Slavery in Latin America

Contributor: Roxann Penny. Lesson ID: 12362

For thousands of years, the slave trade was a horrible part of many countries. Discover how enslaved Africans were sold to Western countries as part of the Latin American slave trade.



learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Did you know that over 12 million enslaved Africans were shipped to Latin America to work on slave plantations?

Discover their stories and form your impressions of this controversial practice!

Slavery in Latin America spanned four centuries or over four hundred years.

With the massive expansion of Colonial power and wealth into new territories, slave labor was in high demand. Enslaved Africans were forced to work under harsh conditions in the tropical climates of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Millions of enslaved people were transported across the Atlantic Ocean from West Africa to Latin America and the Caribbean during the height of the African slave trade. There, they were forced to work on slave plantations producing sugarcane, cotton, and tobacco, among other crops. These crops were then exported to European countries for sale.

This entire trade process was known as the Atlantic Slave Trade, the Trans-Atlantic Voyage, and the Triangular Trade.

Take a look at the map below. It illustrates the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

  • Can you tell why it was also called the triangular trade?

New England version of the Triangular Trade

Watch the following animated story about a young boy kidnapped into slavery and his Trans-Atlantic journey from Africa to Barbados.

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When you are finished watching, consider the following questions.

  • How do you think the boy in the story felt when he was captured?
  • What do you think the Trans-Atlantic journey was like for the enslaved people?
  • How do you think his life changed after becoming a slave?

The inhumane conditions of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade have been well documented. It is estimated that several million enslaved people were displaced from their villages in Western and Central Africa.

Slave traders were not concerned with the dignity or individual rights of the enslaved people. Their main priority was accumulating as much profit as possible. Enslaved people were treated like commodities (products of sale) rather than human beings.

Although enslaved people were sold throughout North America and Europe, most enslaved people were brought to the Portuguese, French, and Spanish colonies of Latin America and the Caribbean.

These colonies' fertile soil and tropical climate were well-suited for growing sugarcane, tobacco, and cotton. Sugarcane was especially profitable because it was used to make sugar and rum.

The images below show enslaved people harvesting sugarcane on a plantation.

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  • What do you observe in the pictures?
  • What do you imagine a typical day harvesting sugarcane was like for these enslaved people?

Life on a slave plantation was brutal. Enslaved people were often beaten and mistreated by their enslavers. However, there were a few notable differences between enslaved people in South America and Europe, North America.

Take a look at some of the differences.

  • In some parts of Latin America, enslaved people were allowed to marry and were allowed to learn to read and write.
  • Enslaved people were managed by administrators who kept records of them and managed the day-to-day operations of the plantations.
  • In Brazil, there were three categories of slave labor: urban, mining, and plantation. Urban enslaved people could earn a small wage and learn to read and write.
  • In some parts of Latin America, an enslaved woman could earn freedom if she had ten or more children.

Despite the seemingly lenient or easier treatment of enslaved people in Latin America, slavery was still a horrific experience for the enslaved men, women, and children.

For example, the life expectancy, or how long an enslaved person was expected to live, was only twenty-three years for an enslaved person in Brazil.

Slavery in Latin America continued late into the 19th century. Most of the slave trade during this period was illegal since most European countries outlawed slave trafficking.

However, even after the abolition of slavery, the negative impacts of the slave trade lasted for many generations.

Continue to the Got It? section of this lesson to assess what you have learned about slavery in Latin America.

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