. Think of this as an instance of what we might think of as African-American exceptionalism. (In other words, if it’s in “the black Experience,” it’s got to be about black Americans.) Well, think again. images

The most comprehensive analysis of shipping records over the course of the slave trade is the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, edited by professors David Eltis and David Richardson. (. . .)Between 1525 and 1866, in the entire history of the slave trade to the New World, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America. imgres

And how many of these 10.7 million Africans were shipped directly to North America? Only about 388,000. That’s right: a tiny percentage.  In fact, the overwhelming percentage of the African slaves were shipped directly to the Caribbean and South America; Brazil received 4.86 million Africans alone! Some scholars estimate that another 60,000 to 70,000 Africans ended up in the United States after touching down in the Caribbean first, so that would bring the total to approximately 450,000 Africans who arrived in the United States over the course of the slave trade.

Incredibly, most of the 42 million members of the African-American community descend from this tiny group of less than half a million Africans. (. . .)

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28 Comments

  1. Roni on October 13, 2015 at 12:42 PM

    Is it costly to verify this information? Was the transatlantic the only route? If it’s roughly 42 million AA now does this make them the most incestual group to reproduce being such a small number and separated easily? Just wondering since I was a little girl but are the only professors to do research on black history and have us understand and accept it are white men? I use to love History but now it’s just confusing, especially the whole race thing and Columbus..

    • dr_fran on September 7, 2020 at 11:32 AM

      Doing original historical research is indeed a very time-consuming and sometimes, therefore, a costly process. Luckily there are many scholars – Black, White and of many other racial/ethnic groups – doing excellent research by locating original documents (like slave ship manifests) and artifacts (like gravesites where enslaved people were buried), from which much information can be derived. As to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, you read Dr. Gates’ article above carefully and note the map, you’ll see that the Atlantic was not the only trade route but was definitely the one through which the most enslaved people were transported from their homes to enslavement in far away countries. And as one of the other commenters on this article reminds us, many enslaved women were raped and impregnated by their enslavers and other white men. Also that populations of captives from different tribes and nations were thrown together on the ships and in the plantations, so their children were not the products of incest.

    • Arnett L Pointer on October 26, 2020 at 5:59 AM

      Just wanted to say that there was only men that were brought over during the slave trade most African-Americans don’t even know that the majority of their DNA was already in America before the slave trade even happen. Stay woke!! Ask Dan Calloway

    • Gabe on November 19, 2020 at 1:45 PM

      Roni,Columbus never touch North Americas land, also he didn’t have nothing to do with the slave trade Most of the slaves trade in the 13 south colonies were during British Royal rules
      Nothing is confusing if you read the right books an if you look at dates

    • Rob on February 16, 2021 at 1:27 PM

      Hi Roni,

      The reason why there are so many Black Americans now compared to other nations in the Americas is due to the fact that Cuba, Brazil, and all other countries in the Caribbean and Latin America allowed and even encouraged racial mixing post slavery. Those countries had thousands more African slaves than the USA and Brazil had MILLIONS; over the years, racial mixing caused the population of people of mostly African ancestry to decrease.

      In the USA a smaller amount of slaves were brought than the countries listed but the African American population grew due to the fact that racial mixing was illegal for 100 years after slavery and something that is relatively new to the society. Had the USA allowed or encouraged racial mixing like other nations in the America’s did, then the Black population here would be a lot smaller today and the demographics of our country would be similar to those of let’s say Cuba, Colombia, and Puerto Rico. We would be a racially mixed bag of people.

    • Jaime Calderon on March 11, 2021 at 9:52 AM

      How slaves were sold by other Africans compared how many were captured by white slave traders

    • Corey on April 2, 2021 at 9:40 AM

      I think dudes got it wrong it’s my opinion but I believe alot of the black slaves were originally native Americans me reading that small of a number was shipped from Africa they had to get the rest from somewhere

  2. John Horizon Jr. on September 7, 2020 at 11:08 AM

    “Incestual”? So let me understand what you are saying. You are under the impression that all of the enslaved Africans were closely related on the plantations and slave ships and willingly mated with their relatives and committed the sin of incest. Of course you must know that most African captives on the slave ships and many on each plantation were not related? Also It never dawned on you that Enslaved African women were being raped and impregnated by white slavemasters and their relatives for three centuries? In the Information Age how can someone be this clueless if they are truly seeking the truth?

    • Patrick Allen on December 13, 2020 at 10:42 AM

      The person was asking a question, legitimately trying to expand their knowledge and satiate a curiosity they had. Responses like yours are the reason people are afraid to ask questions. As a result, their understanding remains unfulfilled. What purpose does it serve to belittle them? Maybe, next time you can give them information in a polite way so knowledge is exchanged, not anger.

  3. JEAN-PAUL BEAUGRAND on September 29, 2020 at 6:08 PM

    “In the Information Age how can someone be this clueless if they are truly seeking the truth?”
    Every journey of enlightenment and understanding begins with a foundation of ignorance, which, for the most part, continues until our final breath.
    As in every meaningful endeavor, it’s all about the journey, not the final destination.
    Unless you were born with the ability to read and speak and write and analyze information, you had to go through a (sometimes painful) learning process; a process which, by definition, is not “natural.”
    An engineer or scientist might scoff, “how do you not understand physics, chemistry, thermodynamics?”
    A lawyer might demand to know “how are you so clueless about court procedures and basic common law?”
    A banker might question “why don’t you understand compound interest and amortization tables?”
    The English teacher may exclaim “how can you not conjugate a verb?”
    I began my own journey into my family history half a century ago; a fairly “simple” matter of combing through birth and death records, searching cemeteries for dates on tombstones, court records, census records, family Bibles. .. and comparing them with historical accounts in newspapers, magazines, obscure history dissertations.
    We all have different levels of education and experience, we all hone our skills to provide for ourselves and our families first. Sometimes the understanding of our cultural history is a luxury we can’t yet afford; abusing those who are not as far along their path of discovery as we is less than helpful.

    • Carolyn white on March 12, 2021 at 7:57 AM

      I really don’t know why we can’t talk without getting mean to each other. We all want to live together or we wouldn’t be here. My ancestor came from England and it doesn’t bother me. My family never had slaves. We grew up poor. Most of the low class people still live in poverty white or black. We can’t help what our forefathers did. We can only be glad we are more educated. Jesus was hung on a stake. Does that mean the Jews blame you and I? Let’s all try to forget what a few ignorant men did to make money. They are still selling human beings only now they don’t care what color they are. Put the past behind us. Just get along live for the future.

  4. Armand Zunder on November 3, 2020 at 11:11 AM

    Desr Mrs/Sir,
    How many Africans were transported from Africa to USA during the periode of Colonialisme.
    Armand Zunder.

    • dr_fran on November 11, 2020 at 10:45 AM

      Approximately half a million Africans were brought to the area that would become the USA, according to Professor Gates (see above).

  5. Mary-Ann on December 15, 2020 at 8:35 PM

    Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., I always appreciate your contributions to the African-American experience.

  6. Tommyjuandoe on January 17, 2021 at 12:40 AM

    We all have different levels of education but education and all your learned knowledge never passes up or is needed to understand all that exists because unconditional love and the answers to all earths questions are already within you but God requires us to be pure and he is in control of all good n all evil.

  7. Chris on January 22, 2021 at 9:18 AM

    Did a vast white army invade Africa and capture blacks or were they sold by warring tribes as spoils of war and sold to white slave traders. I’m curious as to whether blacks themselves are owning up to some responsibility in the first place.

    • Music Man on February 25, 2021 at 7:53 PM

      Chris, The sellers were North Africans the middlemen were Jewish and the buyers were Rich people from around the known world with probably about the same amount of white people as black people sold. Some of your possible ancestry was castrated and forced to serve some master if you are of European decent.

      • dr_fran on March 6, 2021 at 10:00 AM

        Music Man, can you point me to the sources of the information in your comment? I’m curious about several aspects of your reply to Chris that don’t ring true. For example, I’m curious as to how Chris could be descended from slaves who were castrated, as that generally make reproduction impossible.

  8. Marnel Goforth on January 22, 2021 at 5:04 PM

    There is no argument, justification for slavery of any human being. The atrocities, whether it was African slaves, Native Americans or Jewish people is just a disgusting evil.
    I try to educate myself, to ferret out the truth. It is sickening research. I become ill by the information, it is a truly a small discomfort compared to the conditions slave families had to endure. If they survived.
    Census rolls with a 10 year old child listed as property and no name.
    Now think of your child on that list.
    I

  9. SF on February 18, 2021 at 8:07 AM

    I would like to know the answer to Chris’ question

  10. Jonathan Stevens on February 26, 2021 at 2:00 AM

    I offer the suggestion that this conversation will be enriched by reading a book, BEFORE THE MAYFLOWER, by Lerone Bennett Jr. ..

  11. brianna on March 1, 2021 at 6:49 AM

    I would like to know the answer to the question, “How many Africans were taken to the Americas during the slave trade?”

    • dr_fran on March 6, 2021 at 9:52 AM

      Brianna, hopefully you found the answer to your important question within this exhibit. Another place to go for this information is https://www.slavevoyages.org/ .

    • Min on April 3, 2021 at 1:36 AM

      Depends which part of the Americas. There are three countries that belong to the North American continent (The U.S. of America, Canada and Mexico.) Then there is Central America and South America and the Caribbean. Mexico was called New Spain from the late 1400s to the early 1800’s until the “mixed people and the Native Americans” won their independence from New Spain in 1821, then New Spain was renamed the United States of Mexico. It depends where one looks – but there are records that indicate that the Portuguese charged high prices for the slaves and the number of slaves available during the Spanish rule in North America were not sufficient to meet the needs of the colony and so records indicate that in that part of North America, under Spanish Rule, before it became Mexico and before the U.S of America invaded what had become Mexico (1846-1848) there were about 6,000 Africans in New Spain and about 3,000 African in Central America (Central Americas population and land mass is much small than Mexico). Although As it turns out according to the ABHM (America’s Black Holocaust Museum there were about 500,000 that ended up in the part of North America that was known for the 13 colonies. The U.S. had not invaded Mexico yet until 1846-1848 and Mexico didn’t purchase slaves. Slavery was illegal in Mexico. (New Spain did purchase slaves but that was before it became Mexico) – at the time- around 1480’s- the Portuguese controlled the slave trade and the numbers of Africans available were small in comparison to what came about 200 years later, when New Spain was still New Spain but now the English had also invaded North America and began to create the 13 colonies (over a span of 170 years). Don’t forget that modern Mexico today, was not Mexico until 1821- after fighting for their independence from their “Mother Country Spain”. Spain, brought slaves to North America before the English because Cortez ( ” Mexican History” Jaffary, Osowski, Porter) and other explorers sailed out before the English. But the majority of the Slaves ended up in South America, Brazil, (Brazil had over 4 million African slaves) and the Caribbean (I think it was Cuba and Puerto that held out and continued the slave trade until 1890s, with Cuba being the last to stop the import of Slavery.)

  12. Eric S. on March 29, 2021 at 7:15 AM

    As a middle aged white male mainly from the south I wondered yrs. Ago how many people were brought here to be slaves. I do know that all information I read is only as honest as the person writing it. But I was pretty shocked to read how many people today are related to the slaves yes. ago. Granted I know this is not a one stop shop for answers but this does help me with my questions and make want to ask more and learn.

    • dr_fran on April 7, 2021 at 5:12 PM

      Because enslaved people were treated as cargo, as property, there is an extensive record of slave ship manifests (lists of the cargo that was on each ship). There were also receipts for insurance paid to cover the loss of that human property. These and other records help historians figure out out many Africans were brought to the New World to labor for free all their lives. And it is a shocking number. In addition, there was intentional forced breeding to produce new slaves. So yes, you are correctly noticing that many many people in the US are descended from that large exploited population.

  13. […] difficult to calculate exact number for obvious reasons. Less than 400,000 human beings used for chattel slavery were shipped to the U.S. between 1525 and 1866, according to Henry Louis Gates, […]

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