Demand for slaves began to grow in the late 1400s. Colonists of Spain and the West Indies and later colonists in the United States needed manpower that was strong and inexpensive. Africans fulfilled this need. They were captured and sold in return for firearms, gunpowder, cloth, and rum. The traders also persuaded many African tribes to engage in the slave trade with them as the lure for guns proved to be too strong to resist.
After capture, Africans were marched to the coast in shackles and packed tightly onto sailing vessels. The journey to America took place under hellish conditions, which often ended in death for the slaves. To receive the most money from a voyage, traders packed as many captives into the hold of the ship as possible. Millions of slaves are thought to have been brought to America in this manner. Upon arrival in the United States, slaves were gotten ready for auction to be sold to the highest bidder.
Life on the plantations of the South proved to be a continuation of this horror. Slaves were thought of as chattel. They could be bought and sold at any time. Families could be separated by the plantation owner at will. In fact, families were often broken up to break the slaves’ spirit. Beatings and other forms of punishment were the norm for any disobedience on the part of the slaves. They worked dawn to dusk, often seven days a week, for their owner. Escape was impossible for many, although some did try to make their way North to Freedom.