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Transatlantic Slave Trade 


12 Million Grains of Rice

Credit: Logan Museum of Anthropology

12 Million Grains of Rice

This is an estimate – probably a low one – of the number of people kidnapped from their homes in Africa and forcibly transported across the Atlantic. Of these 12 million or more, roughly two million died during the ocean voyage. The rest were enslaved in the Americas.


The number 12 million includes people transported from the early sixteenth through the late nineteenth century by the Portuguese, British, Spanish, French, Dutch, and Danish, as well as by United States slave ships. Many of the enslaved were either captured as a result of war or were taken from villages during raids. Both Europeans and Africans actively participated in the industry of the transatlantic slave trade.


12 Million Grains of Rice

Credit: Logan Museum of Anthropology

Oryza glaberrima

Credit: New Rice for Africa (NERICA)

Field of Oryza glaberrima

Credit: New Rice for Africa (NERICA)

Why Rice?

Rice – a crop grown in West Africa and transported to the Americas – was an essential component of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. Enslaved Africans used their knowledge of how to grow Oryza glaberrima, a type of rice, to cultivate rice plantations in the Americas. West African women’s labor and knowledge was especially important, as they knew how to plant, tend, and harvest the rice. Rice made slaveholders wealthy, and it became a staple crop in diets across Central, South, and North America. 


Today, people in the Americas consume enormous amounts of rice, and rice dishes are often a staple of diets across many different American cultures. The origins of these rice dishes lie in the transatlantic slave trade.


Display of comparison containers for 12 Million Grains of Rice

Credit: Logan Museum of Anthropology

For Comparison…

To give a sense of the enormous numbers of people transported across the Atlantic, we have included two additional containers. One holds 37,000 grains of rice, representing the population of Beloit, Wisconsin, and the other holds 2,000, representing the population of Beloit College. Both of these are tiny fractions of the 12 million who were separated from their families, held in miserable conditions at coastal strongholds, traversed the Atlantic in chains, and eventually sold into chattel slavery far from the places they called home. 

Transatlantic Slave Trade was curated by:

Kate Johnston

Eva Laun-Smith'21

Bre Partida-Castillo'20

Students in 1619: Legacies of Slavery, spring 2020

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