The first set of people who struggled for the abolition of slavery were the captives and slaves themselves, who adopted various methods of resistance throughout their enslavement, from their capture in Africa to their sale and exploitation on plantations in the Americas and the Caribbean. Rebellion and suicide were often used as main forms of resistance.

As early as the late 17th century, individuals, as well as various abolitionist societies that had been established, began condemning slavery and the slave trade. This effort essentially originated from the English-speaking countries.

In 1807, the British parliament made proclamation for the abolition of slave trade. Up till the end of the 19th century, the British, French and North American abolitionists devised a set of moral, religious and occasionally, economic arguments as a means of combating the slave trade and slavery.

In the United States, the Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, extended the abolition of slavery to the whole Union in the wake of the Civil War of 1865.

The abolition of slavery which at the time concerned approximately 4 million people became the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Other important abolitionists who dedicated their lives to the cause included: Toussaint-Louverture, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Victor Schoelcher and William Wilberforce.

Apart from the above explanation about the abolition of slave trade, due to protests by the slaves and abolitionists campaign and parliamentary proclamations, some historians have argued that the real reason for the abolition of slave trade by Europe and America was the industrial revolution i.e. mechanization of production. As a result, there was no need to transport slaves to the plantations. They could remain in Africa to produce raw materials for the industries in Europe.



The bulk of the people sold into slavery were acquired through warfare, raids and kidnappings. The large number of boys and girls sold to slave merchants indicated that forceful capture was an attractive source of slave acquisition. In general terms, the use of violence was central and most effective strategy employed in the acquisition of slaves from Nigeria, and elsewhere in Africa.

Some of the people who were sold into slavery in foreign lands were mostly the anti-social elements in their African societies. This group of people included criminals who committed very serious crimes, which could attract death penalty.

However, it should be noted that with the evolution of slave trade system, the traditional African legal system was distorted in some African societies to make simple offences.

Similarly, with the continuous importation of guns, ammunition, and intoxicants associated with the trade in exchange for slaves, a culture of violence was sustained and promoted, with the active support of the slave merchants.

Superstitions and some aspects of traditional religion were used as excuses to sell people into slavery. There were cases of people who became slaves because of their inability to pay their debts. Extreme poverty had led people to sell their relations into slavery. Inter-communal warfare was another source of supply to the slave merchants.



The middle passage refers to the experiences of the slaves during their sea voyages as they sailed to the new world. Such experience includes untold torture, danger and other pains suffered by the slaves in the deck of the slave ships.

History has it that the slaves were usually chained, flogged, cramped like sardines in slave ships with limited food supplies. Most of the slaves died of suffocation and diseases as a result of the unhygienic nature of the slave ship while others were killed by the ship captain and thrown overboard at the slightest provocation.

In some cases, the slaves revolted and even overpowered their captor but such feat could not fetch them freedom as they were in the middle of the sea.



It is important to know the very articles involved in slave trade, and who needed what, from among the participants in the trade. Looking at the organization of the trans-Atlantic triangle trade, five broad groups can be identified as the main participants while it lasted. These groups were: African rulers; African peoples; American plantation farmers/miners; European manufacturers; and slave merchants from across the continents in which the inhuman trade flourished for centuries.

  1. The first leg of the triangle was the export goods from European manufacturers to African rulers who were mainly responsible for selling their criminals, captives, or war prisoners into slavery. These goods included guns, ammunition, and many luxury items.
  2. The second leg exported abled-bodied enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas and the Caribbean Islands.
  3. The third and final leg of the triangle was the return of goods to Europe from the Americas. The goods were the products of slave-labour plantations and included cotton, sugar, tobacco, molasses and rum.
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