The Slave trade:
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The Slave Trade:

Slavery is nothing new to Africa, or Gambia, it existed for many years before the British became involved; warring tribes often raided each other's villages, took prisoners and kept them as slaves; however, these slaves were often treated as members of their new master's family and many eventually earned their freedom and ended up cultivating their own land.

James Island:

By the 18th century, the British slave trade was, by today's standards, a multi billion pound industry and its players were some of the richest people in the world.

A major part of their trade came from James Island on the River Gambia in the Senegambia region, where they exported slaves, and other goods such as ivory and wax.



James Island



Fort James: (Click on the image for a larger map!)

The River Gambia became strategically important and was a major trade route into the African interior; during this period of slave trade about 600 slaves a year were taken from Gambia.

It wasn't just the Europeans but the Africans as well who captured people for the growing and lucrative trade; it became so profitable that several countries fought over the trade and the ownership of the fortified trading stations along the river; in fact over a sixty year period, Fort James itself changed ownership eight times.


Due to politiocal figures like William Wilberforce, the British eventually abolished the slave trade in 1807 but not France, Brazil, Portugal and the USA, who continued to trade with even greater vigour; therefore the British tried to enforce the abolition by placing their Royal Navy off the West African coast to capture or destroy all slave ships and where possible return the freed slaves to the mainland.

British mounted troops were stationed at James Island in 1807 in order to intercept the slavers; they realized however, that St Mary's Island at the mouth of the River Gambia was better placed, since the French were still active in the slave trade from their trading post at Albreda on the north bank of the Gambia River.

Therefore, another fort was built at Bathurst (now Banjul) in order to block the slave trade on the River; many of the freed slaves settled there and it became a settlement in 1816.

Britain finally abolished all slavery in 1833 and France followed suit in 1848; these policies did not end the slave trade however, it continued to thrive up river from Albreda and Fort James where some Muslim leaders in the Gambia were still taking slaves and exporting them; the slave trade in Gambia died a natural death at the end of the century.

Fort James, which was on an island about 32 km from the river's mouth, was an important collection point for the slave trade; as many as 3 million slaves may have been taken from the region during the three centuries that the transatlantic slave trade operated; most of those taken were sold by other Africans to Europeans; some were prisoners of intertribal wars; some were sold because of unpaid debts and others were kidnapped.

Interesting Note:

In his 1977 Pulitzer Prize-winning fictional book Roots 'The Saga of an American Family', Alex Haley allegedly traced his family back to Kunta Kinte, who was enslaved from the village of Juffureh on the north bank of The Gambia.

 

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