Book Review: Atlantic Trade History and Its Geography

Pages: 12 (4085 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature - African  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … History of the Atlantic Slave Trade

"[Beginning in the 16th Century]…America became the great market for some 9 to 10 million African slaves…and it was in the New World that African slavery most flourished under European rule…" (Klein, 2010, p 17).

Background into the Slave Trade

Roger Anstey writes in his book the Atlantic Slave Trade and British Abolition 1760-1810 that there was a thriving slave trade in the Middle Ages. In fact, Antsey explains, there was a "lively trade in slaves around the shores of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea," and the victims turned into slaves were Christians and Moslems (Anstey, 1975, p. 3). Centuries later, by the middle of the Seventeenth century, when Brazil was discovered (and subsequently seized as its own colony by Portugal) and when the native Indians didn't work out as adequate forced labor, the Portuguese brought in African Slaves.

As for the British, Sir. John Hawkins in 1562 was reportedly the first to make a slave voyage. And though, according to Antsey (p. 4), the Dutch and French, and the Danes -- and of course the Spaniards -- were all involved in kidnapping Africans, chaining them aboard slave ships for transport to the New World, "the British were most persistent and successful" in supplying slaves for their own needs and for the needs of other colonial powers.

The most important initial requirement for a merchant that wished to be involved on the slave trade was money, Anstey explains on page 3. The initial capital cost for Dutch slave ships was about 8,857 Pounds Sterling and for the British slave ships it was a bit less, 8,534 Pounds Sterling. Delivering slaves to various venues and being paid for the work earned the money needed to outfit the next slave ship, Anstey writes. The London slave trade was very busy; in fact between 1789 and 1791, the London slave ships made 50 voyages to and from Africa.

Anstey breaks down the partnerships that were made between various slave ship owners and their investors. It is clear that in Liverpool, one of the British ports where slave ships were launched, 80% of all the owners of ships were in fact merchants. Another 12 or 13% had some connection with maritime operations, Anstey explains (p. 8). At Whitehaven in England 40% of all the owners were linked to maritime interests, "30% were professional men, yeomen, widows or spinsters" and the other 30% were business interests with no direct connection to maritime or shipbuilding concerns. In other words, thirty percent of those participating in and profiting from the slave trade in the port of Whitehaven were simply investors (some pawnbrokers, others milliners, still others private entrepreneurs).

The French were involved in slaving as well, of course, and Anstey's data shows that in 1787 nineteen "slavers" were dispatched from the French port of Honfleur. Ten of the 19 ships were sent by one company, another five were sent from another company and four by a third company. This suggests, that unlike the British, the French slave trade owners were "highly concentrated" (Anstey, 8). In another busy French port, Nantes, the most important of the three French slave ports, there were four companies that basically dominated. In fact between 1740 and 1760 those four companies launched "two-thirds of the outfittings."

The vessels used in the slave trade, the author continues, were normally between 150 and 300 tons, and a slave ship needed to be constructed with "decks rather than holds" (Anstey, 9). European slave traders would pack their ships with the goods that we required for the purchase of the slaves in the West Coast of Africa, where African and European traders were waiting to receive the goods prior to delivering the slaves. Those goods consisted of gunpowder, brandy, rum, knives, hats, brass manufactures, earthenware, malt, flints and various sizes and patterns of cotton cloth, Anstey writes (p. 9).

There were British slavers that were hired by the French to transport slaves. The British slave ship owners got "a bounty" on the tonnage, a "premium on slaves sold" and there was a "much higher market price" for slaves that were delivered to and sold to French colonies (Anstey, 11). Since there was a limit on how many slaves that could be carried on British ships, a limitation imposed by the British Parliament in 1799, the British slavers "wore the Dutch flag" according to Anstey. Was it easy to recruit crewmembers to sail with slave ships? Not always, the author writes on page 12. The difficulty to enlist high quality crewmembers was based on the "reputation which some slave ship captains… had for exceptional brutality," and for the "high morality amongst crews," Anstey writes. Because of the bad reputation slave ship captains had, only the very young or the "innocent" signed up to work the slave ships. Recruiters established a system of "crimping" -- collusion between ship's masters and innkeepers -- and the recruiters would walk from one bar ("public house") to the next late at night, get the potential young man well intoxicated, and entice him to the boat (Anstey, 13).

The African Slave Coast -- Source of Millions of Slaves

George Dow describes the situation along the Guinea Coast of Africa (also known as the "slave coast"), where the Dutch, Portuguese, French and English established forts and "small settlements" to house Africans that had been abducted from the hinterland and were waiting to be sent sailing in slave ships. As the slaves were "brought in from the back country," they were purchased by "barter" in many case (Dow, 1927, p. 2). That is, as Anstey explained earlier in this paper, European ships sailed to Africa not with currency necessarily but with goods, to be used as barter for the slaves that were needed. Inside the forts there were storehouses for the merchandize, barracks for the employees and "sheds for the slaves." Outside the forts there were huts for "the negroes in service of the factory," and they were watched over by gun high up on the fort's walls. The forts were built to withstand any possible attack from native Africans, and the forts used 50 to 60 guns so they were protected from any European force that might attack, Dow writes (p. 2).

What did the men who lived and worked with the slave traders in these forts actually do? Dow said some would sail up the rivers into Africa and "exchange European manufactures for slaves, gold dust and ivory." Many of the men working for the slavers were "outcasts at home" or they were "destitute of means" and hence had nothing to lose by sailing to Africa where they could lead a life "of comparative indolence"; that is, they could indulge in "every human passion with utter freedom," including "drunkenness" or "unrestrained intercourse with negro girls" (Dow, 3). These men knew fever or other diseases they did not have resistance to could kill them, and hence they apparently spent much of their time "smoking, drinking palm wine and gaming," Dow explains.

Dow asserts that in 1618, England's King James granted a "charter" to a stock company to conduct trade with Guinea, thinking he was getting an exclusive deal, but the slave trade was soon wide open to many interests. In 1662, the king's brother the Duke of York, established another exclusive trading company ("Company of Royal Adventurers of England for Carrying on a Trade to Africa") that had as a goal the transport and delivery of up to "three thousand slaves annually" to English plantations (Dow, 4). The king's brother did very well and in fact for two years carried so much gold dust back to England that King Charles II "…ordered the minting of a new gold coin" that had the value of 21 shillings. It was known as the "guinea" for obvious reasons.

By 1790 there were an estimated forty forts and factories on the Guinea coast; the English owned 14 of them; the Dutch owned 15; the Portuguese had four -- as did the Danes -- and the French had three forts (Dow, 4). The number of African natives that had been kidnapped or sold into slavery in 1790 was an estimated one hundred thousand, Dow explains (5). And by the year 1800, Dow estimates that the total number of Africans that had been conscripted into slavery reached "thirty million victims."

How did it work, in terms of trading manufactured goods from Europe for humans in the hinterlands of Africa? Dow writes that a ship would be sent upriver (perhaps one hundred leagues) to Yanamaroo in the kingdom of Yancy, Dow points out. Liquor was paid to cover the cost of docking the boat, and "messengers were sent out to the principal people, for twenty or thirty miles around, soliciting slaves and trade" (Dow, 5).

African slaves were sold to the Europeans by other Africans, and some of those sold into slavery were "prisoners of war" albeit "not infrequently men would sell their… [END OF PREVIEW]

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