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A 1729 map, showing the Slave Coast

The Slave Coast is the name of the coastal areas of present Togo, Benin (formerly Dahomey) and western Nigeria, a fertile region of coastal Western Africa along the Bight of Benin. In the pre-colonial time it was one of the most densely populated parts of the African continent. It became one of the most important export centres for the Atlantic slave trade from the early 16th century to the 19th century.

Other West African regions historically known by their prime colonial export are Gold Coast (modern-day Ghana), Ivory Coast (modern-day Cote D'Ivoire), and Pepper Coast (aka Grain Coast, modern-day Liberia).



According to most research, the beginnings of slave trade in this area are not well-documented. It is difficult to track the development of trade in this area and its integration into both wider Arab and Atlantic slave trades before about 1670, when European sources begin to document this interaction.

The slave trade became so extensive in the 18th and 19th centuries that an “Atlantic community” (Law, 1999, 307) was formed. The slave trade was facilitated on the European end by the Portuguese (mostly by Portuguese Empire's Brazilians), the French and the British. Slaves went to the New World, not Europe, mostly to Brazil and the Caribbean. Ports that exported these slaves from Africa included Ouidah, Lagos, Little Popo, Great Popo, Agoue, Jakin, Porto-Novo, and Badagry. These ports traded in slaves that were supplied by African communities, tribes and kingdoms, including the Alladah and Ouidah, which were later taken over by the Dahomey kingdom.

Researchers estimate that between 2 and 3 million slaves were exported out of this region, and were traded for goods like alcohol and tobacco from the Americas and textiles from Europe. This complex exchange fostered political and cultural as well as commercial connections between these three regions. Religions, architectural styles, languages, knowledge of all kinds, and other new goods were traded at this time. Slaves as well as free men used the exchange routes to travel to new places, and aided in hybridizing European and African cultures. Intermarriage has been documented in ports like Ouidah where Europeans were permanently stationed. Communication was quite extensive between all three areas of trade, to the point where even individual slaves could be tracked. [1]

After slavery had been abolished by European countries, the slave trade continued for a time with independent traders (instead of government agents). At this time, cultural integration had become so extensive that the defining characteristics of each culture were increasingly broadened. In the case of Brazilian culture, which had differentiated itself from Portuguese culture through its combination of African, Portuguese and New World traditions, Brazilian-style dress, cuisine and speaking Brazilian had become the main requirements for Brazilian identity, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or geographic location. [2]

Robin Law's work, "The Slave Coast of West Africa 1550-1750: The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on an African Society," has done much to compile documents on the slave trade from this time. Law uses these texts to show how cultures expanded and changed as a result of the interaction with other Atlantic trading centers and how the slave trade itself changed over time. Law shows the changing prices of slaves, and the way the volume of trade affected these prices, through texts containing the value of slaves in cowrie shells. This currency shows that slave prices increased dramatically from 1680 to 1750, roughly the height of the Atlantic slave trade.

Law also chronicles the political developments that took place in this area, specifically with the Yoruba, Mahi, and Gbe peoples. Law sees the rise and dominance of the Dahomey kingdom as more the pinnacle of slave-trading polities, while other historians, like I.A. Akinjogbin, argue that Dahomey was "revolutionary" and a fundamentally different group that brought mass organization to the previous chaos of the slave trade. Law argues that the slave trade was a previously-existing institution in this area that was greatly expanded with the growth of Atlantic trade, so Dahomey is merely a dominant and larger-scale version of this region's organization.


Cape Coast Castle

In his book The Door of No Return: The History of Cape Coast Castle, William St Clair has gathered resources relating to one slave-trading post in order to shed light on all sides of the slave trade: those passing through "the door of no return" to slave ships, the traders themselves, as well as others living in the castle. St Clair mostly focuses on the British officers who manned the castle and oversaw the trading there. These men often belonged to prominent British families involved in the slave trade, but were not successful men themselves. In Africa, they could either make their fortunes and become respectable, or most often, they would die in Africa from disease after only a few years there. These men interacted with African or mixed-race traders who brought in slaves from the African interior. There were also a few women in the castle, both African and European, and British officers commonly developed relationships with the African women there.

In addition to slaves, the castle held many other goods for trade, including livestock, exotic animals, gold, guns, textiles and alcohol (generally rum from the Caribbean).

The Cape Coast Castle was a very typical European slave-trading post for its time, as it was controlled by government officials until slavery was abolished by the European nation that operated the fort. Each trading post operated as its own independent trading center, separate from whatever village might be found nearby.


  1. ^ Robin Law. The Slave Coast of West Africa 1550-1750: The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on an African Society. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991, p. 319
  2. ^ Robin Law. The Slave Coast of West Africa 1550-1750: The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on an African Society. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991, p. 327


  • St Clair, William. The Door of No Return: The History of Cape Coast Castle and the Atlantic Slave Trade. BlueBridge.
  • Law, Robin and Kristin Mann. “African and American Atlantic Worlds.” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 56:2 Apr. 1999, pp307–334.
  • Shillington, Kevin. History of Africa. 2nd Edition, MacMillan Publishers Limited, NY USA 2005.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SLAVE COAST. The name given to that part of the coast of West Africa extending from the river Volta to the Niger delta; forming part of the Guinea coast (see Guinea). From the beginning of the 16th to the end of the 18th century this region was a principal resort of the Europeans engaged in the slave trade. Politically the Slave Coast is divided between Germany, France and Great Britain, the German section forming part of Togoland, the French section the seaboard of Dahomey, and the British section the Lagos province of Nigeria (see Lagos).

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