Personal stories: Enslaved Africans

Millions of people from all over West Africa were sold as slaves to European traders between the 15th and the 19th centuries. The enslaved Africans were taken to the European colonies in the Caribbean and America, where they were forced to work on plantations . Europeans needed labour for their plantations . Africa provided a pool of labourers, who could work in the hot weather of the Caribbean and who understood farming. The people taken were often young and healthy, many were male, and many were skilled farmers. People were enslaved whether they were poor or rich. Coming from an important African family did not mean that you could not be enslaved.

The stories of these individual people, who were sold as slaves, were very rarely recorded. Most Africans could not read and write. They came from cultures where writing was not common. The spoken word was valued more highly and history was recorded through people who could memorise stories. Whilst some enslaved Africans learnt to write through their contact with Europeans, it was rare. In the cases where individuals did learn to write, we have important accounts of life as a slave. These are few and far between. There are some oral history accounts, whereby the former slave or their descendants have told the story and it has been recorded by someone else. There are also accounts from Europeans of things they witnessed. All of these stories help to shed light on what it must have been like for the enslaved Africans.