18

The question is pretty much in the title, but I am really seeking countries which kept slaves around the same time the US did, and where it was just as prominent in said country as it was in the US.

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  • 16
    Answering "pretty much every colonial power" is too obvious?
    – o0'.
    Dec 22 '11 at 12:21
  • 4
    WIkipedia has perhaps too much information on this topic. The slave trade act of 1807 and associated legislative history will provide comprehensive discussion about the British empire, and lead you to resources on other powers. The Black Count has a decent discussion of slavery in France. Please do the preliminary research and then come back with a more precise question.
    – MCW
    Oct 12 '15 at 17:19
  • 3
    @markcwallace: thanks for the unsolicited advice. Four years later, though, with an accepted answer, I think there are better things to spend your time on!
    – Steve D
    Oct 12 '15 at 17:22
  • 1
    @ oO' Except maybe Germany and italy... Dec 3 '18 at 15:27
  • 1
    Don’t forget African countries
    – froimovi
    Feb 17 at 9:43
29

Most African slaves were sent to the Americas — basically a new world with large industrial-scale labor-intensive agriculture. There isn't much point in taking slaves to Europe to replace serfs or cheap farm laborers on small farms.

Destinations of slaves Africa→Americas

Portuguese America (modern Brazil)      38.5%            
British America (minus North America)   18.4%       
Spanish Empire                          17.5%            
French Americas                         13.6%            
British North America                    6.45%            
English Americas                         3.25%            
Dutch West Indies                        2.0%            
Danish West Indies                       0.3%            

Integrated over 10,000 years of history there were probably far more slaves in Africa from Africa, but the numbers are harder to come by.

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  • 8
    What about non-Americas? E.g. Middle East/Arab countries?
    – DVK
    Dec 22 '11 at 18:47
  • 7
    There was a large east african slave trade going north up the coast to Arabia/Middle East. Several large towns there (e.g. Zanzibar in modern Tanzania) were big slaving ports. Dec 22 '11 at 21:09
  • 4
    What are we to make of the entries in the table labeled "British America (minus North America)" versus "English Americas"?
    – mgkrebbs
    Dec 23 '11 at 4:28
  • 8
    Slavery was in fact illegal in many European countries at this time. Which didn't stop them from participating in the trade or having slaves in their colonies. Dec 23 '11 at 17:26
  • 2
    My guess is that "British America minus North America" probably includes British Guyana, various islands in the Caribbean, and possibly Belize. Dec 24 '11 at 16:40
22

Various Middle Eastern countries (e.g. Omani Empire which had the eastern coast of Africa) participated in the East African Slave Trade (a.k.a. Arab Slave Trade).

Muslims/Arabs were the biggest slave traders in all of history

7

Slavery in Mauritania has long been an integral part of society in this West African country. It dates back centuries and continues to this day (so this more than covers the time when there were slaves in the US). It is estimated that there were still well over 100,000 slaves in Mauritania in 2014, and the number could be several times higher than this. Slavery was only made a crime in 2007 but enforcement of the law has generally been weak.


Slaves were sold to Europeans from Mauritania during the Atlantic slave trade, but hundreds of thousands were also enslaved locally before, during and since this period. A key event in the history of slavery in Mauritania was the Char Bouba war (1644-74). This resulted in

...putting Arabs in control, with Berbers in the middle (divided into 2 groups: religious scholars called zawiyas and farmers and herders called znaga), and the blacks on the bottom (also divided into 2 groups: former slaves called haratani and slaves, abid).

The French outlawed slavery in 1905 but were unable (and, ultimately, unwilling) to effectively enforce the ban without alienating the local elite:

During the colonial era, slavery in Mauritania was presented as "different" from slavery elsewhere in French territories. At the time of conquest, it was argued that recognition of the "morals, customs, property and religion" of the Muslim Mauritanian elite necessitated permitting it continued access to slaves....it was felt that precisely because slavery was so deeply rooted, slaves themselves were simply "not ready" to be wrenched from their social security, to do so would be to "sow social disorder".

Source: E. Ann McDougall, 'Living the Legacy of Slavery'. In Cahiers d’Études africaines, 2005.

It was abolished again in 1981 by the Mauritanian government but enforcement has been weak to say the least.

Slavery in Mauritania is hardly ‘modern.’ It is an institution deeply rooted in the history of the country and region. The ruling minority Beydanes (Arab-Berbers) historically enslaved Haratin (or “Black Moors”).

Source: The State of Slavery in Mauritania

No one knows for sure how many people are enslaved in Mauritania today but a conservative estimate is 43,000 (1% of the population). In 2014 - more than 30 years after abolition - the number was estimated to be at least 140,000 (3.5% of the population), but other estimates put it as high as 680,000 (20% of the population).

Despite the indisputable evidence of slavery in Mauritania, the government has long denied it. Witness this statement by the Mauritanian representative to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child:

Mauritanian society had never known servitude, exclusion or discrimination, either in the pre-colonial or colonial period or since independence, and so no vestiges of such practices could thus persist (Amnesty International 2002, p.29)

Cited in: A. Abou Toure, 'Slavery in Mauritania' (MA thesis, 2012)

As Abou Toure notes though,

Slavery is both found in the rural areas, where it takes a more traditional form, and in the urban settings in Mauritania. These slaves are found doing backbreaking work on every street, every field, and are tending to goats, sheep, and camels in the hot desert or semi-arid regions of the country.

Slavery was also widespread in parts of West Africa (e.g. Mali, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso) up until the late 19th century. Only the defeat of the Malinke ruler Samori Toure in 1898 allowed the French to effectively put an end to the practice.

0
-4

The UK?

Various parts of the USA (i.e. the South) were very late in abolishing slavery, but some parts of the USA abolished slavery around the same time as the UK (and other countries).

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    Slavery wasn't practiced in the UK - one of the reasons it wasn't made illegal until the human rights act of 1998. They did of course buy/sell and transport them
    – none
    Dec 22 '11 at 14:03
  • 4
    Sure there was slavery in the UK, for thousands of years. The Romans had slaves. The Domesday Book of 1080s showed about 10% of the population of England were slaves. In the 1720s, slavery of Africans in England was ruled as legal ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yorke%E2%80%93Talbot_slavery_opinion ). Dec 22 '11 at 17:48
  • 6
    Slavery was made illegal in the UK in 1833 not 1998. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_Abolition_Act_1833 Dec 22 '11 at 17:50
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    It's probably not useful to regard Anglo-saxon bondsmen or medieval serfs in the same way as mass trading of african slaves. It's not clear if the 1833 act prohibited owning slaves in the UK or merely trading in them - that's why it was clarified in the human rights act. In fact it didn't really matter because it wasn't really practiced
    – none
    Dec 22 '11 at 19:37
  • 4
    It may not have been practiced on the same scale as in the Americas, but that's not what the OP asked. Rory's correct that the British could and did own African slaves.
    – Rose Ames
    Feb 4 '12 at 7:27

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