Slave factories on the African coast

At first, European slavers simply went ashore to capture as many Africans as they could. This proved difficult however and later Europeans found it easier to trade with the local African chiefs. In exchange for manufactured European goods such as cloth, alcohol or iron tools, African chiefs would trade people captured from rival Kingdoms or tribes.

Other Europeans set up permanent trading camps or forts on the West African coast. They lived there themselves, collecting people to sell to passing slave ships. These slaver outposts became known as ‘slave factories’.

Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, a slave factory
Cape Coast Castle

In 1662 the British seized the Cape Coast Castle slave factory in what is now modern day Ghana. Its large underground dungeons could hold up to 1,000 enslaved people until a ship arrived to transport them.

In 1672 the British Royal African Company established a base at Bance Island in the Sierra Leone River. Bance Island became a major centre for the transatlantic slave trade. It remained in use for nearly 140 years.

Life in the slave factories

Enslaved people were often brought to the slave factories by local African chiefs or rulers. There they were examined by a surgeon and those who were judged fit were bought by the factory's owning company. The enslaved people passed as fit were branded on the chest with a hot iron to stop the African traders from switching health enslaved people who had been bought for unfit ones. The purchased enslaved people were kept locked up in the slave factory's cells or compounds until a slave ship arrived to take them across the Atlantic.

Although nothing like the conditions that enslaved people had to endure, life for Europeans in the factories could be difficult and dangerous. Many died from tropical diseases such as malaria or yellow fever.