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At what point were the numbers of slaves transported by the British to America first recorded? How many people were transported as slaves from Africa to America by the British? How many of them died on the way?

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At what point were the numbers of slaves transported by the British to America first recorded?

The numbers of slaves were, of course, recorded to various degrees since the beginning of the trade, which was coincident with the establishment of the colonies. For example, the Dutch are recorded as bringing slaves to Jamestown in 1619 at the very dawn of the British colonization.

The first attempt to comprehensively measure the British trade, including the slave trade, was by Malachy Postelthwayt in his various works, including the Commercial Encyclopedia. His work, "The African Trade the great Pillar and Support of the British Plantation Trade in America" (1745) is the first work by him on this subject.

How many people were transported as slaves from Africa to America by the British?

It is not easy to compute this number because there were no official statistics, each state being an independent entity. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the total number imported to both the West Indies and to America was 2,130,000 between 1680 to 1786. This number is probably the estimate of Bancroft. The fraction delivered to the American colonies is unknown. Note that estimates are often exaggerated for political reasons. Carey (1872) made some of the most detailed estimates and he is cited by the US Census as an authoritative source. His estimate was about 250,000 imported up to 1790. This estimate may be too conservative, and the actual figure might be double that. Note that Carey's estimate is for slaves imported by anyone, not just British merchants.

How many of them died on the way?

Bancroft estimated it as one eighth (12.5%) and he is widely quoted, but it is quite a guess. Norris in 1790 stated that 5% of the British slaves died in transit as of that time:

Of the forty thousand purchased by the British, about a twentieth part are calculated to die on the voyage; and three-fourths of those that arrive in the West Indies, are disposed of to the French and Spaniards; the remainder are distributed in the British islands....

A Short Account of the African Slave Trade by Robert Norris (1790)

Conditions were a lot better in 1790 than in 1650 so over time you can assume the percentage lost in transit decreased.

  • I was trying to figure out where the nine million or so that I heard had died on they way had come about. are you saying that there were only a few hundred thousand that died or that the record keeping was cooked? – Alex Dec 3 '14 at 22:41
  • @Alex If you accept Carey's numbers and estimate a death rate of 15%, it would mean that about 37,500 would have died before reaching the American colonies. Carey's numbers are verifiable counts. If we double those numbers to account for illegal or otherwise secret importation, then perhaps as many as 80,000 died in transit. – Tyler Durden Dec 3 '14 at 22:58
  • that's a lot less than 9 million. how many hundreds of years did this trade go on for and how many people could be transported as slaved on each ship? how many ships could travel from A to B per year? – Alex Dec 3 '14 at 23:02
  • @Alex 9 million is a crazy number with no logical reality. There were only about 700,000 slaves total in the US in 1790 and most of those were descendants of slaves that had been born in the United States. – Tyler Durden Dec 3 '14 at 23:17
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    Ship configurations is tangential to the question. Ships used in 1630 differed completely from ships used in 1750. I have already answered your essential question in my comments above, estimating that somewhere between 37,000 and 80,000 Africans died in transit on British ships bringing slaves to the American colonies between 1620 and 1790. This is based on Carey's numbers and a transit death rate of 15%. – Tyler Durden Dec 4 '14 at 1:13

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