It is gratifying that the fact of slavery and its horrors has begun to attain a major position in the interpretation of American history (“The Central Fact of American History,” by David Brion Davis, February/March 2005). The descendants of those poor Southern whites suffered harm from the slave system too, so I certainly don’t wish to support any part of it. Neither did my ancestors; they were Southern Unionists.
Still, it does not further historical truth to headline statements such as “by 1820 nearly 8.7 million slaves had departed for the New World from Africa, as opposed to the 2.6 million whites who had emigrated from Europe.” While this is probably true, it is also very misleading in the context of the history of the United States. According to my best source, David Richardson’s article “The British Empire and the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1660–1807” in The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Eighteenth Century , British Empire ships carried about 3.45 million slaves from 1662 to 1807 (when the legal slave trade was abolished by Britain). The total taken from Africa during this period by ships of all flags was about 7 million slaves. Remember that only British and colonial ships could legally trade with the British colonies. Of those taken from Africa in British ships, approximately 500,000 died. The ships involved were 95 percent British, the rest colonial.
Of these 3.45 million slaves who left Africa, approximately 65,000 landed in British North America before 1776.ÝThere were almost no slaves landed during the Revolution. I have no idea how many slaves were brought to the United States between 1783 and 1808, when the legal slave trade was abolished here.ÝI assume it was at least another 70,000, all brought on American ships.
Thus, headlining tremendous numbers of slaves falsifies the situation in this country. Most of them by far went to the West Indies and Brazil. Interestingly, during the period of legal slavery, the only countries in which slave births exceeded slave deaths were the North American colonies, later the United States, and Barbados.