Skip to Main Content

Colonies in America: Commerce, Business, and the Economy

Atlantic Slave Trade

This section looks at the Atlantic System - the trade of enslaved Africans. It has been broken into two parts – the First Atlantic system which is primarily in the 16th century and has the Spanish and Portuguese trade as its focus and the Second Atlantic system focuses on the English, Portuguese, French and Dutch traders in the 17th century onward. When looking at the British role in the slave trade while it begins with the voyages of John Hawkins External in the 1560s, it will be important to research the history of the Royal African Company which was issued a charter in 1672 and was granted a monopoly over English trade along the west coast of Africa to search for gold but also was in the business of the slave trade. This company traces its history to the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading into Africa (granted a charter in 1660) looking more for gold but when that charter was reissued in 1663 there was an increased emphasis on the slave trade.

We decided to create a specific section on the Atlantic slave trade with material that is separate from that found in the broader Trade & Mercantilism section. While discussions about the slave trade may be found in material that is broader in nature, the material here is primarily about the slave trade. Given the time period covered by this guide and the relationships between the colony and the home country, it may be that some of the material included may not be explicitly tied to a colony or colonies, but be broader and more general in scope or may be found in books looking at the history of the slave trade as it relates to colonial power, in particular Great Britain (see the Asiento or contract, signed by Britain and Spain in 1713 as part of the Utrecht treaty that ended the War of Spanish Succession).

There are many books and sources on this topic but what is included here is broad in nature and it is intended to be just a starting point. For more particular discussions – about particular colonies, commodities, situations, etc., other books and articles are going to be necessary to supplement and expand on what is found below. Additional citations may also be found in the database Oxford Bibliographies. This includes: "The Origins of Slavery" by Michael Guasco, "Slavery and Empire" by Christian Pinnen, "Slave Owners in the British Atlantic" by Nick Draper, "Atlantic Slavery" by Matt Childs, etc.

Selected Resources

Because the slave trade took place both before the Revolution and after, much of the literature and discussion is outside of the period covered in of this guide. However, given that some of materials cover both the period before and after the Revolution, when appropriate they have been included here. This section doesn't include all books or articles in this growing area of research, additional titles can be found by using the LC subject headings at the end of this section. The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.