Africans and slavery

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The impact of the slave trade on Africa was profound as it blighted progress in all aspects of life on the continent for many generations.

The transatlantic slave trade operated for almost 400 years, fuelled by Europe’s almost insatiable desire for sugar, cotton, tobacco and other products of the New World which were then regarded as luxuries.

Liverpool ships were a key part of the trade and the town became Europe’s leading slaving port in the second half of the 18th century.

At least 12 million Africans were forcibly transported by Britain and other countries but many millions more were profoundly affected. The transatlantic slave trade destroyed African societies, robbing them of young people.

A staggering two-thirds of enslaved people were young men aged between 15 and 25. They were in huge demand to work the booming plantations producing ever-growing quantities of crops.

Arms and ammunition brought to Africa by European traders helped perpetrate conflict and political instability.

Displays at the International Slavery Museum, in the Merseyside Maritime Museum building, focus on the consequences of the trade on Africa.

Successful trade routes that existed before European intervention were disrupted. The development of African communities and cultures was severely stunted. Agriculture suffered as communities abandoned fertile land as they fled the long reach of the European slavers.

The labour and inventiveness of enslaved peoples shaped the Americas and enriched Western European, rather than their African homelands.

Painting of sailing ships at sea

Ships on the Niger expedition. Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post and Echo

On display is a lithograph featuring ships on the 1841 Niger Expedition (pictured). Thomas Fowell Buxton was leader of the British anti-slavery movement in the post-slave trade era.

He urged the British government to make treaties with African leaders to abolish the slave trade. The expedition went to the Niger River delta to set up a headquarters and began negotiations. The party suffered so many deaths from disease that they had to return home.

There is a half model of the Balmore, bought by John Holt & Co in 1908. The Holt family was involved in the West Africa trade from the 1860s.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.50 p&p UK).