The Atlantic Slave Trade
Part 2 Involvement
African participation in the slave trade
Africans themselves played a role in the slave trade. The Africans that
participated in the slave trade sold their captive or prisoners of war to European buyers. Selling captives or prisoners was common practice amongst Africans and Arabs during that era. The prisoners and captives that were sold were usually from neighboring or enemy ethnic groups. These captive slaves were not considered as part of the ethnic group or ‘tribe’ and kings held no particular loyalty to them. At times, kings and businessmen would sell the criminals in their society to the buyers so that they could no longer commit crimes in that area. Most other slaves were obtained from kidnappings, or through raids that occurred at gunpoint through joint ventures with the Europeans. Some Africans kings refused to sell any of their captives or criminals. King Jaja of Opobo refused to do business with the slavers completely. However, Kimani Nehusi notes that with the rise of a large commercial slave trade, driven by European needs, enslaving your enemy became less a consequence of war, and more and more a reason to go to war. Africans role in the Atlantic slave trade was simply the supply of the slaves. Africa was the source of the slaves which were supplied as captives who later became slaves in the Atlantic. Slaves were caught in various ways
African thugs would kidnap easy people at easy times i.e. children babies and women during the night or out of sight from others. This is where the vast majority of slaves got supplied say around 30% were captured through simply abduction.
would wage wars in order for the winners or holders of war criminals to sell them off as slaves to Europeans at the coast. They can be compared to the government
Criminals committing crimes such as Kidnappers or murders would be sentenced away to being sold to Europeans at the coast
Would lure vulnerable Africans to their ship by showing children materials or things which would attract them to follow them back into the ships where they were simply kidnapped and kept then shipped away.
European participation in the slave trade
Although Europeans were the market for slaves, Europeans rarely entered the interior of Africa, due to fear of disease and fierce African resistance. The enslaved people would be brought to coastal outposts where they would be traded for goods. Enslavement became a major by-product of internal war in Africa as nation states expanded through military conflicts in many cases through deliberate sponsorship of benefiting Western European nations. During such periods of rapid state formation or expansion (Asante and Dahomey being good examples), slavery formed an important element of political life which the Europeans exploited: As Queen Sara’s plea to the Portuguese courts revealed, the system became “sell to the European s or be sold to the Europeans”. In Africa, convicted criminals could be punished by enslavement, a punishment which became more prevalent as slavery became more lucrative. Since most of these nations did not have a prison system, convicts were often sold or used in the scattered local domestic slave market.
The Atlantic slave trade peaked in the last two decades of the 18th century, during and following the Kongo Civil War. Wars amongst tiny states along the Niger River’s Igbo-inhabited region and the accompanying banditry also spiked in this period. Another reason for surplus supply of enslaved people was major warfare conducted by expanding states such as the kingdom of Dahomey, the Oyo Empire and Asante Empire.
The majority of European conquests, raids and enslavement’s occurred toward the end or after the transatlantic slave trade. One exception to this is the conquest of Ndongo in present day Angola where Ndongo’s slaves, warriors, free citizens and even nobility were taken into slavery by the Portuguese conquerors after the fall of the state.
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Lust for Gold
When the Portuguese first sailed down the Atlantic coast of Africa in the 1430’s, they were interested in one thing. Surprisingly, given modern perspectives, it was not slaves but gold. Ever since Mansa Musa, the king of Mali, made his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1325, with 500 slaves and 100 camels (each carrying gold) the region had become synonymous with such wealth. There was one major problem: trade from sub-Saharan Africa was controlled by the Islamic Empire which stretched along Africa’s northern coast. Muslim trade routes across the Sahara, which had existed for centuries, involved salt, kola, textiles, fish, grain, and slaves.
As the Portuguese extended their influence around the coast, Mauritania, Senagambia (by 1445) and Guinea, they created trading posts. Rather than becoming direct competitors to the Muslim merchants, the expanding market opportunities in Europe and the Mediterranean resulted in increased trade across the Sahara. In addition, the Portuguese merchants gained access to the interior via the Senegal and Gambia rivers which bisected long-standing trans-Saharan routes.
Beginning to Trade
The Portuguese brought in copper ware, cloth, tools, wine and horses. (Trade goods soon included arms and ammunition.) In exchange, the Portuguese received gold (transported from mines of the Akan deposits), pepper (a trade which lasted until Vasco da Gama reached India in 1498) and ivory.
Shipping Slaves for the Islamic Market
There was a very small market for African slaves as domestic workers in Europe, and as workers on the sugar plantations of the Mediterranean. However, the Portuguese found they could make considerable amounts of gold transporting slaves from one trading post to another, along the Atlantic coast of Africa. Muslim merchants had an insatiable appetite for slaves, which were used as porters on the trans-Saharan routes (with a high mortality rate), and for sale in the Islamic Empire
By-Passing the Muslims
The Portuguese found Muslim merchants entrenched along the African coast as far as the Bight of Benin. The Slave Coast, as the Bight of Benin was known, was reached by the Portuguese at the start of the 1470’s. It was not until they reached the Kongo coast in the 1480’s that they outdistanced Muslim trading territory.
The first of the major European trading ‘forts’, Elmina, was founded on the Gold Coast in 1482. Elmina
(originally known as Sao Jorge de Mina) was modelled on the Castello de Sao Jorge, the first of the Portuguese Royal residence in Lisbon. Elmina, which of course, means the mine, became a major trading centre for slaves purchased along the Slave Rivers of Benin.
By the beginning of the colonial era there were forty such forts operating along the coast. Rather than being icons of colonial domination, the forts acted as trading posts – they rarely saw military action – the fortifications were important, however, when arms and ammunition were being stored prior to trade.
Market Opportunities for Slaves on Plantations
the end of the fifteenth century was marked (for Europe) by Vasco da Gama’s successful voyage to India and the establishment of sugar plantations on Madeira, Canary, and Cape Verde Islands. Rather than trading slaves back to Muslim merchants, there was an emerging market for agricultural workers on the plantations. By 1500 the Portuguese had transported approximately 81,000 slaves to these various markets. The era of European slave trading was about to begin…
Spanish Involvement in the slave trade.
Spanish colonization of the Americas began with the capture and subjugation of local Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Initially, enslavement represented one means by which the Columbus and other Castilians (Spaniards) mobilized native labor and met production quotas. Unlike the Portuguese slave trade, los Reyes Católicos were religiously
against developing that for Castile and Aragon with the slaves of Columbus, ordering many of the survivors to return to their Caribbean homelands. The papal bull law Sublimus Dei of 1537, to which Spain was committed also officially banned slavery. However, other forms of coerced labor used were the Indian Reductions method, the encomienda system, repartimiento, and the mita.
However after the issuing of the 1542 New Laws the encomienda system saw its power greatly restricted. Later, the 1550 Valladolid debate and the resulting issuing in 1573 of the new statutes within the “Ordinances Concerning Discoveries” forbade slavery and gave strict regulations on the treatment of the local population, such as the implementation of the “protector de indios”, an ecclesiastical representative who acted as the protector of the Indians, and represented them in formal litigation.
Later in the 17th century, in the northern New Spain Sonoran Desert Sonora y Sinaloa Province, the nomadic Indigenous people near the Sonoran missions were forcibly relocated and under the excuse of being educated, were enslaved to hard work as underground miners. Jesuit Father Eusebio Francisco Kino worked to relieve the conditions as proscribed by the Laws of the Indies (Leyes de Indias), for the rights of the various indigenous Sonoran tribes and their individual members. He successfully opposed the Slavery and compulsory hard labor in the silver mines that some Spaniards tried to force on native people.
The Franciscan Spanish missions in California practiced Indian Reductions of the Californian Native Americans with forced relocation and labor to support the mission industries. The enslavement was not by purchase but military enforcement. This was repeated in other Spanish colonies and provinces upon the Native residents as locally sourced slaves
In 1502 the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella
, granted permission to the colonists of the Caribbean to import African slaves. Opponents of their enslavement cited their weak Christian faith and their penchant for escaping to the mountains. Proponents declared that the rapid diminution of the Native American population required a consistent supply of reliable work hands, since the Spanish population at the time was far too low to carry out all the manual labor needed to assure the economic viability of the colonies as the first years of Spaniard presence in America were marked by a terrible outbreak of a tropical epidemic flu in the Caribbean that decimated the populations of local natives and Spaniard explorers. In 1518 the first shipment of African-born slaves was sent to the West Indies. The Spaniards, although purchasers of slaves, mostly from the Portuguese and the British, did not engage on slave trade on the African coast themselves, and the number of African slaves in their colonies was sensibly inferior to those of Portuguese or British.
While enslaved Africans were vital to the initial conquest and colonization of Spain’s American colonies, they were also employed in the empire’s defense. Originally the Crown relied on private initiative and resources to protect colonial shipping and settlements. In some cases they were hired out or “donated” by residents or purchased outright by the Crown. The slave populations were extremely low on Cuba and Puerto Rico until the 1760s, when the British took Havana, Cuba, in 1762. During this time more than 10,000 slaves – a number that would have taken 20 years to import on other islands – were brought in to the port. This change is almost directly related to the opening of Spanish slave trade to other powers in the 18th century, specially the contract between Spain and Great Britain created in 1713 that dealt with the supply of African slaves by the British.
While a larger focus has been placed on the production of sugar on plantations by enslaved workers in nineteenth century Cuba, the crucial role of the Spanish state before the 1760s has been largely obscured. In regards to Cuba, the Spanish colony ultimately developed two distinct but interrelated sources using enslaved labor, which converged at the end of the eighteenth century. The first of these sectors was urban and was directed in large measure by the needs of the Spanish colonial state, reaching its height in the 1760s. The second sector, which flourished after 1790, was rural and was directed by private enslavers involved in the production of export agricultural commodities, especially sugar. The scale and urgency of defense projects after 1763 forced the state to recruit and deploy many of its enslaved workers in ways that were to anticipate the work regimes on sugar plantations in the nineteenth century. Another important group of workers enslaved by the Spanish colonial state in the late eighteenth century were the king’s enslaved laborers who worked on the city’s fortifications.
Perhaps due in part to the Spanish colonies’ late discovery of the money to be made on slave production of sugarcane, particularly on Cuba, the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean were among the last to make any moves to abolish slavery. While the British colonies abolished slavery completely by 1834, Spain abolished slavery in Puerto Rico in 1863 and in Cuba in 1866. Mainland America saw the abolition of slavery along the 18th century although some countries like Peru re-legalized it for some decades after declaring independence from Spain.
Spanish Slave Code
REGULATING ENSLAVED AND FREE AFRICANS in SPANISH CUBA, 1574*
49. No tavern-keeper may sell wine to Negro slaves. But since many slaves who work for wages which they bring to their masters whom they support thereby, and those Negroes travel far to work, and sometimes need to drink wine, the tavern-keepers may allow them to drink not more than half a pint in their taverns . . . but are not to allow them to take it out in a jar or vessel; the Negroes must drink it in the tavern.
50. No one may employ a Negro to sell wine. Nor may a free Negro woman sell it, nor a tavern-keeper, unless he is a trustworthy person,
52. No Negro slave may carry swords, knives or other weapons, even though he is in the company of his master, except when he accompanies his master at night . . . or goes to the field with him during the day . . . The hooked knives, points, stripping knives and other weapons which the Negro herdsmen and field Negroes carry may not be taken away from them, not will they be punished for carrying them if they are on their way either home from the field or to the field from home.
55. No Negro slave may have a hut of his own to sleep in, even though he is hired out for wages; he will sleep in his master’s house. The huts cannot be rented out, nor can their master give them to the Negroes.
British Involvement in the Slave Trade
For well over 300 years, European countries forced Africans onto slave ships and transported them across the Atlantic Ocean.
The first European nation to engage in the Transatlantic Slave Trade was Portugal in the mid to late 1400’s. Captain John Hawkins made the first known English slaving voyage to Africa, in 1562, in the reign of Elizabeth 1. Hawkins made three such journeys over a period of six years. He captured over 1200 Africans and sold them as goods in the Spanish colonies in the Americas.
To start with, British traders supplied slaves for the Spanish and Portuguese colonists in America. However, as British settlements in the Caribbean and North America grew, often through wars with European countries such as Holland, Spain and France, British slave traders increasingly supplied British colonies
The exact number of British ships that took part in the Slave Trade will probably never be known but, in the 245 years between Hawkins first voyage and the abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807, merchants in Britain despatched about 10,000 voyages to Africa for slaves, with merchants in other parts of the British Empire perhaps fitting out a further 1,150 voyages. Historian, Professor David Richardson, has calculated that British ships carried 3.4 million or more enslaved Africans to the Americas. Only the Portuguese, who carried on the trade for almost 50 years after Britain had abolished its Slave Trade, carried more enslaved Africans to the Americas than the British (the most recent estimate suggests just over 5 million people).
Estimates, based on records of voyages in the archives of port customs and maritime insurance records, put the total number of African slaves transported by European traders, to at least 12 million people.
The first record of enslaved Africans being landed in the British colony of Virginia was in 1619. Barbados became the first British settlement in the Caribbean in 1625 and the British took control of Jamaica in 1655. The establishment of the Royal African Company in 1672 formalised the Slave Trade under a royal charter and gave a monopoly to the port of London. The ports of Bristol and Liverpool, in particular, lobbied to have the charter changed and, in 1698, the monopoly was taken away.
British involvement expanded rapidly in response to the demand for labour to cultivate sugar in Barbados and other British West Indian islands. In the 1660s, the number of slaves taken from Africa in British ships averaged 6,700 per year. By the 1760s, Britain was the foremost European country engaged in the Slave Trade. Of the 80,000 Africans chained and shackled and transported across to the Americas each year, 42,000 were carried by British slave ships.
The profits gained from chattel slavery helped to finance the Industrial Revolution and the Caribbean islands became the hub of the British Empire. The sugar colonies were Britain’s most valuable colonies. By the end of the eighteenth century, four million pounds came into Britain from its West Indian plantations, compared with one million from the rest of the world.
Who benefited from the Transatlantic Slave Trade?
In the Transatlantic Slave Trade, triangle ships never sailed empty and some people made enormous profits. This Slave Trade was the richest part of Britain’s trade in the 18th century. James Houston, who worked for a firm of 18th-century slave merchants, wrote, “What a glorious and advantageous trade this is… It is the hinge on which all the trade of this globe moves.”
Between 1750 and 1780, about 70% of the government’s total income came from taxes on goods from its colonies. The money made on the Transatlantic Slave Trade triangle was vast and poured into Britain and other European countries involved in slavery, changing their landscapes forever. In Britain, those who had made much of their wealth from the trade built fine mansions, established banks such as the Bank of England and funded new industries.
British slave ship owners – some voyages made 20-50% profit. Large sums of money were made by ship owners who never left England.
British Slave Traders – who bought and sold enslaved Africans.
Plantation Owners – who used slave labour to grow their crops? Vast profits could be made by using unpaid workers. Planters often retired to Britain with the profits they made and had grand country houses built for them. Some planters used the money they had made to become MPs. Others invested their profits in new factories and inventions, helping to finance the Industrial Revolution.
The factory owners in Britain – who had a market for their goods. Textiles from Yorkshire and Lancashire were bought by slave-captains to barter with. One half of the textiles produced in Manchester were exported to Africa and half to the West Indies. In addition, industrial plants were built to refine the imported raw sugar. Glassware was needed to bottle the rum.
West African leaders involved in the trade – who captured people and sold them as slaves to Europeans.
The ports – Bristol and Liverpool became major ports through fitting out slave ships and handling the cargoes they brought back. Between 1700 and 1800, Liverpool’s population rose from 5000 to 78,000.
Bankers – banks and finance houses grew rich from the fees and interest they earned from merchants who borrowed money for their long voyages.
Ordinary people – the Transatlantic Slave Trade provided many jobs for people back in Britain. Many people worked in factories which sold their goods to West Africa. These goods would then be traded for enslaved Africans. Birmingham had over 4000 gun-makers, with 100,000 guns a year going to slave-traders.
Others worked in factories that had been set up with money made from the Slave Trade. Many trades-people bought a share in a slave ship. Slave labour also made goods, such as sugar, more affordable for people living in Britain
The British Slave Code
The Barbados Slave Code of 1661 was a law passed by the colonial legislature to provide a legal base for slavery in the Caribbean island of Barbados. The code’s preamble, which stated that the law’s purpose was to “protect them [slaves] as we do men’s other goods and Chattels,” established that black slaves would be treated as chattel property in the island’s court.
The Barbados slave code ostensibly sought to protect slaves from cruel masters and masters from unruly slaves; in practice, it provided far more extensive protections for masters than for slaves. The law required masters to provide each slave with one set of clothing per year, but it set no standards for slaves’ diet, housing, or working conditions. However, it also denied slaves even basic rights guaranteed under English common law, such as the right to life. It allowed the slaves’ owners to do entirely as they wished to their slaves, including mutilating them and burning them alive, without fear of reprisal.
Throughout British North America, slavery evolved in practice before it was codified into law. The Barbados slave code of 1661 marked the beginning of the legal codification of slavery. The Barbados Assembly reenacted the slave code, with minor modifications, in 1676, 1682, and 1688. The Barbados slave code also served as the basis for the slave codes adopted in several other British colonies, including Jamaica (1664), South Carolina (1696), and Antigua.
This slave code formed the basic building blocks of all future slave codes adopted during the period of slavery. Examples of which are littered in this book.
The French government sought to promote plantation economies in its West Indies colonies. With capital, credit, technology — and slaves — borrowed from the Dutch, these islands began to thrive as sugar export centers. The Dutch established the first successful French sugar mill in 1655. By 1670, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St. Christopher had 300 sugar estates.
Realizing slaves were the key to this, a monopoly Compagnie des Indes Occidentales, largely financed by the state, was organized in 1664. A French fleet took many factories from the Dutch in Gorée and the Senegambia in the 1670s. In 1672, the French government offered a bounty of 10 livres per slave transported to the French West Indies. This spurred the formation of a second monopoly company, Compagnie du Sénégal, founded in 1673. By 1679 it had 21 ships in operation.
French slavery totals in the 17th century were lower than they might have been due to incompetence, bankruptcies, and mismanagement and strict royal rules about buying from, or selling to, other empires. By the 1720s, however, French private traders had broken the monopolies and the slave trade boomed under the French flag.
During the 1730s alone, the French shipped probably more than 100,000 slaves from Africa. The government raised the bounty per slave delivered to 100 livres, and in 1787 upped it again to 160. By the 1760s the average number of slaver ships leaving French ports was 56 a year, which does not sound like a large number, but they were big ships, averaging 364 slaves per boat. The attendant horrors of the Middle Passage, of course, were multiplied in the bigger ships. In 1767 the French overtook the British in sugar production for the first time.
Conditions on sugar plantations were harsh (though French sugar colonies were no better or worse than Spanish, Dutch, or British ones). During the eight-month sugar harvest, slaves sometimes worked continuously almost around the clock. Accidents caused by long hours and primitive machinery were horrible. In the big plantations, the captives lived in barracks; women were few and families non-existent
Nantes by far was France’s leading slave port. Between 1738 and 1745, Nantes alone carried 55,000 slaves to the New World in 180 ships. All told, from 1713 to 1775 nearly 800 different vessels sailed from Nantes in the slave trade. But Bordeaux, Le Havre, and La Rochelle were leaders in the trade, too. Saint-Malo, Harfleur, and Rouen also played a part. French slave ships bore such ironic names as Amitié (La Rochelle) and Liberté (belonging to Isaac Couturier in Bordeaux). The novelist Chateaubriand’s father, of Saint-Malo, was active in the slave trade in the 1760s. In 1768, Louis XV expressed his pleasure at the way “les négociants du Port de Bordeaux se livrent avec beaucoup de zèle au commerce de la traite des nègres.”
In the late 1660s, the French settled the abandoned western half of the island of Santo Domingo, and by the early 1680s this new colony, which the French called Saint-Domingue, had 2,000 African slaves. By the 1740s, Saint-Domingue had replaced Martinique as the empire’s largest sugar producer. Its 117,000 slaves that year represented about half the 250,000 slaved in the French West Indies. Coffee, introduced in 1723, only made the plantations more profitable — and increased the demand for slaves.
By the late 1780s Saint Domingue planters were recognized as the most efficient and productive sugar producers in the world. The slave population stood at 460,000 people, which was not only the largest of any island but represented close to half of the 1 million slaves then being held in all the Caribbean colonies. The exports of the island represented two-thirds of the total value of all French West Indian exports, and alone were greater than the combined exports from the British and Spanish Antilles. In only one year well over 600 vessels visited the ports of the island to carry its sugar, coffee, cotton, indigo, and cacao to European consumers.” [Herbert S. Klein, “The Atlantic Slave Trade,” Cambridge, 1999, p.33]
To keep the supply of African captives flowing, the French government had permanent establishments at the Senegal River and Whydah on the Gold Coast. French free traders worked seasonal camps from the Senegal to the Congo and even East Africa, where they became serious competitors to the Portuguese in Mozambique. The slaves they bought there went to the French Indian Ocean island colonies, which also were thriving on sugar exports.
Slavery went deeper than this in French society. In the 17th century, the French navy galleons were manned by slaves, including hundreds of Turks (some of them captured by the Austrians after the Siege of Vienna). In 1679, the Senegal Company provided 227 African slaves for this purpose.
The rise of the French slave trade meant the number of black Africans living in France grew. A law of 1716 clarified their position by allowing masters from the islands to keep their slaves captive while in France. But a law of 1738 decreed black slaves could not stay in France more than three years, otherwise they would be confiscated by the Crown (and likely put to work on the royal navy’s galleys).
The motive for this was the French authorities’ eagerness to preserve their nation’s racial purity, as illustrated by a royal declaration of 1777 which forbade entry of any black into France because “they marry Europeans, they infect brothels, and colors are mixed.” The restrictions rarely were enforced, however, and six years after the 1777 decree a ministerial circulaire complained that blacks continued to be imported. Merchants in Nantes kept so many black men and women in their fine houses that they could give négrillons or négrittes to members of their household as tips, and by the time of the Revolution there were enough nègres in Nantes to form a battalion (which got a dreadful reputation for murder and pillage).
The French slave code
The French slave code was referred to as the French “Code Noir”
In Many ways these Black codes, as they were called, regulated the behaviour of the Negro Slave and in Many cases the Free Man of Color as well.. In a way they were harsh and restrictive but on the other hand they did in fact grant the Black Man certain rights not normally enjoyed by the Slaves in the American Colonies
“The Directors of the Company of the Indies having represented to us that the Province and colony of Louisiana is considerably established, by a large number of our subjects, who use slaves for the cultivation of the lands. We have Judged that it behoves our authority and our Justice, for the preservation of this colony, to establish there a law, and certain rules, to maintain there the discipline of the Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church, and to order about what concerns the state and condition of the slaves in the said Islands, and desiring to provide for this, and to make known to our subjects who inhabit there and who shall settle there in the future, that although they inhabit climes infinitely remote, We are always present, by the extent of our power and by our application to succour them. Actuated by these causes and others, by the advice of our Council, and by our certain knowledge, full power and Royal authority, We have said, decreed, and ordered, We say, decree, and order, wish and it pleases us, the following.”
ARTICLE I orders that the edict of 1615 be applied to Louisiana, and that all Jews who may have established their religion there be expelled within three months, under penalty of confiscation of body and property.
ARTICLE II orders that all slaves in the province be instructed and baptized in the Catholic religion.
ARTICLE III forbids the exercise of any other religion than the Catholic.
The Dutch-Portuguese Wars
Between 1620 and 1655 the Netherlands and Portugal were at war, a struggle that became increasingly dictated by the needs of the slave trade. The Dutch were late comers to Africa, and their attempts to establish trading posts inevitably led to confrontation with the Portuguese. The Dutch were initially chasing African gold, but after they captured the sugar plantations in northern Brazil, they turned to slavery to help realise its full potential. Plans made to conquer the Portuguese headquarters on the gold coast, São Jorge da Mina, to ensure a steady flow of slaves, were successful and it fell in 1637. The newly renamed Elmina, proved disappointing, but it drove them on to Angola, and the island depot of São Tomé, and gave Dutch slavers a taste of the profit had at the expense of human beings. When Brazil fell in 1654 the trade continued at a pace, with colonies like Curacou emerging as vast slave markets open to the whole Caribbean.
Amsterdam was the capital of the Holland, the largest and most important of the Seven Provinces that comprised the Netherlands. The city was already prosperous, but when the southern city of Antwerp fell to the Spanish in 1585, it benefited from a stream of enterprising merchants and wealthy refugees. By the mid-1600s it was the most important trading centre in the world, providing a vital supporting role to Caribbean slavery.
West-Indisch Huis (West Indies House, see photo) in the centre of Amsterdam was the former headquarters of the Dutch West-Indische Compagnie (West India Company or WIC), which was probably the largest single slave trader in history. The company was chartered in 1621, and provided with a monopoly on the African slave trade that lasted until 1730. This building was occupied from 1621-1647, a period which saw the first of 30,000 slaves arriving in Dutch Brazil, arranged through the West India Company.
The slave routes required bulk warehousing and transportation for slave produce once it arrived back in the ‘Old World’, and Amsterdam developed accordingly. Its historic centre retains many of the original tall, narrow and deep warehouses that as part of the colonial boom once bulged with sugar, cotton and tobacco.
In the 17th Century most traded commodities passed through Amsterdam’s canals and rested in its warehouses before being traded on. The Commodity Exchange was built from 1608-1613 with this fact in mind, becoming so influential that merchants came from all over Europe to set their prices, and to speculate on the goods newly arrived from the Caribbean. These prices would in turn help shape the demand for bonded labour in the various sectors of the slave economy
Amsterdam ranks as a European capital of slavery. While its mills processed almost all the sugar from the Portuguese colonies, its financiers bankrolled the Danish, Swedish and Brandenburg slave trade, and in turn Scandinavian and German sailors made up half its slaving crews. As home to the world’s most sophisticated banking and insurance system, it was the natural home for the expensive and potentially risky business of slaving, and for this reason alone as many as 10,000 vessels were associated with the port.
The17th Century has been widely described as the Netherlands’ ‘Golden Age.’ The period saw the flowering of the arts and sciences. The average Dutchman was wealthier than his counterparts in any other country in the world and lived in a relatively tolerant country. This progress was achieved in part at an appalling human cost, and several of era’s great advances helped tighten the noose around the African continent.
Amsterdam’s Town Hall is perhaps the most significant building from this period, built from 1648-65 and by design the most ambitious and indeed the largest home to any city government in Europe.
The elaborate freeze on the western façade depicts the basis of Amsterdam’s wealth. The female personification of the city reaches out for the treasures of Europe, Asia, America and Africa. A cargo ship is shown bring this bounty to the port, the centre of the world, and above the statue of Atlas makes the nation’s claim to carrying the world on it shoulders. The Golden Age was the high water mark of Dutch influence, its power and culture a product of these patterns of exploitation.
The ports of Vlissingen and Middleburg in the south-western State of Zeeland became dependent on the slave trade to an unparalleled degree, beating even Amsterdam as the main departure point for slavers. Ships from Zeeland made 672 journeys to Africa, transporting 278,476 people into a life of slavery, compared to the 173 recorded voyages from Amsterdam, carrying 73,476. The two ports were practically slaving communities, and official reports indicated that by 1750 the only significant commercial activity in Vlissingen was the slave trade. This marked quite a transformation for the province, which in 1596 had steadfastly rejected the opening of a slave market in Middleburg, on the basis that Dutch law did not countenance slavery. The momentum that drove slavery brought on a transformation in attitudes within the area, and saw Middleburg become host to the largest independent slaving company in the Netherlands. The Middleburg Commercial Company (MCC) transported 31,095 Africans to the Americas between 1732 and 1803, of who 27,344 survived the crossing.
Dutch innovation transformed shipbuilding. The Netherlands had to import almost all of its wood from abroad, and to save money found ways of making fast and efficient ships from cheap materials. The Fluyt or ‘fly boat’ was one such design, based on low quality wood and easily pre-fabricated parts, and requiring a much smaller crew than the ships of foreign competitors. This ship became a familiar site throughout Europe, Africa and the Caribbean, and its vast cargo hold and shallow draft made it ideally suited for slave voyages. The nation’s talent for shipbuilding encouraged countries across the continent to either borrow Dutch designs, or simply commission fleets to be constructed in Dutch ports. Thanks to vessels like the Fluyt come 1670 the Netherlands had more ships than England, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Scotland put together, boasting the most ‘efficient’ slave ships afloat.
In 1623 the WIC were granted permission to establish the province of New Netherland in North America. The Dutch were largely unwilling to become settlers (thanks in part to their relatively comfortable position at home), and the colony developed with large numbers of European workers, particularly from England, Germany and what is now Belgium. The shortage inevitably led the colonists to turn to the slave trade, and in 1625 the first group of 11 African males arrived on Manhattan Island at fort New Amsterdam (now New York). The WIC pinned its hopes on the New Netherland after the loss of Brazil in 1654, and shipments markedly increased. By the 1660s the company was the largest single slave owner in New Amsterdam, forcing their ‘property’ to build roads, houses and defences. The large wooden perimeter wall they constructed has long since disappeared, but the American financial district ‘Wall Street’ takes its name and location from these slave craftsmen.
With large numbers of white migrants already working the fields, the demand for slaves came largely from the rapidly urbanising townships. The system was light compared to the extremes of the plantations, and skilled slaves were able to exploit the labour shortage to achieve more freedom. Many had already been specialists in Caribbean colonies, and veterans were able to achieve a state of ‘half-freedom’ in return for payment to the WIC. This suited the authorities, who were quite happy not to have to cloth and feed the half slaves themselves, but more than prepared to demand their work when they needed them. Because of this relaxed arrangement slaves were more easily assimilated into the colonial culture than elsewhere, but still they preserved and adapted many rituals originating in West Africa.
The province of New Netherland was captured by Britain in 1664; the Company freed all its slaves, these slaves having laid the foundations for settlements that would emerge as great cities: New York (New Amsterdam), Philadelphia (Fort Beversrede) and New Jersey (Fort Nassau).
The first African slaves arrived in the present-day United States as part of the San Miguel de Gualdape colony (most likely located in the Winyah Bay area of present-day South Carolina), founded by Spanish explorer Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón
in 1526. The ill-fated colony was disrupted by a fight over leadership, during which the slaves revolted and fled the colony to seek refuge among local Native Americans. De Ayllón and many of the colonists died shortly afterward of an epidemic. The Spanish abandoned the colony, leaving the escaped slaves behind. In 1565, the Spanish colony of San Agustín in Florida became the first permanent European settlement on modern U.S. territory, and included an unknown number of African slaves
The first 30 blacks came to Virginia in 1619, joining a workforce of about 1000 English indentured servants in the colony. In addition to African slaves, Europeans voluntarily came as “indentured servants” whereby they are paid for their passage, their upkeep and training by unpaid labor, usually on a farm. The servants were young people intended to become permanent residents, and were about the same as family members. They were not slaves. Historians estimate that more than half of all white immigrants to the English colonies of North America during the 17th and 18th centuries came as indentured servants. The early colonists of Virginia treated the first Africans in the colony as indentured servants. They were freed after a stated period and given the use of land and supplies by their former masters.
The wealthier planters found that the major problem with indentured servants was that they left on schedule, just when they had become the most valuable workers. The transformation of the status of Africans from indentured servitude to slavery—whereby they could never leave—happened gradually. There were no laws regarding slavery early in Virginia’s history. But, by 1640, the Virginia courts had sentenced at least one black servant to slavery.
In 1654, John Casor, an African, became the first legally recognized slave in the present United States. In his freedom suit, he claimed that he was an indentured servant who had been held past his term. A court in Northampton County ruled against Casor, declaring him property for life, “owned” by his master, the black colonist Anthony Johnson. Since persons with African origins were not English subjects by birth, they were considered foreigners and generally outside English Common Law. Elizabeth Key Grinstead, a mixed-race woman, successfully gained her freedom and that of her son in the Virginia courts in 1656 by making her case as the daughter of the free Englishman Thomas Key. She was also a baptized Christian. Her son’s father was an English subject.
Shortly after the Elizabeth Key trial and similar challenges, in 1662 Virginia passed a law adopting the principle of Partus sequitur ventrum (called partus, for short), stating that any children of an enslaved mother would take her status and be born into slavery, regardless if the father were a freeborn Englishman. This institutionalized the power relationships, freed the white men from the legal responsibility to acknowledge or support their children, and somewhat confined the possible scandal of mixed-race children to within the slave quarters.
In 1735, the trustees of the colony of Georgia, set up to enable worthy laborers to have a new start, passed a law to prohibit slavery, which was then legal in the other twelve English colonies. They wanted to eliminate the risk of slave rebellions and make Georgia better able to defend against attacks from the Spanish to the south. The law supported Georgia’s original charter—to turn some of England’s poor into hardworking small farmers.
The Protestant Scottish highlanders who settled what now Darien, Georgia is added a moral anti-slavery argument, which was rare at the time, in their 1739 “Petition of the Inhabitants of New Inverness”.
By 1750 Georgia authorized slavery in the state. During most of the British colonial period, slavery existed in all the colonies. People enslaved in the North typically worked as house servants, artisans, laborers and craftsmen, with the greater number in cities. The agricultural South had a significantly higher number and proportion of slaves in the population, as its commodity crops were labor intensive. Early on, slaves in the South worked primarily in agriculture, on farms and plantations growing indigo, rice, and tobacco; cotton became a major crop after the 1790s. Tobacco was very labor intensive, as was rice cultivation. In South Carolina in 1720, about 65% of the population consisted of slaves. Planters (defined as those who held 20 slaves or more) used slaves to cultivate commodity crops. Backwoods subsistence farmers, a later wave of settlers in the 18th century, seldom owned slaves. Some of the British colonies attempted to abolish the international slave trade, fearing that the importation of new Africans would be disruptive.
Virginia bills to that effect were vetoed by the British Privy Council. Rhode Island forbade the import of slaves in 1774. All of the colonies except Georgia had banned or limited the African slave trade by 1786; Georgia did so in 1798. Some of these laws were later repealed.
The American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America. They first rejected the authority of the Parliament of Great Britain to govern them from overseas without representation, and then expelled all royal officials. By 1774 each colony had established a Provincial Congress, or an equivalent governmental institution, to govern itself, but still within the empire. The British responded by sending combat troops to re-impose direct rule.
Slavery in Great Britain had never been authorized by statute. In 1772 it was made
unenforceable at common law by a decision of Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, but this decision did not apply in the colonies. A number of cases for emancipation were presented to the British courts. Numerous runaways hoped to reach Britain where they hoped to be free. The slaves’ belief that King George III was for them and against their master’s rose as tensions increased before the American Revolution; colonial slaveholders feared a British-inspired slave revolt.
In early 1775 Lord Dunmore
, royal governor of Virginia, wrote to Lord Dartmouth of his intent to take advantage of this situation. On November 7, 1775, Lord Dunmore issued Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation which declared martial lawand promised freedom for any slaves of American patriots who would leave their masters and join the royal forces. Tens of thousands of slaves did so, especially in the South, finding freedom behind British lines and disrupting plantation agriculture by their escapes. For instance, in South Carolina, nearly 25,000 slaves (30% of the total enslaved population) fled, migrated or died during the disruption of the war. In the closing months of the war, the British evacuated 20,000 freedmen. Transporting them for resettlement in Nova Scotia, the Caribbean islands, and some to England
The Constitution of the United States was drafted in 1787, and included several provisions regarding slavery. Section 9 of Article I allowed the continued “importation” of such persons, Section 2 of Article IV prohibited the provision of assistance to escaping persons and required their return if successful and Section 2 of Article I defined other persons as “three-fifths” of a person for calculations of each state’s official population for representation and federal taxation. Article V prohibited any amendments or legislation changing the provision regarding slave importation until 1808, thereby giving the States then existing 20 years to resolve this issue.
Most Northeastern states became Free states through local abolition movements. The settlement of the Midwestern states after the American Revolution by many Yankees and Northerners led to their decisions in the 1820s not to allow slavery. A Northern block of Free states united into one contiguous geographic area which shared an anti-slavery culture. The boundary was the Mason-Dixon Line (between slave-state Maryland and free-state Pennsylvania) and the Ohio River.
Forced migration westward and southward
The growing demand for cotton led many plantation owners further west in search of suitable land. In addition, invention of the cotton gin enabled more economic processing of short-staple cotton, which could readily be grown in the uplands. This led to the development of large cotton plantations across the Deep South. This boom in agricultural economies in the Deep South resulted in a large westward and southward migration of slaves. Historians have estimated that one million slaves were moved westward and southward between 1790 and 1860. Most of the slaves originated from Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas, where changes in agriculture decreased demand for slaves. Before 1810, primary destinations were Kentucky and Tennessee, but after 1810 Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas received the most slaves.
The historian Ira Berlin called this forced migration the “Second Middle Passage”, because it reproduced many of the same horrors as the Middle Passage (the name given to the transportation of slaves from Africa to North America). This large migration of slaves was traumatic, breaking up many families and causing much hardship. The historian Peter Kolchin wrote, “By breaking up existing families and forcing slaves to relocate far from everyone and everything they knew,” this migration “replicated (if on a reduced level) many of [the] horrors” of the Atlantic slave trade. Characterizing it as the “central event” in the life of a slave between the American Revolution and the Civil War, whether slaves were directly uprooted or lived in fear that they or their families would be involuntarily moved, “the massive deportation traumatized black people, both slave and free.”
In the 1830s, almost 300,000 slaves were transported, with Alabama and Mississippi receiving 100,000 each. Every decade between 1810 and 1860 had at least 100,000 slaves moved from their state of origin. In the final decade before the Civil War, 250,000 were moved.
Slave traders were responsible for the majority of the slaves that moved west. Only a minority moved with their families and existing master. Slave traders had little interest in purchasing or transporting intact slave families; in the early years, only young male slaves were in demand. Later, in the interest of creating a “self-reproducing labor force”, planters purchased nearly equal numbers of men and women. Berlin wrote:
The internal slave trade became the largest enterprise in the South outside the plantation itself, and probably the most advanced in its employment of modern transportation, finance, and publicity.” The slave trade industry developed its own unique language, with terms such as “prime hands, bucks, breeding wenches, and fancy girls” coming into common use. The expansion of the interstate slave trade contributed to the “economic revival of once depressed seaboard states” as demand accelerated the value of slaves who were subject to sale.
Some traders moved their “chattels” by sea, with Norfolk to New Orleans being the most common route, but most slaves were forced to walk overland. Regular migration routes were created and were served by a network of slave pens, yards, and warehouses needed as temporary housing for the slaves. In addition, other vendors provided clothes and supplies for slaves. As the trek advanced, some slaves were sold and new ones purchased. Berlin concluded, “In all, the slave trade, with its hubs and regional centers, its spurs and circuits, reached into every cranny of southern society. Few southerners, black or white, were untouched.”
The death rate for the slaves on their way to their new destination across the American South was much less than that of the captives shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, but mortality was still higher than the normal death rate.
Once the trip ended, slaves faced a life on the frontier significantly different from their experiences back east. Clearing trees and starting crops on virgin fields was harsh and backbreaking work. A combination of inadequate nutrition, bad water, and exhaustion from both the journey and the work weakened the newly arrived slaves and produced casualties. New plantations were located at rivers’ edges for ease of transportation and travel, an environment with mosquitoes and other environmental challenges, where disease threatened the survival of slaves. They had acquired only limited immunities in their previous homes. The death rate was such that, in the first few years of hewing a plantation out of the wilderness, some planters preferred whenever possible to use rented slaves rather than their own.
The harsh conditions on the frontier increased slave resistance, and led owners and overseers to rely on violence for control. Many of the slaves were new to cotton fields and unaccustomed to the “sunrise-to-sunset gang labor” required by their new life. Slaves were driven much harder than when they had been in growing tobacco or wheat back east. Slaves had less time and opportunity to improve the quality of their lives by raising their own livestock or tending vegetable gardens, for either their own consumption or trade, as they could in the eastern south.
In Louisiana, French colonists had established sugar cane plantations and exported sugar as the chief commodity crop. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Americans entered the state and joined the sugar cultivation. Between 1810 and 1830, the number of slaves increased from under 10,000 to more than 42,000. New Orleans became nationally important as a slave port, as slaves were shipped upriver by steamboat to plantations. By 1840, it had the largest slave market in the country. It became the wealthiest and the fourth-largest city in the nation, based chiefly on the slave trade and associated businesses. Dealing with sugar cane was even more physically demanding than growing cotton. Planters preferred young males, who represented two-thirds of the slave purchases. The largely young, unmarried male slave force made the reliance on violence by the owners “especially savage
Slave codes were adopted in each US state, which defined the status of slaves and the rights of masters. These codes gave slave-owners absolute power over the African slaves.
Definition of “slaves”
“Act XI. All persons except Negroes are to be provided with arms and ammunitions or be fined at the pleasure of the governor and council.”
“Whereas some doubts have arisen whether children got by any Englishmen upon a Negro shall be slave or Free, Be it therefore enacted and declared by this present Grand assembly, that all children born in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother.”
“That whatsoever free-born [English] woman shall intermarry with any slave […] shall serve the master of such slave during the life of her husband; and that all the issue of such free-born women, so married shall be slaves as their fathers were.”
Violence and other injustices against slaves
, 1705 – “If any slave resists his master…correcting such a slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction…the master shall be free of all punishment…as if such accident never happened.”
, 1712 – “Be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That no master, mistress, overseer, or other person whatsoever, that hath the care and charge of any negro or slave, shall give their negroes and other slaves leave…to go out of their plantations…. Every slave hereafter out of his master’s plantation, without a ticket, or leave in writing, from his master…shall be whipped….”
, 1724 – “The slave who, having struck his master, his mistress, or the husband of his mistress, or their children, shall have produced a bruise, or the shedding of blood in the face, shall suffer capital punishment.”
Reading by slaves illegal
Some Slavery Codes made teaching, Mulatto, Indian and indentured slave’s illegal.
, 1833, section 31 – “Any person or persons who attempt to teach any free person of color, or slave, to spell, read, or write, shall, upon conviction thereof by indictment, be fined in a sum not less than two hundred and fifty dollars, nor more than five hundred dollars.”
, 1833, section 32 – “Any free person of color who shall write for any slave a pass or free paper, on conviction thereof, shall receive for every such offense, thirty-nine lashes on the bare back, and leave the state of Alabama within thirty days thereafter…”
, 1833, section 33 – “Any slave who shall write for any other slave, any pass or free-paper, upon conviction, shall receive, on his or her back, one hundred lashes for the first offence, and seven hundred lashes for every offence thereafter…”
South Carolina established its slave code in 1712, based on the 1688 English slave code employed in Barbados. The South Carolina slave code served as the model for other colonies in North America. In 1770, Georgia adopted the South Carolina slave code, and then Florida adopted the Georgia code. The 1712 South Carolina slave code included provisions such as:
Slaves were forbidden to leave the owner’s property, unless accompanied by a white person, or obtaining permission. If a slave leaves the owner’s property with out permission, “every white person” is required to chastise such slaves Any slave attempting to run away and leave the colony (later, state) receives the death penalty
Any slave who evades capture for 20 days or more is to be publicly whipped for the first offense; branded with the letter R on the right cheek for the second offense; and lose one ear if absent for thirty days for the third offense; and castrated for the fourth offense.
Owners refusing to abide by the slave code are fined and forfeit ownership of their slaves
Slave homes are to be searched every two weeks for weapons or stolen goods. Punishment for violations escalates to include loss of ear, branding, and nose-slitting, and for the fourth offense, death.
No slave shall be allowed to work for pay, or to plant corn, peas or rice; or to keep hogs, cattle, or horses; or to own or operate a boat; to buy or sell; or to wear clothes finer than ‘Negro cloth’
The Atlantic slave trade was a very lucrative trade and the benefactors of this trade managed to amass great fortunes and live lavish lifestyles at the expense of the exploited. Rules and Codes of Order were developed that separated humanity on the basis of race and color were instituted in law. These Laws were instituted to protect the exploiter and oppress the exploited. In the next booklet we will examine the freedom fighters who disregarded these rules of order many at the expense of their own lives, being driven by the basic sense of humanity which regards us all as being created equal in the eyesight of the creator.
The Ethiopian World Federation Incorporated