Trade and shipping

The voyage to a life as a slave

Several million Africans have been transported as enslaved laborers across the Atlantic over the course of time. One hundred twenty thousand were shipped under a Danish flag from the west coast of Africa to the West Indies. On the long crossings conditions were abominable, and many died of disease, suicide, or thirst.
The bark "Kongen af Assianthe" anchored at Copenhagen in 1803.
The bark “Kongen af Assianthe” anchored at Copenhagen in 1803. The ship participated in the Danish slave trade and was named after the Ashanti (Asante), who provided many enslaved laborers to the Danes (Maritime Museum of Denmark).

The shipments of enslaved laborers under the Danish flag started on a small scale, but gradually more and more enslaved laborers were brought to the colony. By far the greatest number were transported, paradoxically enough, in the period 1793-1802, because it had been decided in 1792 to abolish the transatlantic shipments under a Danish flag beginning in 1803. The plantation owners in the West Indies therefore wanted to use the chance to get as many enslaved laborers of good quality as possible. During that period, 2500 enslaved laborers were transported to the Danish colony every year.

Fort Christiansborg at Accra

Most of the Africans were taken aboard at the Danish establishments on the Gold Coast, where Fort Christiansborg at Accra was the headquarters. Others were purchased at trading centers along the coast, where they were sold by local tribes, which typically received payment in the form of textiles, spirits, gunpowder, and bullets.

Along with the enslaved laborers, millet, beans, water, and other necessities were taken aboard for provisions on the voyage.

The slave ships

The crossing took two or three months, and mortality was high. During the period 1777-1789, the conditions are known very precisely for about fifty expeditions. On average, sixteen percent of the enslaved laborers died at this time. The fluctuations were great, however, and depended on whether there were infectious diseases on board. It also contributed to the misery that the enslaved laborers were often terribly weakened and dehydrated on the trip, during which they crossed the Equator twice. The highest mortality of forty-five percent was seen on the ship “Accra” in 1781. The lowest mortality was a half percent on the same ship’s voyage in 1789. There were also some ships that disappeared without a trace during the crossing, and everyone died. The conditions on the slave ships were abominable, and the ships’ doctors often could not respond on the tightly-packed ships. The conditions were no worse or better on ships under a Danish flag than on the other European countries’ vessels.

12.5 million enslaved laborers

In all, the Europeans shipped around 12.5 million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic to America in the period 1500-1800. Denmark was the seventh largest slave trading nation. An estimated 120,000 African enslaved laborers were shipped under a Danish flag from the Gold Coast to the West Indies from the middle of the 1600s to the earliest part of the 1800s, on a total of approximately 450 voyages. During this period, the Danes’ share of the slave trade constituted two percent.