Between 1501 and 1867, the transatlantic slave trade claimed an estimated 12.5 million Africans and involved almost every country with an Atlantic Coastline. Two leading historians have created the fi rst comprehensive, up-to-date atlas on this 350-year history of transatlantic trade. Slavery is as old as recorded History and usually it would be associated with slave trading. Unlike the traffi c in slaves in the Mediterranean world, however, the traffi c in slaves in the eastern Atlantic Islands and the Americas soon became racially based. Europeans considered only Africans or at least non-Europeans, to be eligible for shipment to the new European colonies as slaves. Both buyers (European) and sellers (African) saw the people traded into captivity on the African coast as outsiders.

The Atlas is rich in tables, maps, fac-simile, and illustrations which all put this trade into what it was: an industry. With real slave and sugar prices, with numbers of captives, routes, ships, mortality according to the length of voyage, marks, this Atlas tracks everything that comes into the infamous reality. Most of the 35,000 shipments –nearly 80% of all the voyages– had ship’s logbooks, registers, lists of sick and dying slaves…

Personal commentaries sometimes form part of the account. The former captain and future composer, after repentance, of the famous ‘Amazing Grace’, the reverend John Newton, left his description of the holds of slave ships: “The cargo of a vessel of a hundred tons or a little more is calculated to purchase from 220 to 250 slaves. Their lodging rooms below the deck are sometimes more than fi ve feet high and sometimes less… The slaves lie in two rows, one above the other, on each side of the ship, close to each other like books upon a shelf. The poor creatures, thus cramped, are likewise in irons for the most part which makes it diffi cult for them to turn or move or attempt to rise or to lie down without hurting themselves or each other. Every morning, perhaps, more instances than one are found of the living and the dead fastened together.”

This groundbreaking work provides the fullest possible picture of the extent and inhumanity of one of the largest forced migrations in History.



From R. Geoffroy, L’Afrique, ou Histoire, moeurs, usages et coutumes des Africains: le Sénégal (Paris, Nepveu, 1814). Bibliothèque de L’Arsenal, Paris, France / Archives Charmet / The Bridgeman Art Library.


Map 122: Slave Mortality, as percent of Slaves Leaving, and Voyage Length from Africa to Caribbean Regions, 1776–1830

Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade by David Eltis & David Richardson, Yale University Press, £30