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Why were slaves needed?

After the discovery of the "New World", land was distributed and the new landowners founded plantations to exploit the "riches" which included sugar, tobacco, cotton, rum and other profitable commodities. Many Bristolians became owners of plantations in the West Indies and were to become wealthy as a result of their involvement in trade with the New World. However, in order to produce goods at a profitable rate, cheap labour was required to work the plantations.

 At first, the native Indians were used as slaves but overwork, disease, ill-treatment and in some cases mass suicides, led to their extinction. Attempts were then made to obtain labour from Ireland and England. English servants could gain free passage by agreeing to be bound to an employer for a set number of years. Between 1654-1685, ten thousand indentured white servants sailed from Bristol to the West Indies, but most were unsuited for work in the tropics and failed to survive the climate and working conditions..

When numbers opting for this scheme dropped off, more sinister methods were employed. The kidnapping of children and young people became commonplace and they, along with political prisoners and religious dissidents, were transported to Caribbean plantations. Bristol became notorious for the  transportation of its criminals to hard labour in sugar and tobacco plantations, owned by the elite merchants of the city.

The shortage of labour led to a petition to Parliament from the City in 1694, demanding an end to the monopoly of the Royal African Company. This was followed by an active campaign organised by the Society of Merchant Venturers.

By 1698 Parliament broke the monopoly and made trade to the West Indies open to all, providing a  10% tax was paid on all traded goods in and out, except gold, silver and black Africans (0%).

It was soon determined by the landowners that African slaves were the most suitable workers. However, the hard life of a slave meant nearly one-third of all slaves dying within three years, creating a constant demand to replace them.

So began the most notorious period in the histories of Bristol and Liverpool - The Transatlantic Slave Trade.

» How did this work and why were African slaves preferred?

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