Slave Trade in Europe

Updated August 25, 2021

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Like Scotland, slavery played a great roll in the presence of Black people in England. Liverpool was a prominent slaving port and its ships and merchants dominated the transatlantic slave trade in the second half of the 18th century. The town and its populations gained great social and economic capital from the trade which laid the foundations for the port’s future growth.

By the 1730s about 15 ships a year were leaving for Africa and this grew to about 50 a year in the 1750s. Numbers rose to a new peak of 120-130 ships annually in the two decades preceding the abolition of the trade in 1807. Approximately three-quarters of all European slaving ships at this period left from Liverpool. Overall, Liverpool ships transported half of the 3 million Africans carried across the Atlantic by British slavers.

While slavery did cannot be attribute all of Liverpool’s success, it was unquestionably the backbone of its affluence. According to Historian, David Richardson “slaving and related trades may have occupied a third and possibly a half of Liverpool’s shipping activity in the period 1750 to 1807” (Richardson, 2013). The wealth acquired by the towns involvement with slavery was significant and the stimulus it gave to trading and industrial development throughout the north-west of England and the Midlands was of crucial importance.

Although Scotland and England had similar histories with their involvement in the slave trade, their modern approaches to discussing said history is drastically different, however these may breed different ramifications. In Britain, Children study the development of the trade, colonization and how slavery was linked to the British empire and the industrial revolution. Children also learn about the development of international slave trade and the impact of the British empire on different people in Britain and overseas. Britain’s Children’s Minister Kevin Brennan stated:

‘Although we may sometimes be ashamed to admit it, the slave trade is an integral part of British history. It is important that children learn about this and the links to wider world history, such as the American civil rights movement – the repercussions of which are still being felt today.” (Brennan 2008)

This is important because recognizing a history, although shameful is still essential in order to take accountability and to move forward. This teaching curriculum was established in 2008 to combat racism in England, however there has been few documented positive impacts of said program. A survey taken by popular magazine The Guardian showcases how racism is still a very prevalent issue in Britain. The survey found 38% of people from ethnic minorities said they had been wrongly suspected of shoplifting in the last five years, compared with 14% of white people, with black people and women in particular more likely to be wrongly suspected. Furthermore, 53% of people from a minority background believed they had been treated differently because of their hair, clothes or appearance, compared with 29% of white people. These statistics highlight the prevalence of racism in the united kingdom’s society, even though they are taking steps towards educating the masses on slavery.

While the Britain is actively taking steps towards improving racial relations in their country, the lasting impact of slavery, racism, and xenophobia lingers. There is still a notion of “otherness” in regards to being black in Britain because of the association of what it means to be brattish. Blacks in Britain are rarely depicted as a representation of what it means to be British, which consequently perpetuates the issue of racism in the country. Although addressing its historical involvement with slavery is a key step towards mending race relations in the country, Britain’s race problems is incapable of being fixed without proper representation across all platforms, accepting blacks as one of the standards of being truly British.

Another country that slavery has made a great impact on is Portugal. The country is a southern European country on the Liberian peninsula, adjoining Spain. Furthermore, its proximity to the African continent made a key contribution to its involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. Portugal was a key component in the slave trade, as they made the largest contribution to the slave trade as 36% of ships in the transatlantic slave trade belonged to them. In fact, the transatlantic slave trade commenced during the 15th century when Portugal was finally capable to expand abroad and reach Africa. The Portuguese began to kidnap people from the west coast of Africa and to take those they enslaved back to Europe. It is currently estimated that as of the 16th century, almost 10% of Lisbon’s citizens were a result of the slave trade. Not only did Portugal take kidnap Africans in order to fulfil their need for slaves, but they also contributed to the growing demand globally, as they sold many to the Americas.

The Portuguese’ prevalent history in the slave trade plays a significant role in the oppression of its black citizens. While black people have been a part of Portugal’s history for over 400 years, they continue to be viewed as second class citizens due to the history of their arrival.

It is widely understood throughout Portugal that they recognized the inhumanity of their actions early on, and that is why slavery was abolished in parts of Portuguese controlled territory in 1761. This contributes to the shameless narrative, asserting that while they were a key force early in the slave trade, they fixed their ways early and should be considered blameless, and progressive.

For the past decade, Portugal has struggled to find a way to talk about national identify and race. According to an article written by Joana Gorjão Hernriques, racism is still a very prevalent issue even amidst the seemingly colorblind society that they live in. Hernriques states “even though Portugal has racial profiling, race crime and the daily subordination of black people by whites, most Portuguese would deny that their country has significant ‘racial problems’ – that’s what they have in America, France or the UK” (Hernriques,2011). This is significant because it relates to the current theme spreading throughout Europe, which is that racism is not an issue in their society.

Although these countries have history rooted in the oppression of black bodies, they continually neglect the ongoing issue of racism. This is due to the negative connotation that is associated with the term race. The term ‘black-Portuguese’ is unheard of; the word ‘race’ itself so rarely mentioned that it sounds strange and foreign. This however is detrimental to the efforts towards dismantling racism throughout Portugal. While they believe that their society is above common racism because they banned slavery early, and refuse to use the word “race,” the black community within Portugal remains to be consistently discriminated against in the Portuguese society.

The United Nations has continually requested Portugal to start collecting indicators on race, but Portugal claims that it is unconstitutional, because listing an individual’s ethnicity on a form is a form of discrimination. Without these statistics, it is essentially impossible to highlight race-based discrimination throughout the country. By stating that they are a society without the concept of race, they are continuing the cycle of oppression by concealing the truth.


  1. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/dec/02/revealed-the-stark-evidence-of-everyday-racial-bias-in-britain
  2. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7582004.stm
  3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/abolition/africa_article_01.shtml
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/sep/12/portugal-race
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