Bitter Sweet History - aspects of the British Slave Trade

New Lands 1540-1770

From the middle of the sixteenth century ‘new’ lands became important for Britain. The Renaissance had brought success to trading cities across Europe. European politics though was dominated by self protection; import and export taxes were high.


With money to invest, new entrepreneurs looked beyond Europe for opportunities to trade. English trading colonies were established in North America and the Caribbean.


Initial ideas were to establish trading links with the native populations. In many places this worked successfully for a while. In most cases though, the clash of cultures led to disaster. Some Europeans passed on diseases the native populations were not resistant to. Other colonies became victims of existing conflicts and when colonists and native people fell out over trade, land or relationships it often led to bloodshed.


There were other fears too. Attack by political rivals was common and war in Europe often had consequences in the colonies. There were also dangerous independent entrepreneurs with bases in the Caribbean, we know them as Buccaneers or Pirates.


By 1740 the English fleet dominated the Caribbean and North American coast. The colonies and settlements were well established. In most colonies, the native populations were totally dominated by the newcomers. The idea of fair exchange and co-existence had been replaced by exploitation.



Europeans had adopted the slave trade from North and West Africa. In the 1680s English colonists had freed African slaves brought for sale by Dutch merchants. They were then, however, ‘indentured’ to tradesmen. This meant they had to work for their ‘master’ for a specific apprenticeship time.


Soon after this, the need for cheap labour meant the American colonies began importing African slaves


After abolition in 1807 the Royal Navy began a campaign of suppressing the slave trade by patrolling the Atlantic West African Coast and the southern Mediterranean Sea. There were many encounters between so called ‘Corsairs’ and the Royal Navy until the 1890s.



See where the Mediterranean Sea is.»

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