Ethnic/Regional Origins

I have always been fascinated by slave trade statistics and charts listing the ethnic/regional origins of Africans in the Americas. I am convinced they can be very educational and useful for anyone wanting to learn more about their African roots. Just as long as you keep in mind their inherent limitations. This kind of aggregated information is probably most relevant on a population level rather than for any personal quest as we all have unique & individual family trees.

On this main page i will be posting a few charts generated from the excellent Slavevoyages Database (2010 version). Via the drop-down menu or these direct links below you can see charts listing the ethnic origins of dislocated Africans and/or their cultural influences split out per region and usually obtained samplewise. I will add on new ones regularly after also posting them on the main blog.

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Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database

Disclaimers:

  • These charts are NOT meant to be taken as a 100% accurate overview of ethnic origins for modernday populations. They can only ever be INDICATIVE!
  • Only documented slave voyages sailing directly from Africa are included in the database!
  • Indirect slavevoyages (intercolonial via the West Indies for example) are NOT included!
  • Illegal slave voyages which did not get intercepted or written about are also NOT included!
  • According to the website for the Dutch, English and French slave trade the coverage could still be over 90%, which is quite impressive and likely to be very representative in most cases!
  • However the coverage for early Portuguese/Spanish slave voyages (1500’s) is known to be lacking, in some cases perhaps not even covering 10%!
  • Take note of the absolute numbers the %’s represent, the way the regions are defined (“Sierra Leone” is also including Guinea Conakry e.g.) and any other details given to familiarize yourself with the CONTEXT of the charts before jumping to conclusions!
  • For a better understanding what these statistics represent read this: UNDERSTANDING THE DATABASE!
  • Sorry for all the exclamation marks 😉 It’s just that i have seen these kind of charts being misinterpreted so many times, not only online but also by trained historians. Which is a shame really because misleading conclusions can easily be avoided if you just take these charts for what they are: documented slave voyages assembled in a database which is widely acknowledged by scholars to be the biggest of its kind. Nothing more, nothing less…

Correlating slave trade records with the population genetics or ethnic origins of Afro-Diasporeans is always tempting but can hold many pitfalls even if the database is deemed to be representative for a specific region/country. Because you cannot just assume that it will be a straightforward extrapolation. Some factors to take into account:

  • Reproduction numbers for each regional group coming from Africa are a big unknown and might vary according to time period and destination
  • Sex ratio’s of ethnic groups being brought in: females usually having more offspring. Senegambian captives are known for example to have been mainly male POW’s. Unlike the Igbo’s who had a more balanced gender ratio.
  • Timing of the slave imports, all things being equal there might be a cumulative founding effect of early arrivals especially if they were able to set the standards of a new creole culture to which subsequent newcomers had to adapt themselves to.
  • Difference in mortality rates caused by slave regime being more brutal in some regions or time periods than others. Also the employment of slaves in cities/housholds versus rural areas would have mattered for their life expectancy
  • Coastal embarkation regions do not always correspond with modern day national borders or presentday ethnic groups
  • We do not know for sure how far back into the interior the slave trade was active and also if there was any difference between time periods
  • Slave ships often visited more than just one slave port during one voyage and these slaveports themselves sometimes functioned as a gathering point for more than one single embarkation region.

Obviously there might have been other factors as well that could explain genetic results being disproportionate to what you might expect based on slave trade data. I will return to this topic frequently in my upcoming blog posts (see the AncestryDNA section and its subpages). Enough with the caveats & disclaimers for now and on to the charts 🙂 They can be reproduced if you select the same search parameters as i did for:

  • Voyage Itenary/Principal Place of Landing = whatever Disembarkation Region I highlighted
  • Rows = Embarkation Regions
  • Columns = Broad/Specific Disembarkation Regions
  • Cells = Sum of Disembarked Slaves

Of course you can do your own queries as well with different variables which will produce different numbers/charts. Also there is a separate seach section on the site called “Estimates“, which “takes into account the incomplete nature of historical evidence and adjust figures derived from the Voyages Database upwards to provide an account of the actual volume of the slave trade.” It will therefore also produce different numbers/charts if you do any search from there.

All of the Americas

  • Senegambia is shown to be practically equally important for the USA and the Hispanic Americas
  • Sierra Leone & Windward Coast contribution is biggest for USA
  • Gold Coast is biggest for the Carribean (includes all the islands, not just English speaking ones)
  • Bight of Benin (includes western Nigeria) has the highest % in Brazil
  • Bight of Biafra (includes eastern Nigeria) is most significant for the Carribean but followed closely by the USA
  • West Central Africa peaks in Brazil and the Hispanic Americas but is also important for the USA & the Caribbean
  • Southeast Africa is minor for all but most noticeable in Brazil & the Hispanic Americas

 

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African Origins (broad regions) for All Americas (% against other origins)

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)

African Origins (broad regions) for All Americas (numbers)

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)

 

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This chart below shows the percentage of disembarked slaves according to century of arrival. The dating of these arrivals and the transition to a majority of locally-born “creolized” populations is fundamental for tracing back African ethnic roots. For more detailed discussion read this post: From African to Creole

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From African to Creole

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)

USA

  • Keep in mind that domestic overland slave trade and modern day migrations are not accounted for!
  • Virginia and South Carolina were by far the most important ports of entry and many African Americans will ultimately trace their USA origins back to these states even if their families have lived elsewhere for several generations.
  • Note how the high Senegambian % for Gulf/Louisiana (almost 40%) is based on a relatively low number of 8600. In absolute numbers by far the most Senegambians went to South Carolina instead.
  • Bight of Biafra is significantly higher for Virginia as is West Central Africa for South Carolina
  • The first chart is actually taken from a previous version of the database because of a nicer layout, the underlying data should be pretty much the same.

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Eltis (USA 99)

Source: Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010 Estimates) (http://www.slavevoyages.org))

 

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This chart below shows which time periods were characterized by the most slave arrivals from Africa. There’s a clear distinction between Virginia and South Carolina, the main points of entry for Africans into the USA. South Carolina also having a minor but significant share of African arrivals in the early 1800’s of about 30%. While Virginia’s African imports were mostly occurring before 1750, implying a rather early Creolization (read more in this post).

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SC , VA

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)

 

Brazil

  • Amazonia is referring mostly to the state of Maranhão and secondly Pará; Bahia & Pernambuco are states located in Northeast Brazil; Southeast Brazil is referring mostly to Rio de Janeiro & Minas Gerais
  • Same as for USA keep in mind that domestic overland slave trade and modernday migrations are not accounted for!
  • First breakdown is columnwise:
    • Biggest region for Amazonia is Senegambia
    • Biggest region for Bahia is Bight of Benin
    • Biggest region for Pernambuco & Southeast Brazil is West Central Africa which is significant for all other regions as well

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African Origins (broad regions) for Brazil (% against other origins)

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)

 

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This breakdown in %’s is measured along the row. It shows

  • the Senegambian slavevoyages were going overwhelmingly to Amazonia
  • Bight of Benin slave voyages were overwelmingly going to Bahia
  • Southeast Africa voyages were overwelmingly destined for Southeast Brazil

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African Origins (broad regions) for Brazil (% against other states)

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)

 

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This chart shows the underlying numbers:

  • Southeast Brazil was easily the biggest slave importer together with Bahia

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African Origins (broad regions) for Brazil (numbers)

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)

 

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Caribbean (Big Islands)

  • Santo Domingo is referring to the Dominican Republic, Saint-Dominique is referring to Haiti
  • Because of a severe lack of coverage for the earliest Iberian voyages the numbers for Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic will be least representative. E.g. the total number of slaves in Puerto Rico is said to have reached over 50.000 in the mid 1800’s. But only 9800 slaves are included in this breakdown!
  • Senegambian imports are bound to be undercounted but still shown as highest in the DR
  • Sierra Leone is equally important for Puerto Rico & Cuba (people from this region usually known as Canga/Ganga in the 1800’s)
  • Windward Coast is shown to be highest in absolute numbers for Jamaica
  • Gold Coast is most significant for Jamaica when compared with the other islands
  • Bight of Benin is most significant for Haiti when compared with the other islands
  • Bight of Biafra is Jamaica’s highest region but also for Puerto Rico
  • West Central Africa is the highest region for the DR, Cuba and Haiti
  • Southeast Africa is relatively most present in Cuba but Haiti also received a great number of them

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African Origins (broad regions) for Carribean (big islands) (% against other origins)

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)

 

African Origins (broad regions) for Carribean (big islands) (numbers)

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)

 

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Caribbean (Dutch & Danish & Swedish)

  • By far the greatest number going to Curacao which used to be an important transit point for reexporting slaves into the Spanish Americas.
  • The Danish West Indies also practised much contraband slave trade with especially Puerto Rico.
  • Bight of Benin, Gold Coast & West Central Africa seem to have been most important

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African Origins (broad regions) for Carribean (dutch,danish,swedish) (numbers)

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)

 

African Origins (broad regions) for Carribean (dutch,danish,swedish)

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)

 

Caribbean (English & French speaking)

  • Many of these islands have been ruled for some period by both the English & French
  • Aside from direct slave voyages (shown here)  usually intercolonial slave trade with either Jamaica, Barbados or Martinique was more important
  • There’s also been much interisland migration after slavery, not accounted for in this breakdown
  • The numbers for Barbados might reflect the compostion of the early intercolonial trade to the USA; note that it’s Bight of Benin % is higher than for the other islands
  • Dominica & Trinidad show very high %’s for Bight of Biafra
  • Bahamas seems to have an atypical high share for West Central Africa compared with other Anglo-Caribbean islands
  • Bight of Benin is shown to be relatively greater for Martinique (34%) than for Haiti (24% in the previous chart)
  • Montserrat has the highest share for Senegambia as well as for Gold Coast
  • Gold Coast is well represented among most strictly Anglo-Caribbean islands except the Bahamas

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African Origins (broad regions) for Carribean (english,french) (% against other origins)

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)

African Origins (broad regions) for Carribean (english,french) (numbers)

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)

Guyana’s (Dutch/English/French)

  • Guyana used to be a Dutch colony like Surinam until the British took over in the late 1700’s
  • The slave imports for Berbice and Essequibo are therefore shown under “Dutch Guianas”
  • Note the high % of “other Africa” (almost 20%) for Dutch Guyana, it’s referring to voyages that stopped at several embarkation regions, it’s thought to be mostly Windward Coast though. (see future blog post)
  • Senegambia is very minimal except for the French Guyana where it’s quite pronounced (possibly the highest in the Americas)
  • The opposite for Gold Coast, inexistent (?) for French Guyana but relatively high for both Duch and British Guyana (similar to Jamaican level)
  • Bight of Biafra & Sierra Leone imports for British Guyana are significantly higher than for Dutch Guyana
  • West Central Africa is very noticeable for all 3 Guyana’s

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African Origins (broad regions) Guyanas (Fr, En, Nl) % against other origins

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)

African Origins (broad regions) Guyanas (Fr, En, Nl) numbers

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)

Hispanic America (Spanish Caribbean excl.)

  • Early Iberian slave voyages (mostly to Senegambia/Sierra Leone) are undercounted but less so than for the Hispanic Caribbean.
  • Contraband trade with the Dutch & English is mostly not shown
  • Rio de la Plata used to have a very extensive contraband trade with Brazil
  • Veracruz (Mexico) & Cartagena (Colombia) used to be the only two official ports of entry of African slaves in the 1600’s. Many slave imports were however destined for other regions like Central America or Peru/Ecuador.
  • Cartagena shows a very high % for Senegambia, however many Africans also entered (Pacific) Colombia via Portobelo (Panama). The breakdown for Portobelo probably more reflective of the late 1600’s/1700’s and that of Cartagena for the 1500’s/early 1600’s.
  • Mexico (New Spain/Veracruz) shows a very elevated % of West Central Africa, however  intercolonial imports via the Spanish Caribbean are not included.
  • Buenos Aires (Argentina) also has a very high West Central African score
  • Montevideo (Uruguay) shows the highest Southeast African % for all of the Americas

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African Origins (broad regions) for Spanish Americas (sans carribean) (% against other origins)

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)

 

African Origins (broad regions) for Spanish Americas (sans carribean) (numbers)

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org)

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Een gedachte over “Ethnic/Regional Origins

  1. Nicely done! These charts do provide a good working baseline. And as you so correctly stated that the database itself doesn’t include other factors that would make it representative of the actual numbers of voyages and enslaved Africans transshipped to the Western hemisphere. Like you indicated, the French and Spanish voyages, for example, that transported their share of enslaved Africans directly to Louisiana (during the French followed by the Spanish periods) are virtually absent and would invariably increase the numbers of enslaved Africans bought to this area from the Bight of Benin. Overall, this is a great website, and I plan to visit it often. Thank you for your HARD work!

    Liked by 1 persoon

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