As African Americans celebrate Juneteenth to commemorate the end of slavery and honor their resilience and achievements, the Door of No Return, on the other side of the Atlantic, is a relic that reminds us of the whole gamut of the transatlantic slave trade.

The transatlantic slave trade began in the late 15th century with the Portuguese exploration and colonization of West Africa. It was on Gorée Island in Senegal that the first record of slave trading began in 1536 by the Portuguese, though Europeans first set foot on the Island in 1444.

During the 16th century, the slave trade began to surge and overshadow the gold, ivory, and timber trade along the West Coast of Africa due to the start of plantations in the European colonies of the New World.

The Door of No Return is a symbol of the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade that took place in Africa from the 16th to the 19th centuries. In slavery days, it was a small, narrow doorway about four feet high in the slave forts and castles that allowed one person at a time to pass through guarded by the slave masters. It was through this door that the slaves would pass on their way to the ships. The name “Door of No Return” refers to the fact that once the slaves passed through this door, they would never return to their homeland. It was a one-way journey to a life of slavery in a foreign land.

The first stage of the trade would involve the gathering and capture of slaves by African slave traders. This would typically involve raids in villages and communities, as well as kidnapping and other forms of coercion. The captured slaves would end up in slave markets such as Salaga in the northern part of Ghana.

The Salaga market was a bustling hub of activity where slaves were traded for goods such as guns, gunpowder, and textiles. It formed part of the triangular trade which characterized the transatlantic slave trade. From Europe, guns, brassware, textiles, and rum were traded for slaves in Africa. The slaves were then taken to the Americas where they were sold and the proceeds were used to purchase sugar, rice, cotton, tobacco, and indigo, and then shipped back to Europe. It is estimated that in the 18th and 19th centuries, up to 30,000 slaves were sold at the Salaga market each year.

Once a slave was sold, they would begin their journey south to the forts and castles on coasts such as the Cape Coast and Elmina Castles in Ghana. The journey could take several weeks and was incredibly arduous. A slave’s journey could be as long as 300 miles from the interior to the Coast. Two captives were chained together at the ankles or with iron shackles on the neck.

Columns of slaves were tied together by ropes. They were given little food and water, just enough to keep them strong to complete the journey. Together with the harsh treatment by their captors and attacks by wild animals, up to 20 percent of the enslaved captives did not survive the journey to the coast.

Assin Manso, a town in the central region of Ghana was one of the largest eighteenth-century slave markets and transit points for slaves en route south to Castles on the coast. Assin Manso was known for its “last bath” ritual in the “Slave River.” It was the slave’s last bath on the Motherland before being branded, auctioned, and shipped off to the Americas. After the bath, their bodies were rubbed with palm kernel oil and other oils and herbs. It is also here that the slaves were allowed to rest for several weeks and fed well so they could command good prices when finally being sold. From Assin Manso, the slaves completed their last on-land journey lap of some 40 miles to the Cape Coast or Elmina Castles.

Upon arrival at the Castles, slaves were taken to the dungeons where they would be kept until they were shipped overseas. The dungeons were dark and cramped, with little holes for ventilation and no sanitation facilities. Slaves were kept in these conditions for months at a time, often with no access to sunlight or fresh air. They were treated as little more than property and were subjected to constant abuse and mistreatment. Disease was rampant, and many slaves died in the dungeons.

The white Governor and officers who oversaw the Castles were known to have sexual relationships with the female slaves. At Cape Coast Castle, there is a hatch above the female dungeon which was opened anytime the Governor wished to choose a female slave. And directly above the male dungeon is a chapel where a religious service was held every Sunday. 

In one of the dungeons, archaeologists excavated the floor and found that the original stone floor was about 18 inches below where they began. All of that was the accumulation of dirt and human waste from the thousands of slaves held captive over the centuries. 

During the sea voyage, slaves were packed tightly together in cramped, unsanitary conditions, with little access to fresh air, food, or water. Hundreds of slaves were literally stuffed into tiers below deck for a 5,000-mile journey lasting a few weeks to several months. They were chained together and unable to sit upright or turn their bodies because of the low ceiling and limited space – 6 ft in length, 3 ft wide, and 16-inches of space below the ceiling. They were subjected to physical and sexual abuse, and violence, including beatings and whippings, and witnessed the torture and death of others around them.

Some may have developed coping mechanisms, such as dissociation or numbing, in order to survive the ordeal. Others may have turned to their native chants, songs, religion, or other forms of spirituality for comfort and solace.

Several colonial companies were involved in the transatlantic slave trade during different periods. Here are a few examples:

  • Royal African Company (1660s-1752): The British government granted the Royal African Company a monopoly on the English slave trade from 1672 to 1698. The company transported tens of thousands of enslaved Africans to the Americas and the Caribbean.
  • Dutch West India Company (1621-1791): The Dutch West India Company was involved in the transatlantic slave trade from its inception in the early 17th century until it was abolished in 1791. The company transported over half a million enslaved Africans to the Americas and the Caribbean.
  • Portuguese Royal African Company (1753-1833): The Portuguese government granted a monopoly on the slave trade to the Portuguese Royal African Company in 1753. The company transported approximately 1.2 million enslaved Africans to Brazil, the largest recipient of enslaved Africans in the Americas.
  • French West India Company (1664-1790s): The French West India Company was involved in the transatlantic slave trade from the mid-17th century until it was abolished during the French Revolution. The company transported hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans to French colonies in the Americas, particularly Saint-Domingue (now Haiti).

The transatlantic slave trade involved thousands of ships and captains over several centuries, and unfortunately, many of their names and stories have been lost to history. However, there are a few well-known examples of slave ships and their captains. Here are a couple:

  • Zong: The Zong was a British slave ship that became infamous for a massacre of enslaved Africans in 1781. The ship’s captain, Luke Collingwood, ordered over 130 enslaved Africans to be thrown overboard to claim insurance money for “lost cargo.” The incident sparked public outrage and became a rallying point for the abolitionist movement.
  • Amistad: The Amistad was a Spanish slave ship that was taken over by enslaved Africans in 1839. The ship’s captain, Ramon Ferrer, was killed during the uprising. The enslaved Africans were eventually captured and put on trial in the United States, but their case became a cause célèbre and contributed to the abolitionist movement.

Many institutions and individuals, including Barclays Bank, JP Morgan Chase, British royal family, and the Catholic church, profited from the slave trade.

In the case of the British royal family, there were members who invested in companies that were directly involved in the slave trade, such as the Royal African Company, which was granted a monopoly on the English slave trade in 1672. The family also owned plantations in the Caribbean that relied on slave labor.

Similarly, the Catholic church benefited from the slave trade through the activities of various religious orders, such as the Jesuits, who owned and operated plantations that used enslaved labor in the Americas. The church also received significant financial contributions from slave owners and traders.

It’s important to note that while these institutions and individuals did benefit from the slave trade, many others also played a role in its perpetuation and were complicit in its atrocities. Slavery was a widespread and complex system that involved numerous actors and institutions, and its legacy continues to shape our world today.

The abolition of slavery varied from country to country, with some nations abolishing slavery earlier than others. In Britain, slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire with the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, which took effect in 1834. This act freed over 800,000 enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and South Africa as well as a small number in Canada. In the United States, slavery was abolished with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865, following the American Civil War.

Emancipation was originally celebrated in the Caribbean to commemorate the final abolition of chattel slavery in the British colonies on 1st August 1834. Ghana became the first African nation to join in the celebration in 1998 to re-affirm its status as the Gateway to the African homeland of Diasporans. Ghana’s claim to the position of gateway to the Homeland is well grounded in the fact that it was a major exit point for slaves on the West Coast in the period that the infamous trade took place.

In recent years, descendants of enslaved people have come to Ghana and participated in homecoming ceremonies. Many have visited the Assin Manso Ancestral Slave River site, Cape Coast and Elmina Castles and have felt the spiritual nexus with their ancestors. These homecoming ceremonies include bathing in the Slave River at Assin Manso, re-enacting the “last bath” ritual of their ancestors, and walking back through the Door of No Return to make it the Door of Return. They also write their names on the Memorial Wall of Return as a way of indicating the discovery and return to their roots and reconnection with ancestors. It is always a profound emotional experience for the descendants as they honor and relive their ancestors’ experiences and seek to bring closure within themselves.

The remains of three slave ancestors have been brought back to Ghana and re-buried in the Ancestral Graveyard at Assin Manso–Samuel Carson from the U.S., Lady Crystal from Jamaica, and an unidentified person from Barbados. It is estimated that from 10 to 12 million Africans were sold into slavery between the 16th-19th centuries to work as unpaid laborers and chattels on sugar, cotton, and tobacco plantations in Brazil, the Caribbean, and America. Approximately two million slaves died in the process.

Today, the Door of No Return is the symbol of connection between Africa and her diaspora. It is part of the pan-Africanist initiative of cooperation between Africa and her diaspora and could be a driving force for the renaissance of the Motherland.






Edward Kusi is a lifelong student/teacher in this adventure called Life, who stands for the betterment of humanity. Edward lives in Accra, Ghana, and loves reading, writing, and researching.