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

By Henry Louis Gates Jr.,

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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  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.

  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?

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