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The Gun-Slave Cycle in the 18th century British slave trade in Africa

Publication Date
  • N33 - Europe: Pre-1913
  • N37 - Africa
  • Oceania
  • O15 - Human Resources
  • Human Development
  • Income Distribution
  • Migration


The trans-Atlantic slave trade is considered by many to have been a major shock to Africa, one that transformed African economies and contributed to long-term poverty. In this paper I combine data from the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database and the Anglo-African Trade Statistics to document some of the ways West Africans responded to the demand and technology shocks of the slave trade – how they responded to the growing international demand for African people as slaves and the introduction of the new gunpowder technology called the flintlock. I find that the early interaction of these two shocks – the gun-slave cycle – initiated a vicious cycle, a “raid or be raided” arms race. In the process, large numbers of Africans were victimized and sold into the Middle Passage.

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