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E. Napp Frederick Douglass “I have observed this in my experience of slavery, that whenever my condition was improved, instead of increasing my contentment,

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Presentation on theme: "E. Napp Frederick Douglass “I have observed this in my experience of slavery, that whenever my condition was improved, instead of increasing my contentment,"— Presentation transcript:

1 E. Napp Frederick Douglass “I have observed this in my experience of slavery, that whenever my condition was improved, instead of increasing my contentment, it only increased my desire to be free, and set me to thinking of plans to gain my freedom. I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one.”

2 Of all the commercial ties that linked the early modern world, none had more profound human consequences than the Atlantic slave trade During the 400 years from the mid-fifteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, that trade in humankind took an estimated 11 million people from African societies Africans were shipped across the Atlantic in the Middle Passage and deposited in the Americas, where they were subjected to forced labor, beatings and brandings Millions more died in the process of capture and transport before ever reaching American shores The Atlantic slave trade transformed the societies of all of its participants E. Napp

3 Within Africa, some societies were thoroughly disrupted; others were strengthened; many were corrupted. Elites were enriched while slaves were victimized. In the Americas, the slave trade added a substantial African presence to the mix of European and Native American peoples. E. Napp

4 An African diaspora (the transatlantic spread of African peoples) injected into new societies issues of race that still endure today Elements of African culture, such as religious ideas, musical and artistic traditions, and cuisine, were introduced into American cultures The profits from the slave trade and the forced labor of African slaves enriched European and Euro-American societies The Atlantic slave trade was stimulated by the plantation complex of the Americas and the deaths of many Native American Indians But the Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the Americas was a large-scale expression of an almost universal human practice – the owning and exchange of human beings E. Napp

5 With origins that go back to early civilizations, slavery was widely accepted and was closely linked to warfare and capture. Before 1500, the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean basins were the major arenas of the Old World slave trade, and southern Russia was a major source of slaves. Many African societies likewise practiced slavery and sold slaves into international commercial networks. A trans-Saharan slave trade funneled African captives into Mediterranean slavery and an East African slave trade brought Africans into the Middle East and Indian Ocean basin within the Islamic world. E. Napp

6 Slavery came in many forms In some places, children inherited the slave status of parents; elsewhere children were free persons Within the Islamic world, the preference was for female slaves by a two-to-one margin, while the later Atlantic slave trade favored males by a similar margin Some slaves in the Islamic world acquired prominent military or political status But slavery in the Americas was distinctive in several ways One way was the immense size of the traffic in slaves and its centrality to the economies of colonial America E. Napp

7 New World slavery was based on plantation agriculture and slaves were treated as dehumanized property, lacking any rights. Slave status was inherited across generations with little hope of freedom for the vast majority. Nowhere else, with the possible exception of ancient Greece, was widespread slavery associated with societies affirming values of human freedom and equality. But the most distinctive difference was the racial dimension. E. Napp

8 Atlantic slavery came to be identified wholly with Africa and with “blackness” The origins of Atlantic slavery lie in the Mediterranean world and a demand for sugar Until the Crusades, Europeans knew nothing of sugar and relied on sweeteners like honey or fruit They learned about sugarcane from the Arabs and the laborious techniques for producing sugar Europeans established sugar-producing plantations within the Mediterranean and later on various islands off the West African coast Sugar production was perhaps the first “modern” industry requiring huge capital investment, substantial technology, a factory-like discipline among workers, and a mass market of consumers E. Napp

9 The difficulty and danger of the work, the limitations attached to serf labor, and the general absence of wage workers all pointed to slavery as a source of labor for sugar plantations. E. Napp

10 Initially, Slavic-speaking peoples from the Black Sea region furnished the bulk of the slaves for Mediterranean plantations, so much so that “Slav” became the basis for the word “slave” in many European languages. But in 1453, the Ottoman Turks seized Constantinople and the supply of Slavic slaves was effectively cut off At the same time, Portuguese mariners were exploring the coast of West Africa looking for gold but finding an alternative source of slaves available for sale When sugar and later tobacco and cotton plantations took hold in the Americas, Europeans had already established links to a West African source of supply E. Napp

11 Africa became the primary source of slave labor for the plantation economies of the Americas since Slavic peoples were no longer available and Native Americans quickly perished from European diseases while marginal Europeans were Christians and supposedly exempt from slavery and European indentured servants were expensive and temporary. E. Napp

12 Africans were skilled farmers and had some immunity to both tropical and European diseases and were not Christians And Africans were readily available in substantial numbers through African-operated commercial networks Slavery and racism soon went hand in hand The European demand for slaves was the chief cause of the Atlantic slave trade and the trade was in the hands of Europeans from the point of sale on the African coast to the use of slave labor on plantations in the Americas But within Africa, Africans supplied African slaves to European traders E. Napp

13 Europeans often died when they entered the African interior because they lacked immunities to tropical diseases. The slave trade quickly came to operate largely with Europeans waiting on the coast in ships or fortified settlements to purchase slaves from African merchants and political elites. Europeans tried to exploit African rivalries to obtain slaves at the lowest cost and European firearms increased warfare but from the point of initial capture to sale on the coast, the slave trade was in African hands. E. Napp

14 Europeans generally dealt as equals with local African authorities Europeans purchased slaves with Indian textiles, cowrie shells (used as money in West Africa), European metal goods, firearms and gunpowder, tobacco and alcohol, and various decorative items such as beads Europeans purchased some of these items – cowrie shells and Indian textiles with silver mined in the Americas The slave trade connected with commerce in silver and textiles as it became part of an emerging worldwide network of exchange But while some Africans controlled the supply of slaves, others were overwhelmed by it E. Napp

15 Many small-scale kinship-based societies, lacking the protection of a strong state, were thoroughly disrupted by raids from more powerful neighbors. Even some sizable states were destabilized. In the early sixteenth century, the kingdom of Kongo, located mostly in present-day Angola, had been badly damaged by the commerce in slaves, and the authority of its rulers had been severely undermined. In 1526, the Kongo king Alfonso, a convert to Christianity, begged the Portuguese to halt the slave trade. E. Napp

16 For the captured slaves – who were seized in the interior and often sold several times on the harrowing journey to the coast, sometimes branded, and held in squalid slave dungeons while awaiting transportation to the New World – the slave trade was anything but a commercial transaction From , fewer than 4,000 slaves were annually shipped to Europe or across the Atlantic The Portuguese were equally interested in African gold, spices, and textiles As in Asia, the Portuguese became involved in transporting African goods, including slaves, from one African port to another In the seventeenth century, about 10,000 slaves per year were shipped to the Americas E. Napp

17 By this time, the slave trade was becoming highly competitive, with the British, Dutch, and English contesting the earlier Portuguese monopoly. The eighteenth century was the high point of the slave trade as the plantation economies of the Americas boomed. By the 1750s, more than 60,000 people per year left Africa in chains, bound for the Americas and slavery. E. Napp

18 Geographically, the slave trade drew on the societies of West Africa, from present-day Mauritania in the north to Angola in the south Initially focused on the coastal regions, the slave trade progressively penetrated into the interior as the demand for slaves picked up Socially, most slaves were drawn from marginal groups – prisoners of war, criminals, debtors, people who had been “pawned” during times of difficulty Africans did not generally sell members of their own communities into slavery Divided into hundreds of separate, usually small- scale, and often rival communities, the various people of West Africa had no concept of an “African” identity E. Napp

19 Those whom they captured and sold were normally outsiders, vulnerable people who lacked the protection of membership in an established community. E. Napp

20 Some 80 percent of African slaves wound up in Brazil or the Caribbean, where the labor demands of the plantation economy were the most intense About 5 to 6 percent found themselves in North America, with the balance in mainland Spanish America or in Europe itself The journey across the Atlantic was horrendous almost beyond description, with the Middle Passage having an overall mortality rate of 15 percent An outcome of the slave trade lay in the new transregional linkages it generated Africa became a permanent part of an interacting Atlantic world E. Napp

21 West African economies were increasingly connected to an emerging European-centered world economy. Although the slave trade did not result in the kind of population collapse that occurred in the Americas, it slowed Africa’s growth at a time when Europe, China, and other regions were expanding demographically. Scholars have estimated that sub-Saharan Africa represented about 18 percent of the world’s population in 1600, but only 6 percent in E. Napp

22 The population decrease derived not only from the loss of millions of people over four centuries but also from the economic stagnation and political disruption that the slave trade generated Economically, the slave trade stimulated little positive change in Africa because those Africans who benefited most from the traffic in people were not investing in the productive capacities of African societies Maize and manioc (cassava), introduced from the Americas, added a new source of calories in African diets, but the international demand was for Africa’s people, not its agricultural products Within Africa, the impact of the slave trade differed considerably from place to place E. Napp

23 In small-scale societies that were frequently subjected to slave raiding and that had little centralized authority, insecurity was pervasive. Some large kingdoms such as Kongo and Oyo slowly disintegrated as access to trading opportunities and firearms enabled outlying regions to establish their independence. Yet some African authorities also sought to take advantage of the new commercial opportunities and to manage the slave trade in their own interests. E. Napp

24 The kingdom of Benin, in the forest area of present-day Nigeria, was one of the oldest and most highly developed states in the coastal hinterland of West Africa, dating back perhaps to the eleventh century CE Its capital was a large, walled city with a powerful monarch or oba Benin’s monarch strictly controlled the country’s trade Benin was able to avoid a deep involvement in the slave trade and to diversify the exports with which it purchased European firearms and other goods As early as 1516, the oba began to restrict the slave trade and soon forbade the export of male slaves altogether, a ban that lasted until the early eighteenth century E. Napp

25 By then, the oba’s authority over outlying areas had declined, and the country’s major exports of pepper and cotton cloth had lost out to Asian and then European competition. Under these circumstances, Benin felt compelled to resume limited participation in the slave trade. But even at the height of the trade, in the late eighteenth century, Benin exported fewer than 1,000 slaves a year. E. Napp

26 Among the Aja-speaking peoples to the west of Benin, the situation was very different There the slave trade thoroughly disrupted a series of small and weak states along the coast Some distance inland, the kingdom of Dahomey arose in the early eighteenth century, in part as an effort to contain the constant raiding and havoc occasioned by the coastal trade It was a unique and highly authoritarian state in which commoners and chiefs alike were responsible directly to the king and in which the power of lineages and secret societies were considerably weakened For a time, Dahomey tried to limit the external slave trade E. Napp

27 Dahomey tried to limit the external slave trade, to import European craftsmen, and to develop plantation agriculture within the kingdom, but all of this failed. E. Napp

28 In view of hostile relations with the neighboring kingdom of Oyo and others, Dahomey instead turned to a vigorous involvement in the slave trade, under strict royal control The army conducted annual slave raids The government soon came to depend on the trade for its essential revenues Unlike in Benin, the slave trade in Dahomey became the chief business of the state and remained so until well into the nineteenth century E. Napp

29 The dawning of a genuinely global economy in the early modern era was tied to empire building and to slavery, both of which had been discredited by the late twentieth century. Slavery lost its legitimacy during the nineteenth century, and formal territorial empires largely disappeared in the twentieth. E. Napp

30 S TRAYER Q UESTIONS What was distinctive about the Atlantic slave trade? What did it share with other patterns of slave owning and slave trading? What explains the rise of the Atlantic slave trade? What roles did Europeans and Africans play in the unfolding Atlantic slave trade? In what different ways did the Atlantic slave trade transform African societies? E. Napp


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