ships loaded with goods to buy slaves from local rulers on the western coast of Africa; the slaves were then transported to the colonies in North and South America and the Caribbean and sold to the owners of plantations producing coffee, sugar, cot- ton, and tobacco. Money from the slave trade was used to buy the raw commodities produced in the colonies and ship them back to Europe, where they were refined or processed and then sold within Europe and around the world. The Atlantic system and the growth of international trade thus helped create a new consumer society.
Slavery and the Atlantic System Spain and Portugal dominated Atlantic trade in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but in the eighteenth century European trade in the Atlantic rapidly expanded and became more systematically interconnected (Map 17.1). By 1630, Portugal had already sent sixty thousand African slaves to Brazil to work on the new plantations (large tracts of lands that produced staple crops, were farmed by slave labor, and were owned by colonial settlers from western Europe), which were producing some fifteen thousand tons of sugar a year. Real- izing that plantations producing staples for Euro- peans could bring fabulous wealth, the European powers grew less interested in the dwindling trade in precious metals and more eager to colonize. In the 1690s, large-scale planters of sugar, tobacco, and coffee began displacing small farmers who re- lied on one or two servants. Planters and their plantations won out because cheap slave labor allowed them to produce mass quantities of com- modities at low prices.
State-chartered private companies from Por- tugal, France, Britain, the Dutch Republic, Prussia, and even Denmark exploited the 3,500-mile coast- line of West Africa for slaves. Before 1675, most blacks taken from Africa had been sent to Brazil, but by 1700 half of the African slaves were land- ing in the Caribbean (Figure 17.1). Thereafter, the plantation economy began to expand on the North American mainland. The numbers stagger the imagination. Before 1650, slave traders trans- ported about seven thousand Africans each year