Landscapes of the Slave Trade in Senegal and The Gambia


  • Thomas A. Wikle,

  • Dale R. Lightfoot


Upstream from the pier at Albreda a tiny speck of land interrupts the Gambia River's otherwise featureless surface. Shaded by a few baobab trees, crumbling stone walls are all that remain of a 17th century fort built by the British on tiny James Island. Within the fort's outer wall are footprints of former military barracks, administrative areas, and storage rooms. Three hundred years of weathering and erosion have reduced the island's size, sweeping away evidence of gun batteries once guarding the fort's perimeter. Tranquility returns as the last tourist boat returns to Albreda. A hundred miles to the north, near Africa's westernmost point, the rugged cliffs of Gorée Island are visible south of Dakar, Senegal's capital city (Figure 1). Cafés and souvenir vendors greet visitors disembarking from passenger ferries at the island's small harbor. Gorée has no automobiles. Located a short walk from the harbor and waterfront are narrow streets winding among colorful houses built in the French colonial style. The island's population of 1,000 includes artisans, shop owners, and others seeking a reprieve from the traffic and noise of Dakar.

Figure 1.

Senegal and The Gambia.

The quiet serenity of James Island contrasts sharply with the shouts of children playing near Gorée's harbor. While the human imprint on James Island has changed little since being abandoned by the British in 1829, Gorée has adapted to streams of domestic and international tourists who browse local artwork, dine at picturesque cafés and take leisurely strolls. Although seemingly worlds apart, the islands share a shadowy and ignominious past. Driven by the demand for labor in the Americas, James and Gorée Islands were transformed from early European settlements into prisons for holding and processing tens of thousands of enslaved Africans before their transport overseas. Separated from their families and packed into dim and poorly ventilated rooms, the captives endured weeks of waiting. Some never left these islands, succumbing to suicide, disease, or mistreatment by their captors.

This article explores James and Gorée Islands as unique cultural landscapes that reveal and interpret events and places associated with slavery in West Africa. The collection represented by these islands and nearby Fort Bullen, together with associated museums, display every facet of the encounter between Africa and Europe from first contact through the abolition period, including structures, artifacts, documents and stories from slavers and slaves—men, women and children—as well as the role of African middlemen and the impact on and reactions from the local population. While not among Africa's most significant slave ports, James and Gorée Islands have achieved international recognition as symbols of slavery's impacts on Africa and Africans. Both are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites. For visitors hoping to understand the legacy of slavery in West Africa, the islands are enduring reminders of incomprehensible cruelty and suffering inflicted by humans on other humans.

Geographic Overview

Senegal and The Gambia are located within a tropical zone bounded by the dry Sahel to the north and wetter forested areas of Guinea to the south. Two rivers, the Senegal in the north and the Gambia in the south define the region geographically. With a population of about 13 million and a land area of 76,000 square miles, Senegal lies at the westernmost edge of Africa. Across much of its landscape are low, rolling hills that rise in the southeast. The country's population is extremely diverse with ethnic groups that include the Wolof, Fula and Serer (Searing 2003). Surrounded on the north, south and east by Senegal and just 28 miles wide, The Gambia is continental Africa's smallest country, having just 4,363 square miles. Its border follows the Gambia River for 200 miles inland as defined by an 1889 treaty between Great Britain, which controlled The Gambia, and France, which controlled the encircling territory of Senegal. In terms of topography, The Gambia is part of a low plateau that decreases in elevation towards the Atlantic coast. A third of the country's mostly rural population of 1.2 million resides in Banjul, its capital (Golub and Mbaye 2009). Like Senegal, The Gambia is comprised of several ethnic groups such as the Wolof, Mandinka, Fula, and Sarahuley.

Historical Context

Historical accounts show that slavery existed in West Africa for hundreds of years before European occupation. African kingdoms engaged in slave trading and African elites held slaves. During the Middle Ages, slaves were transported by Arab camel caravans along hazardous land routes extending northward through the Sahara (Ross 2011). The institution of slavery was well-established when the region fell under the control of the Mali and later the Songhai Empires between the 15th and 17th centuries. Most slaves were prisoners taken during battles between warring tribes or those who had become financial debtors who worked to gain their freedom.

Beginning in the early 16th century, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French and British plantations in the newly colonized Americas generated a significant demand for manual labor. Having been assigned control over sea routes between Africa and the West Indies by the 1497 Treaty of Tordesillas with Spain, the Portuguese began trading slaves taken from West African tribes in exchange for cloth, cooking utensils, and other products (Steinberg 2010). A triangular pattern of production, transportation and consumption emerged as slaves carried by ship from Africa were traded for sugar, cotton and cacao in the Americas (Inikori and Engerman 1992). Raw materials were then loaded on ships bound for Europe. A portion of the profits were exchanged for finished goods—cloth, weapons, iron—that were traded with tribal leaders in Africa for more slaves. The demand for slaves remained high since production in the Americas was expanding and a slave's life on plantations was brutal and often relatively short.

Britain's involvement in West Africa's slave trade began through a royal charter granted by Queen Elizabeth following the purchase of trade rights on the Gambia River from Portugal in 1588 (Cyr 2001). Established in 1660 to exploit Gambia's gold fields, the Royal Africa Company (RAC) became the focus of Britain's slave industry, with exclusive rights in coastal Africa. Initially, the British supplied slaves to colonies controlled by the Spanish and Portuguese. However, with demand from British settlements growing, the supply chain shifted to the West Indies (Jamaica, St. Christopher, and Barbados) and later to the American Colonies. Initially, slave ships operated out of London and Gravesend, but as profits grew they began sailing from additional ports such as Bristol, Devon, Dartmouth, Liverpool, Guernsey, Lancaster, and Portsmouth. With assistance from the Army and Royal Navy, the RAC established coastal fortifications in Africa to protect slave interests and, by the 1760s, Great Britain was the largest supplier of slaves to the Americas.

Fearing disease such as malaria and yellow fever, Europeans relied on Africans to make forays into the interior to purchase or kidnap slaves. Captives were sometimes marched hundreds of miles with their hands tied behind their backs and necks connected by wooden poles in lines of 30 to 40. Because of their efficiency, rivers such as the Senegal and Gambia emerged as strategically important for transporting slaves. Chained in groups, slaves were moved downriver on boats or small sailing ships to coastal areas where they were purchased by European traders who, in turn, sold them to ship captains. Since ships were rarely filled to capacity at a single location, slaves were collected and stored, sometimes for weeks, at fortified stations such as James and Gorée Islands. During the 18th century, slavers operating out of Senegambia exported an estimated 6,000 slaves per year (Barry 1998).

To maximize profits during the “Middle Passage” across the Atlantic, slaves were tightly packed in ship's holds. Suffering from unsanitary conditions and disease during the five-to-eight week journey, slave mortality averaged ten percent. A large number of West African slaves shipped to the British colonies before the American Revolution passed through Charleston, South Carolina before being sold at the city's slave markets (Cohn 1985). Many were put to work in rice fields where they suffered from malaria and enteric diseases (McCandless 2011). With high death rates, demand for “ideal” slaves—tall and healthy males between 14 and 18—reached 100 to 200 pounds sterling, about $11,000 to $23,000 U.S. dollars (Sciway 2013). Measured by today's financial standards, slavery had become a multi-billion dollar industry.

James Island

As one of the first European trade routes into Africa, the Gambia River begins as a deep estuary navigable by ocean-going ships for 120 miles upstream and for 80 additional miles by smaller ships. Looking upstream from the river's mouth reveals an inviting natural harbor that served as a waypoint for ships of many nations. In addition to facilitating the movement of slaves, the river served as a key artery for transporting goods such as vegetable gum, peanuts and animal hides.

Located about 20 miles upstream from the Gambia River's mouth, James Island appears like a pebble within a wide swath of moving water. Initially claimed by Britain, the island was unoccupied when settlers from Courtland and Semigallia (a Polish-Lithuanian vassal state in the area of modern Estonia) established a settlement and small fortification there in 1651. Ten years later the island was captured by the British who renamed it to honor James, the Duke of York (later King James II of England). Although just a few acres in size, the British considered the island's location as ideal for maintaining control over movement on the river. Passing ships were required to pay the island's governor a tax on all goods carried. During its occupation, the British constructed several buildings on James Island including the governor's house, slave quarters, storage rooms, barracks, and a three-story tower serving as a lookout for approaching ships. Three batteries, each with five cannon, were constructed outside the main fortification, two facing downriver and one upriver. The island's principal weakness was its lack of a spring. Although the island had a cistern for collecting rainwater, most freshwater had to be transported by boat from the river's shoreline (Armitage 1928).

Located two miles downstream from James Island on the river's north bank, Albreda was established as a French slave station in 1681. Eventually the proximity of Albreda to the British fort on James Island became a source of tension between the two countries, leading to frequent conflicts. Between 1695 and 1778 the island changed hands several times (Carlos and Kruse 1996). Finally, in 1778 the fort and its buildings were severely damaged by explosives planted by the French. Although the island was again occupied by the British military, the fort was not rebuilt. Albreda remained under French control until 1857 when it was transferred to the British and used as a police station. A military visit to Albreda in the early 1850s summarized conditions at the time.

On landing, we found the heat from the burning sands almost overpowering; cottages and huts were scattered through a wood, but the jungle and rank vegetation surrounding the town prove prejudicial to health in the wet season (O'Conner 1852, p. 420).

Today most visits to James Island begin at Albreda (see Figure 1). Albreda's oldest building is a church built by the Portuguese. A few other structures offer a glimpse of the village's appearance during the 1800s such as the stone Francaise d'Afrique Occidentale Building, also called “The Factory.” Built as a fortified slave station near the river's edge, the three-story building featured a store on the first floor and living quarters on upper floors. A few buildings have been adapted to new uses including the Maurel Frères Building, constructed by the British in the mid-1880s and restored in 1996. This building now serves as a museum representing slave trading on the Gambia River through maps, drawings, and the display of historical artifacts such as iron manacles. Outside is a replica of the small ships used for transporting slaves downriver. With the exception of a restaurant located near the waterfront, there is little infrastructure serving tourism. Near Albreda's historical structures is a statute, erected in 1998, that depicts a human figure with outstretched arms and broken chains hanging from each wrist. The globe used for the figure's head and the statement “Never Again” at its base offer strong rebuke to the global institution that first brought Albreda and James Island into the world economy (Figure 2).

Figure 2.

Statue at Albreda, near James Island; an indictment of Global Slavery.

Albreda and the neighboring village of Juffureh were relatively unknown before publication of Alex Haley's novel Roots which identified Juffureh as the Mandinka village where Haley's ancestor Kunta Kinte was held by slave traders before being transported across the Atlantic Ocean. Juffureh's significance in Roots and Albreda's role as the gateway to James Island have brought international attention to these isolated places.

The trip to James Island—also known locally as Kunta Kinteh Island—by motorized pirogue lasts 20 minutes. Near the dock on the island's northeast side a few rusting cannon mark the location of the former North Battery. South of the dock a kiosk shelters a map and model showing the island's buildings as they appeared in the late 1700s. Visitor's gain access to the fort's interior using a pathway through a section of wall destroyed by French mines. Looking downward from the bastion, the layout of rooms can be seen through the arrangement of stone walls, interrupted in a few places by rectangular window openings (Figure 3a, Figure 3b). Cut from laterite, the blocks in the fort's walls are held together with mortar made from crushed oyster shells. Portions of the fort's upper level remain intact, including some corner bastion floors once occupied by soldiers. Most of the site is in ruin, damaged initially by fighting in 1695 and the 1720s, and destroyed again in 1778. What the French failed to dismantle during this last seizure has been degraded by erosion and time. Still, many spaces that once held slaves—men, women and children—are still intact and locally interpreted by guides and by signs marking “Slave Yard” or “Women's Quarters.”

Figure 3a.

Arrival at James Island in The Gambia.

Figure 3b.

A portion of the ruined fortress on James Island.

Figure 4.

James Island, The Gambia.

Following pathways that wind through stone walls, one can imagine how the island was viewed differently by Europeans and Africans. The island's location far from other English settlements in Africa contributed to a sense of fear among soldiers and other residents who maintained constant readiness to thwart attacks. Among Africans imprisoned there, the island became one waypoint along a journey punctuated by fear and uncertainty. Crowded in small cells, the captives endured weeks waiting for slave ships. Among nearby tribes that launched attacks against the fort, the island represented an impious alliance between foreign invaders and their African collaborators. To slave traders stationed at nearby Albreda the English fort was perceived as a threat to their economic interests and a barrier to French expansion in West Africa. Tourists who encounter James Island today have their own reactions, colored by a contemporary understanding of the weight of this place and the human suffering that occurred here. According to local guides, visitors feel uncomfortable touring the site and many of them cry.

Today, James Island and the former French village of Albreda have emerged as memorials to the hardship suffered by Africans and international symbols representing the inhumanity of slavery. Unfortunately, recognition has not protected the island from more recent threats. Erosion and flooding along the island's perimeter has erased evidence of gun batteries and storage buildings that once stood outside the fort (Figure 4). Efforts to preserve James Island are ongoing. In 2003, the island was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nearby residents have worked to slow the rate of degradation and to take measures to protect historic structures. Rock and wooden pilings have been added along the shoreline to mitigate erosion while structural supports have been installed to stabilize the fort's exterior walls (Gijanto 2013) (Figure 5).

Figure 5.

Attempt to stabilize erosion of the northeast shoreline of James Island.

Britain's Anti-slavery Movement

In 1807, the British outlawed slavery and began enforcing abolition by capturing and impounding or destroying slave ships off Africa's western coastline. The resulting decrease in supply brought dramatic increases in the price of slaves and an expansion of French, Portuguese and Spanish involvement in the slave trade. To enforce abolition and stop the transportation of slaves in coastal waters, the Royal Navy formed the West African Squadron (McGowan 1990). Ironically, after decades of protecting the business of slavery, James Island became the Royal Navy's principal fortification for enforcing abolition by preventing ships from gaining access to Gambia River slave routes.

Recognizing that a site near the mouth of the Gambia offered a superior location to control river access, British military planners recommended the construction of a new fortification. In 1815, Six Gun Battery was established on St. Mary's Island near the river's south bank (Jarrett 1951). The battery featured six 24-inch cannon installed on rails and protected by a stone parapet. Constructed on a mosquito-infested marsh, land for the gun battery and settlement of Bathurst (now Banjul) was leased from local tribal leaders in exchange for a yearly payment of iron bars. By 1818, Bathurst's population had grown to 600, including 80 soldiers and many freed slaves. Soon after the battery became operational, however, it was discovered that rogue slave ships could enter the river by sailing near its north bank and outside the range of the battery's cannon. To address this issue a new fortification was constructed on the river's north bank in 1827 (Figure 6).

Figure 6.

Bathurst and Ft. Bullen.

Named in honor of British Commodore Charles Bullen who sent troops to occupy Barra Point on the Gambia's north bank, Ft. Bullen supported two guns and a small barracks for soldiers. Although proving effective in stopping the entry of ships, the fortification was vulnerable to land-based assaults. Following the fort's attack by Niumi tribesmen in 1831, a decision was made to construct a more permanent structure that could provide greater protection. Bastions with swiveling gun turrets were positioned on each of the fort's four corners, offering interlocking zones of firepower that could repulse an attacking force.

During WWII, Banjul became a stopping point for ferry flights involving U.S. Army Air Corps aircraft and a port of call for naval convoys operating in the North Atlantic. Since the end of the war the city has grown rapidly as a commercial shipping port. Today, one can't help but see the enormous contrast in development taking place on each side of the Gambia's mouth. Banjul's population has grown significantly, with much of the area around Six Gun Battery having been developed. Modern buildings surround historic structures such as the Old Rest House and the residence of the Traveling Commissioner. In contrast, the area near Ft. Bullen—another UNESCO protected site—has remained almost unchanged. There are no resorts or government offices nearby. Outside the fort's whitewashed walls, the rusty barrel of a WWII era gun protrudes from the sand, a reminder of the Fort's service during the early 1940s as a British artillery base to discourage attack from Senegal's Vichy French government (Figure 7). In recent years, the British High Commission in The Gambia has provided financial support to assist in the development of Ft. Bullen's museum for explaining the fort's role in stopping slavery.

Figure 7.

Fort Bullen, The Gambia.

Gorée Island

The French established their first trading station at the mouth of the Senegal River in 1638. Nearby, the City of St. Louis was founded in 1659 as a permanent settlement and capital of French Senegal from 1673 to 1902 (see Figure 1). In 1677, the French captured Gorée Island from the Dutch and began organizing slave trade activities there. Gorée's location midway between the Senegal and Gambia rivers did not provide easy access into Africa's interior regions. Lack of access meant that it was not well-suited to hold large numbers of slaves waiting for transport. Despite its lesser importance as a trading station for slaves, however, Gorée Island has emerged as one of Senegal's most prominent tourist attractions and an accessible symbol of slave history that has been visited by many world leaders.

Located about two miles southeast of Dakar, the island is roughly a half-mile long and slightly less than a quarter-mile wide with high bluffs made of basalt on its south end (Figure 8). Gorée was settled by Wolof fishermen and goat herders who called it Ber and was first occupied by Europeans when the Portuguese established a stone chapel there in the 15th century. In the late 1500s, the island was captured by the Dutch and subsequently purchased from a local tribal chief. Gorée is believed to have been named for Goeree Island in Holland or possibly for “Goede Reede,” meaning good harbor. Indeed, the island's harbor is among its most important physical features. Gorée changed hands several times among the Dutch, French and British before falling under French rule from 1677 until Senegal's independence in 1960 (Andrews 1915).

Figure 8.

Gorée Island is a major tourist attraction.

It is no accident that Gorée was chosen as a slave fortification. Like the British, the French built slave stations on islands to prevent escape and as a defense against attack from other slave traders or groups of armed Africans. The island also offered a small but useful harbor for mooring large ships. A few dozen buildings were constructed there to temporarily incarcerate captives until they could be loaded onto arriving slave ships. Some of Gorée's slaves were used on the island. Female slaves worked as domestic servants while men were assigned to construction projects such as crushing rock for the island's two forts. Others worked at the docks, loading and unloading ships. The island was also home to freed slaves and some of mixed African and European descent.

Local promoters of Gorée Island have claimed that 15 to 20 million slaves passed through the island on their way to the Americas (Ndiaye n.d.). Historical research suggests, however, that only about 26,000 slaves had been brought to Gorée by the time slavery was abolished in the 19th century (Curtin 1972). Most historians inside and outside of Senegal have downplayed the role of the island in the slave trade, noting that Gorée, though a transit point, paled in comparison to slave sites in The Gambia and elsewhere in Senegal and West Africa.

The passenger ferry from Dakar takes 30 minutes to reach the small harbor on Gorée Island's northeast side (Figure 9). At the island's northern extreme is Estrées Fort, built by the French in 1677 and now a museum featuring interpretive materials that explain the island's history. The developed portion of Gorée is a zigzag of narrow streets with colorfully painted houses once owned by wealthy slave traders. Near its eastern shoreline, a street passes a large wooden door that opens to the courtyard of Maison des Esclaves (House of Slaves), built as the house of a wealthy Senegalese Métis (mixed race) woman in the late 1700s and operated as a museum since 1962 (Figure 10). Inside are cells measuring roughly 30 square feet that each held 16-18 slaves. Smaller cells under the sloping staircases held those being punished for resisting their plight. Before their shipment to Gorée, slaves were classified by age, sex, and tribal group and branded with the insignia of their trading company. Held with shackles and chains, males were seated with their backs against cell walls. A narrow vertical opening provided light and ventilation in each room. Outside, an open courtyard enabled buyers to view captives as sale prices were negotiated.

Figure 9.

The harbor at Gorée Island.

Figure 10.

Entry to the Maison de Esclaves (House of Slaves), Gorée Island, Senegal.

An ominous feature of Maison des Esclaves was its central corridor leading to the “Door of No Return.” Visitors are told that slaves taken through this door were loaded onto waiting ships for the journey across the Atlantic, though the real purpose of the door, and the whole structure, has been debated by historians, who characterize the famous exit as only a symbolic touchstone to the past. Many historians doubt that the house was used to incarcerate captive slaves. It was built rather late in the slave trade era and probably contained only the house slaves of the owner who lived there. Captive slaves awaiting transport were more likely held at other locations on Gorée Island. Despite questions raised about the myth of Maison des Esclaves, it holds value as a place of memory; local boosters continue to promote the building as an emotional shrine to slavery, and UNESCO lists the house as an important historical location (Murphy 2004).

Compared to James Island, unchanged since its abandonment by the British, Gorée Island has remained a vibrant community. Houses once owned by wealthy slavers now serve as restaurants, hotels and shops. Gorée has taken advantage of its proximity to Dakar in emerging as a tourist attraction. For visitors interested in the legacy of slavery, James and Gorée Islands offer contrasting but complementary perspectives. The visitor to James Island can visualize the fort's role in projecting power and control as a forward outpost of European slavery operations. Crumbling walls of rooms that once held dozens of slaves serve as authentic reminders of the mistreatment and injustice imposed on tens of thousands of Africans. In contrast, Gorée offers a glimpse of life in a colonial settlement constructed to support the industry of slavery. Visitors are able to step back in time since little has changed on the island; the homes of wealthy slave traders appear much as they did during the 1700s.

On the island's south side, an upward sloping path leads to its highest point. Near this site of early Portuguese structures, the Dutch constructed a fortification called the Castle, renamed Fort St. Michael during the French occupation. Although most of the fort was destroyed by the French before Senegal's independence, some evidence of WWII-era defenses can still be found, including concrete bunkers and a naval gun credited with sinking a British merchant ship in 1940. Gorée Island's involvement in slavery ended after the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). Following capture, the British agreed to return the island and city of St. Louis on the condition that the French Monarchy abolishes slavery. After abolition in 1848, the island was used as a French naval base for stopping illegal slavery. With the founding of Dakar in 1857, Gorée declined in importance. The island's small harbor and distance from the mainland made it poorly suited for use as a shipping port.

Modern Visitors to the Slave Sites

James Island and Ft. Bullen in The Gambia, and Gorée Island in Senegal are part of a system of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in West Africa that protect and interpret important reminders of the global slave trade era; sites that are significant because of their connections to the beginnings and the abolition of the slave trade. The grim stories and sad histories of these places have become lessons for local and international visitors who come in school groups, as participants in packaged tours, or as earnest pilgrims.

In the early 2000s, as many as 200,000 tourists were visiting Gorée Island annually (Murphy 2004), though visitation has declined in recent years. Many of the international visitors have been African Americans, who began coming to Gorée Island in large numbers after the 1976 publication of Alex Haley's Roots and the 1977 broadcast of the TV mini-series. Curiously, local people report that most of the African American tourists to Gorée visit the island but rarely spend much time in the city of Dakar or nearby villages to engage in the kind of cultural tourism that would connect them with the living culture of the place. In contrast, white and Asian American tourists, as well as those from Europe, visit the historic slave sites protected by UNESCO, but also eagerly sample the cultural attractions of contemporary Senegal. Since 2005, American tourists are no longer common at Gorée and African American tourists are especially rare.

Tourists have always been relatively sparse at James Island, which is much more remote and difficult to reach compared to Senegal's Gorée Island, accessible via direct flights to Dakar from either New York or Washington. Fort Bullen, across from Banjul, near the mouth of the Gambia River, is rarely visited by tourists (local or international), though the site is staffed and interpreted. Most foreign visitors to James Island are Europeans, and the French, Spanish, Italians, Germans, Belgians, Dutch and British comprise the majority of visitors. Curiously, Portuguese tourists are notably absent. Local guides who have worked at the site for many years report that, in 30 years, they have not seen or heard of a single Portuguese tourist arriving to visit James Island. Among the American visitors to James Island, white Americans arrive in much greater numbers, which is opposite of the pattern of American visitation to Gorée Island, where black Americans have usually outnumbered white Americans.

African visitors come to James and Gorée islands from Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and other countries. Along with international visitors, the islands have become popular destinations for school field trips, enabling local children to learn about the history of slavery and the institutions of African slavers, the Arab slave trade, and the Triangular Trade of European slavery. The islands are also valued by local residents as monuments to tragic events and links to their ancestors. In fact, the 1970s television mini-series “Roots” played in local cinema houses well into the late 1990s, long after networks elsewhere had ceased broadcasting the series. The physical structures that are part of this story—James Island, Ft. Bullen, Gorée Island—remain important touchstones for local people to the tragedy and anguish of this era.

The Legacy of Slave Sites

The African slave trade has been described as the largest forced migration in human history. Estimates suggest that one in six slaves transported to the Americas came from the Senegambia region. In addition to its callous disregard for human life, slavery severely damaged family relationships and communities within Africa. Since it was cheaper to kidnap or purchase fresh slaves than to enable slaves to raise children, the slave trade removed a disproportionate number of men from villages. The transatlantic slave trade also had a profound impact outside of Africa by bolstering capitalism as a political and economic force in Europe and projecting power and control (see Mitchell 2002; Church and Coles 2007). Countries such as Great Britain became wealthy as a result of the inexpensive supply of raw materials and labor.

Historians will continue debating the relative importance of Gorée Island and the authenticity of Maison des Esclaves. Despite its controversy, however, Gorée's House of Slaves has remained a powerful international symbol. Maison des Esclaves and its “Door of No Return” have been visited by world leaders ranging from Nelson Mandela to Pope John Paul II. Three U.S. Presidents have visited the site, most recently Barack Obama (with First Lady Michelle Obama) in June 2013. Although not as well-known and much less accessible—but with unquestioned authenticity—James Island in The Gambia has grown in popularity, in part because of organized travel packages with names such as the “Roots Tour.” Although involved only in the abolition phase of the slave era, Ft. Bullen has also emerged as a symbol of righting a wrong and has been incorporated into the protected system of historic slave sites in West Africa.

Thousands of visitors travel to James and Gorée Islands each year, hoping to understand hardships endured by their ancestors, or curious to learn more about the history of these sites, enabling them to make personal connections with the places involved. A few historic structures on the islands offer a glimpse of suffering experienced by captives who were separated from their families and held inside tiny rooms before being loaded on ships, never to return. For most, slave landscapes on James and Gorée Islands generate powerful emotions. Beyond their role in representing the inhumanity and cruelty of slavery, these unique sites document early access to the interior of Africa and symbolize the transplantation of culture that resulted from the African Diaspora.