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Forces For Change
By the 15th century a number of important changes to ship design had occurred making long journeys across the ocean possible; the first was the invention of the stern rudder, improving steering; the second was the replacement of one big sail by three masts and many sails. This made handling the ship much easier.
A vast amount of slaves were traded for guns. Th first small portable firearms came into use in the middle of the 15th century. German gunsmiths are thought to have designed the first trigger. Locksmiths refined the design with a spring mechanism.
"The report of the guns…seemed to them thunder. As storms were very common in their country, they believed that their fallen brethren had fainted at the sudden claps, and would easily be waked again with a little dawa (magic drugs)."
Description of a battle with warriors of the African Sultan of Mkahuja. From The Life of Tippu Tip.
Two thirds of all slaves captured in the 18th century went to work on sugar plantations. This reflected the enormous demand for sugar in food and drink at the time. In the 16th century a pound of sugar in Britain cost the equivalent of two days wages for a labourer. By the 17th century the price of sugar fell by half. In the space of 150 years sugar consumption in Britain rose by 2500 percent. By the late 1790's what had been a luxury only enjoyed by the aristocracy was part of the diet of poor families in Britain. Sugar's cheapness in the 18th century was made possible by slave labour.
In 1793 Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin which enabled cotton to be processed on a large scale (by separating the lint from the seeds). The previous year North America exported 138,328 pounds of cotton, two years later and with gins working full tilt, America exported over one and a half millions pounds of cotton.
Huge plantations sprung up in Georgia and Carolina. There was a dramatic increase in slaves - between 1800 and 1810 slaves in the United States increased by one third. By 1825 the number of slaves in United States totalled a third of all those in Americas. And yet the actual trading of slaves had dwindled to almost nothing. But new slaves were not being imported from overseas - they were born on American soil.