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They were born broken.
Thus was the economics of slavery and the civilization of the New World was built on slave labor. Seventy percent of the slaves brought to the New World were used to produce sugar, the most labor-intensive crop. The rest were employed harvesting coffee, cotton, and tobacco, and in some cases in mining. The West Indian colonies of the European powers were some of their most important possessions, so they went to extremes to protect and retain them. For example, at the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763, France agreed to cede the vast territory of New France to the victors in exchange for keeping the minute Antillean island of Guadeloupe.
Slave trade profits have been the object of many fantasies. Returns for the investors were not absurdly high (around 6% in France in the 18th century), but they were considerably higher than domestic alternatives (in the same century, around 5%). Risks — maritime and commercial — were important for individual voyages. Investors mitigated it by buying small shares of many ships at the same time. In that way, they were able to diversify a large part of the risk away. Between voyages, ship shares could be freely sold and bought. All these made the slave trade a very interesting investment.
By far the most successful West Indian colonies in 1800 belonged to the United Kingdom. After entering the sugar colony business late, British naval supremacy and control over key islands such as Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados and the territory of British Guiana gave it an important edge over all competitors; while many British did not make gains, some made enormous fortunes, even by upper class standards. This advantage was reinforced when France lost its most important colony, St. Dominigue (western Hispaniola, now Haiti), to a slave revolt in 1791 and supported revolts against its rival Britain, after the 1793 French revolution in the name of liberty (but in fact opportunistic selectivity). Before 1791, British sugar had to be protected to compete against cheaper French sugar.
After 1791, the British islands produced the most sugar, and the British people quickly became the largest consumers. West Indian sugar became ubiquitous as an additive to Indian tea. Nevertheless, the profits of the slave trade and of West Indian plantations amounted to less than 5% of the British economy at the time of the Industrial Revolution in the latter half of the 1700s.
But to get to from the slave trader to the plantation owner, the slave was auctioned off. One such slave auction center was Charleston, SC, the birth place of the Civil War ironically.
Charleston was the major point of entry for Africans brought to America in the eighteenth century. Approximately three out of four enslaved Africans came to America through this port city, which had a black majority by 1790. In 1808, the foreign slave trade was abolished, but American-born slaves continued to be bought and sold until the Civil War.