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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58 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

      • Robin on June 19, 2021 at 1:27 PM

        SOOOOOOOOOOO… If only MEN were brought over from Africa, how exactly did we reproduce and create families?

        • Rod on July 26, 2021 at 3:58 PM

          We must not forget that some Native Americans where reclassified as slave…

    • 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

      • Johnathan Johnson on July 5, 2021 at 12:18 PM

        True enough. In 1715 the Virginia Assembly, albeit they did not vote to end slavery, they did vote to end the importation of new slaves. The British Crown over ruled the vote claiming they need the revenue that the slave trade generated.

    • 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.

      • Donald Paul Guillory on May 15, 2021 at 4:28 PM

        If we are to study how 500,000 Africans became 42,000,000 African Americans in the United States that research would show that American slave owners treated slaves as their most valuable, renewable resource. They impregnated girls as early as possible and as often as possible. At the time of the emancipation proclamation ( by no means the end of bondage) Africans made up exactly the same percentage of the U S population that we do today 13%.

        • Dan K on July 5, 2021 at 12:49 PM

          In 1860 the US population was approx 31,000,000. That would make the slave population approximately 1-2%

      • Micah A Chastain on June 30, 2021 at 4:50 PM

        I have often wondered if not for slavery.. African Americans would today be living in some 3rd world Country and would probably have never even made it to America.

        • Marzeaux on August 6, 2021 at 4:57 PM

          Wait you think Africans didn’t know how to navigate the seas?

        • John x on August 17, 2021 at 12:49 PM

          If Africans don’t end up in America there would be no African Americans. As far as Africa living standards or quality of life is subjective.

      • Johnathan Johnson on July 5, 2021 at 12:38 PM

        Contact with people of color was in progress by the Portuguese & Spanish due to a thousand years of incursions by the Moors & later seafaring explorations by Vasco de Gama & Henry the Navigator along the African coast line. As a result, they became more familiar & accepting of people of color. New England was later colonized by the English & Dutch who had less contact with darker skinned people until the 16th century.

    • 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

      • Dave Bailey on May 14, 2021 at 6:37 AM

        I lost at least 10 IQ points after reading Corey’s thoughts.

      • Johnathan Johnson on July 5, 2021 at 12:58 PM

        “….alot of black staves were originally native Americans” Although the Spanish made attempts to enslave the indigenous people of the “New World” they came into contact with, most rebelled. There was ingemination with escaped Black slaves & Indian tribes, but that came much later. (ie: Cherokee Creek, Choctaw, et al) & many Native Americans held slaves well into the 19th century, blacks & other tribes. Genetic analyses seems to show the Native Americans came out of Siberia or east Asia. at least ten thousand years ago.

    • Jeff Felix on June 13, 2021 at 9:30 PM

      Millions of Africans have immigrated here since slavery ended.

  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.

      • Jeffrey Felix on June 13, 2021 at 9:31 PM

        Nice reply Patrick.
        Verbal bullying is more powerful that physically bullying long term.

    • Albert Anon on June 15, 2021 at 12:29 AM

      But the US itself never had three hundred years of raping black women or any kind of mistreatment, as a matter of fact. The US did not legally exist or have any legal power until the US won the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 and even then the Revolutionary War wasn’t officially ended until the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States. But remember, from the very first there was bitter division in this country about slavery and most of the Northern states were enacting abolitionist laws even before the US was officially a county in 1783. The US, in fact, is the least spiritually, morally, ethically, legally and financially guilty of all the countries involved with slavery. And if black people want reparations, since most of them were kidnapped by other countries than the US, they should start there first. It was a fight here from the very beginning, but it was like the abortion issue today. Yesterday’s Dred Scott decision is today’s Wade vs Roe decision. Somebody or some group is always just a 5/6 human to somebody else or some other group. Yesterday is today and the same type of people are involved. So whatta ya going to do?

      • Dawn Bryant on September 14, 2021 at 12:48 PM

        Too bad aborted babies can’t ask for reparations…

  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.

    • Alvin on June 4, 2021 at 1:35 PM

      A white army did invade Africa. Long before the slave trade.. And some black tribes did sale captured blacks from other tribes to slavers. However, they were wrong for that. All of them.

    • John x on August 17, 2021 at 1:15 PM

      The answer is mostly from warring tribes, however tribal warfare has always existed and even in other regions like North America no? You were correct and saying warring tribes but do you understand it? If one tribe captures/or kindnaps another distinct group is that the same group selling themselves? So how can “blacks” own up if you used the word tribes which means you know they existed as separate entities. People like you try to group “blacks” as one race to justify chattel slavery which is different from slavery in West Africa, basically your saying since a dark skin person initially slaved their ancestor first Americans are not to blame for bringing people thousands of miles from their homeland(different from Africa) and an continued practice of racism and injustice towards specific people. Whats your excuse for Native Americans atrocities? They should own up too, for standing in your way of manifest destiny? That’s your logic.

  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. ..

    • Ken Star on April 26, 2021 at 1:25 PM

      I’ve studied in America and abroad. Until about 10 years ago I never heard of any war fought that would have led to 12 million people being sold in Africa. Imagine the wealth that would’ve been created. What happened to that wealth? Why have no nation requested reparations for losing so many people? African tribes sued for reparations from Germany for crimes hidden long before slavery, yet no claim for the black people in America. That doesn’t sound logical. Neither does hundreds of people traveling for months at a time stacked on top of each other with no food or fresh water all while urinating and defecating on each other, yet marched to an auction block upon arrival. My 2 yo grandchild sits on my lap for 5 minutes and my legs feels numb. The atlantic slave trade narrative is less probable than mission impossible. My question to you is what could black people possibly take responsibility for? There is not one record stating who their descendants are or where they came from. It’s all speculation.

      • dr_fran on May 10, 2021 at 3:54 PM

        Mr. Star, I can see why you might be confused if you’re thinking that the slave trade would have to be the consequence of a war and that captured Africans “traveled for months at a time… with no food or fresh water.” If you read the 2 contemporary eyewitness accounts a bit more closely, you’ll see that they do talk about “scanty food” and describe the kidnapped Africans as fighting their way to get drops of fresh water. So there was barely enough food and water to sustain life, and many died along the way from suffocation, starvation, disease, beatings, and suicides by drowning. Also of note: The Transatlantic Slave Trade lasted nearly 400 years, and there are excellent records (ships’ manifests) of the more than 12 million Africans transported to the New World during that time. You probably had not heard of all this because it has not been well-described in our history textbooks nor in popular literature. That does not mean it did not happen, but only that many historians and book publishers did not value Black lives enough to research and write about this horrific trade in human beings — or that it was simply so ugly than they did not wish for Americans to learn these shameful parts of our history. As is true for many countries, the triumphant, glorious parts of history get told and retold, and the embarrassing or horrifying parts get ignored or buried.

      • Mike on June 20, 2021 at 10:48 AM

        Why is finding who owes reparations so hard? Slavery was well documented by the owners. Ledgers with names and worths! Has anyone even tried to honestly research these documents? The information is there, maybe we need to silence our politicians and allow for some meaningful dialogue.

  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.)

      • Martin on April 16, 2021 at 1:05 PM

        Great and informative response Min, thanks! Although counterintuitive, what countries LEFT the Spanish Empire since they founded, in 1492, the Italian Colombo, the “Christ Bringer” as he fancied himself…

        (Sorry for formatting, best I could do). (Here is a visual of those countries that gained independence from the Spanish Empire — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_that_gained_independence_from_Spain)

        The point being SPAIN NOT ENGLAND DOMINATED! Look at a map of the West and ask what countries are Spanish-speaking and Roman Catholic in the plus 95%ile for most of the last 500 years? (Throw in Brazil {The big kahuna of S.A.} since, as you can see, Portugal was part of the S.E. until 1640)

      • Matthew McLaughlin on June 16, 2021 at 2:43 PM

        Africans in Mexico.3 It is now fairly certain that in the period 1519-1650 the area received at least 120,000 slaves, or two-thirds of all the Africans imported into the Spanish possessions in America.4

        https://read.dukeupress.edu/hahr/article/46/3/235/158429/Negro-Slave-Control-and-Resistance-in-Colonial

  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, […]

  14. Actual Knights - Blew Sky of Kansas on April 30, 2021 at 2:40 PM

    […] When the Portuguese explorers found the uninhabited Canary islands off of the coast of Africa, those who were not afraid of the diseases like Malaria and Yellow Fever began establishing cotton and indigo plantations. Then they began importing more slaves from Africa to perform the hard labor and began to sell the cloth they had licensed up and down the African coast.[106] […]

  15. Galton Terrell on May 12, 2021 at 9:24 AM

    “12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage…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.”

    I’m an Electrical Engineer with a firm grasp of numbers and scale. I find these figures very difficult to believe and borderline ridiculous considering available data. The Transatlantic Slave Trade lasted 400 years. Given the absurdly high survival rate the article implies, that would mean that on average less than a thousand slaves a year were “imported” to the United States across the numerous slave ports from Charleston to St. Augustine FL to Louisiana receiving constant shipments of slaves. On the other hand, we have account on “small” shipments of slaves numbering 20 at a time, and of accounts of slavers capturing as many as 50,000 slaves, between the years of 1618 and 1620, long before slavery ended. With such a supposedly tiny number of slaves being imported in the United States one would have the false impression that the United States was a extremely minor player in the TransAtlantic Slave Trade, when we know that this was simply not the case given the wealth it accumulated from Slavery. Just on the available, albeit loose collection of, data, I find this article very hard to believe.

  16. Jon on May 20, 2021 at 12:39 PM

    I really think that some people can’t quite wrap their minds around that fact that there were 388,000 Africans brought to America and yet we are supposed to think that this number shot up to millions upon millions because of chattel slavery. However, even if this is thought to be, how can you explain that Black Americans had a much LARGER explosion of population growth AFTER slavery when people weren’t actually forced to have babies?

    The math ain’t mathing. I think the numbers are wonky because they are indeed trying to conceal that there were MANY people already right here in America who were indeed enslaved. An original 388,000 turned into an easy 7+ million at the end of slavery which then shot up to a whopping 42 million after slavery. This does not even make sense.

  17. terance smith on May 23, 2021 at 5:36 PM

    A lot of so-called slaves were actually POW’s in the Americas, just research the journals of the early European colonizers that describe ‘black or dark’ skinned people they met upon landing on this ‘newfound’ land. Many of these expeditions occurred before the slave trade. Many of the dark native tribes were written out of history because they were easy targets to be classified as slaves to people who needed more slaves and second Congress(victors) gets to determine which tribes were recognized as native. Lastly, the options of the Census of 1790 and forward created inconsistencies in how the black native indians(because Columbus was lost) were defined and labeled. Artwork and artifacts in all the Americas’ caves and landscape substantiate the aforementioned.

  18. The one on July 14, 2021 at 4:41 AM

    That can’t be right who was ordering 5,000 slaves a day and it take 3 months to sail to America and half of them died on the way over and where are all these ships at now haven’t been that long ago makes no sense who said these numbers

  19. chris on August 9, 2021 at 7:09 PM

    https://www.amren.com/features/2017/02/black-slavery-middle-east/ More information on this topic, touches on the growth of the African-American population, and gives information on the middle east’s slave trade during recent times. I had to stop to digest the information a few times.

    • dr_fran on August 21, 2021 at 1:38 PM

      The the information on the website you cite is, to my thinking, suspect and potentially flawed in its accuracy. Its authors are self-titled “race-realists” who maintain that the concept of “race” is based in biology. This centuries-old concept has been thoroughly well-debunked by modern genetics; there is no inheritable gene or set of genes that form a person’s “race” as a set of traits that include IQ or character. A person’s phenotype (how much melanin in his/her skin, hair texture, thin or full lips, etc.) has no proven relationship to his/her character traits or IQ. Therefore I’d read the above linked article with skepticism and check for a range of reliable sources on this topic.

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