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History

Emergence and origins of the transatlantic slave trade

Prior to the arrival of Europeans and the eventual colonization of much of the continent, Africa was home to a number of complex civilizations dating back to before 3000 BC. With the emergence of the transatlantic slave trade in the 15th century, close to 25 million African people were purchased by European slaving powers and deported from their homelands to work on the farms and plantations, and in the factories and households, of whites in New-World societies. Many people did not survive the long and difficult voyage that became known as the Middle Passage. It was the largest forced migration in world history. Their forced labour on arrival in the New World greatly contributed to the economic growth of the world's major imperial powers.

At the height of the slave trade, over half a million Africans who survived the Middle Passage arrived in what is now the United States. By the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861, this number had swelled to four million.

The conditions under which people were forced to live and work were often harsh and cruel. Many slaves suffered grave and inhumane abuses at the hands of their owners and endured forced separation from their families and loved ones. Death due to abuse, exhaustion, illness or other related causes was not uncommon.

Come to the cabin!

Come to the cabin!

Learn about Josiah Henson, recognized for his contributions to the abolition movement and for his work in the Underground Railroad, at Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site in Dresden
Online exhibits

Online exhibits

Ontario’s stories are compelling and informative. Explore some of them through our online exhibits