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The Americas


The transatlantic slave trade spanned 366 years. In 1501, Africans arriving from Spain -- where they had been previously enslaved -- were introduced into the island of Hispaniola (Haiti/Dominican Republic). The last slave ship sailed into Cuba in 1867.

Landing Slaves at a Brazilian Port, 1830s

Of the 10.7 million African captives who survived the voyage to the New World, 95% disembarked in the Caribbean and South America. Brazil received almost half: 4.9 million. The British Caribbean received 2.4 million Africans. (Jamaica alone received 1.02 million.) The Spanish colonies received 1.3 million, with 779,000 of those disembarking in Cuba. About 390,000 Africans (less than 4% of the total arrivals) landed in what became the United States -- which means that Barbados received more Africans (493,000) and that almost twice as many arrived in St. Domingue than arrived in what is now the US.

Only in the United States did the enslaved population increase through births. Everywhere else, it decreased or stagnated, being augmented only through continued arrivals of Africans. For example, while French St. Domingue (which became Haiti in 1804) had received nearly 774,000 Africans over a period of 288 years, by the eve of the revolution of 1790, its black population had dwindled to 500,000. By comparison, the 390,000 Africans brought into the United States over 234 years had given rise to a population of 4.5 million African Americans by 1860. Several factors explain this disparity. Undoubtedly, one was that the US had a more temperate climate. However, one major reason was the difference in crops enslaved persons were expected to cultivate. In the United States, the main agricultural products were cotton, rice, tobacco, and indigo, while Brazil and the Caribbean were the largest producers of sugar. Sugar's cultivation and production were exceedingly grueling tasks. Sugar workers had a very short lifespan, and deaths largely exceeded births. When the French, fleeing the revolution in St. Domingue, settled in Louisiana and developed sugar plantations there, the demography of the state changed. Soon it paralleled that of the Caribbean, with high mortality rates and low birth rates.

By the beginning of the 19th century, people born in Africa still comprised a majority of the enslaved populations in many countries of the Western Hemisphere; but they had become a small minority in the United States.