Along the west coast of Africa, from the Cameroons in the south to Senegal in the north, Europeans built some sixty forts that served as trading posts. European sailors seeking riches brought rum, cloth, guns, and other goods to these posts and traded them for human beings. This human cargo was transported across the Atlantic Ocean and sold to New World slave owners, who bought slaves to work their crops.
European traders such as Nicolas Owen waited at these forts for slaves; African traders transported slaves from the interior of Africa. Equiano and others found themselves sold and traded more than once, often in slave markets. African merchants, the poor, royalty -- anyone -- could be abducted in the raids and wars that were undertaken by Africans to secure slaves that they could trade. The slave trade devastated African life. Culture and traditions were torn asunder, as families, especially young men, were abducted. Guns were introduced and slave raids and even wars increased.
After kidnapping potential slaves, merchants forced them to walk in slave caravans to the European coastal forts, sometimes as far as 1,000 miles. Shackled and underfed, only half the people survived these death marches. Those too sick or weary to keep up were often killed or left to die. Those who reached the coastal forts were put into underground dungeons where they would stay -- sometimes for as long as a year -- until they were boarded on ships.