The Transatlantic slave trade in the early 17th, Century deprived Mother Africa of an estimated 12 to 15 million of her sons and daughters who were transported to the Americans and the Caribbean. The first arrivals were taken to the James Town colony in America in 1619.
Shackled African slaves were grouped in cramped conditions in slave ships. The conditions quickly became unhygienic giving rise to a number of diseases. The arduous journey through the middle passage made a very difficult experience traumatic for all the African slaves.
Thousands died during the transit. Those who had fallen ill and were deemed not well enough to survive the difficult journey were, together with the dead, jettisoned. Insurance papers were then duly completed by slave masters for compensation. Some slaves still shackled com- mitted suicide en masse by drowning. They had decided that it was the better option than to complete the journey and endure an even more inhumane treatment.
On arrival in the Americas and the Caribbean, the African slaves endured the indignity of being lined up in ‘marketplaces,’ assessed individually by prospective buyers and eventually becoming the property of the wealthy and powerful in society. Many of these African slaves were responsible and proud patriarchs and matriarchs in their respective households. They were also respected, and therefore influential elders in their various African communities.
Working in the plantations became the next dimension of the suffering of the Africans. In the scorching sun and in very difficult conditions, they worked for hours on end. Any hint of dissent or rebellion was brutally quelled. Even pregnant women were not spared the drudgery of plantation work. Consequently, infant mortality within the African population was high. Again, as it was during the transit, disease and illness were rife.
The wealthy, the powerful, the influential and no fewer than twelve American Presidents owned slaves. The White House was built by slaves from 1782 to 1800. Many other landmarks in America built by slaves include Capitol Hill, New York Stock Exchange, and Harvard University.
It took almost 250 years of free African labour before slavery was finally abolished in 1865. The American Congress outlawed the trade in slaves in 1808 but in the south the domestic trade went on regardless. It was vital to their economy. The resistance of the Southern States delayed the eventual abolition of slavery by two decades. It was this dogged resistance of the southerners who advocated the right to continue with the practice which plunged America into the Civil War starting from April 12th,1861, and ending on May 9th, 1865. The war gave the African slaves the opportunity to contribute positively to the Union effort. The African slaves were initially tasked with cooking, washing, digging trenches and cleaning in the Confederate side. In the Union section, the recruited African slaves proved their mettle. They endeared themselves to their white commanders. The Confederates were outnumbered by the Union Army with the recruitment of the African slaves.
Congress passed a Bill authorizing equal pay for black and white soldiers in 1864. When the war ended in 1865, about 180,000 (about 90,000 from the Confederate states) had served as soldiers in the Union Army. The number accounted for 10% of the total Union Force. The percentage of blacks in the Navy in 1861 was about 6%. The following year recorded a massive jump to 15% of the enlisted black men. Many who joined were from the east coast of America.