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 slaves 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 slaves 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 slaves awaiting export.

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

Slaves 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 slaves passed as fit were branded on the chest with a hot iron to stop the African traders from switching bought slaves for unfit ones. The purchased slaves were kept locked up in the slave factory's cells or compounds until a slave ship arrived to take them across the Atlantic.

Life for Europeans in the factories was not ideal. Many died from tropical diseases such as malaria or yellow fever. Conditions were uncomfortable and often boring as they lived out their days in an unfamiliar land, often far from their families.