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The Slave Trade In Portugal History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The slave trade was began by the Portuguese as early as 1450. Slaves were the most common merchandise in the Portuguese-dominated opening period of the seaborne trade between Europe and Africa, relatively little conclusive information is available on their overall numbers. (Elbl 31-75) The recordkeeping in that time wasn’t very efficient. While the most common, slaves were not necessarily the most profitable or the most desired commodity: the cost of shipping and handling was high and the potential of loss due to mortality. (Elbl 31-75)

Portuguese slave trade could not have been more than 1,000 slaves a year. Cadamosto a young and adventurous Venetian trader, observed that 800 ‘ 1,000 slaves were exported each year from Arguim, off the coast of Mauritania, in the 1450’s. Duarte Pacheco Pereira, a royal pilot, reported on the basis of his personal experience in West Africa in the 1480’s and 1490’s that 3,500 slaves were exported yearly from the area between the Senegal River and Sierra Leone when trade was good, but substantially fewer at other times. Of these, 400 came from the Senegal River in a good year, and fewer than 200 in a bad one. Cha’ Masser suggested that at least 2,000 slaves were imported to Portugal each year in the early 1500’s. In 1516, Bernardo Segura, a Crown inspector, estimated the slave trading potential at 6,750 for the following year, 1517, based on the assumption that nine ships were available to undertake three expeditions a year, each bringing back some 250 slaves. The most important source in the direct category is the Customs Register of the Cape Verde Islands (1513-16), 21 which gives us an unequivocal idea of the impressive volume of trade carried on by the settlers during those years. Unfortunately, this document is the only one of its kind surviving. (Elbl 31-75)

The Crown received slaves bought directly by its agents, and in payments in slaves made by third parties, through three main locations – the central agencies in Portugal, the Arguim factory off the coast of Mauritania, and Sao Jorge da Mina, located on the Gold Coast, and two secondary ones – the Cape Verde Islands warehouse and factory, and the Sao Tome warehouses. As far as Portugal is concerned, Lisbon, the seat of the Guinea House and of its auxiliary agency, the Slave House, was the main but not the only point of entry of slaves into Portugal. From 1473 onward, the Crown made periodic legislative efforts to force all traffic in slaves to pass through Lisbon, but with only partial success. Slaves continued to be cleared through other revenue-collecting districts and custom houses. Lagos, a port town in the extreme south of Portugal, played a particularly important role. Not even all slaves purchased directly by the Crown passed through Lisbon, to be duly entered in the records of the central agencies. Only slaves purchased by the Arguim factory and by royal ships occasionally dispatched to trade off the coast of Upper Guinea were as a rule sent to Lisbon’s Guinea House. Even in these instances, however, the records of the central agencies are often incomplete. The annual export records of the Arguim factory frequently show larger figures than the corresponding import figures of the Guinea House or the Slave House, even though it is clear from the appropriate letters of quittance issued to the Arguim factors that the slaves were in fact received in Lisbon. The same is true of the records of the Cape Verde Island warehouse. Slaves from the Gulf of Guinea and, later, from West-Central Africa, either bought by royal agents, obtained from the settlers of Sao Tome or collected there by the local, were sold mostly in Sao Jorge da Mina and seldom passed through Lisbon. It is thus useful to present the available figures according to the locations to which they pertain. Crown slaves received in Portugal From 1486 to 1493,From 1494 to 1497, the factor of the Guinea House received 724 slaves annually, which represented a significant increase.The data relating to the early 1500’s are more fragmentary. In the last four months of 1504 the Guinea House received 175 slaves of undisclosed provenance. Assuming that double that number arrived in the preceding two-thirds of the year, 39 the total – 525 slaves – would suggest a decline of almost 37 per cent from the mid-1490’s level. Reis are a form of Portuguese currency; I am not familiar with the value or conversion versus the American dollar. The annual payment, 3,191,812 reis, suggests c. 541 slaves as the minimum number sold, assuming that the lease-holder broke even. If we adjust the number by a projected 32 per cent profit margin, the total would be 714 slaves per year. In both cases, the figures would be comparable to those from the 1490’s. In 1511, the Crown began to demand fees from tax farms and leases on trade with certain African regions in slaves rather than in specie. The impact of this policy is uncertain. On the contrary, all documented leases and tax farms made in this period appear to have been paid in money. The number of slaves received in kind dropped significantly in 1515-16. After I512 the Crown also began receiving direct shipments from Kongo, both as gifts from the King of Kongo. The Arguim factory Arguim was the chief source of slaves directly purchased by the Crown. By the beginning of the sixteenth century, the conditions did not resemble the booming 1,000 slaves-per-year trade mentioned by Cadamosto. In 1499-1501, 257 slaves on average were bought each year. In 1505-1508, the volume was down to 119 slaves per year, but it picked up again in 1508, reaching an annual average of 543 slaves. In 1511-13, it dropped down to 294 slaves, and from January and August 1514 the factory bought only 146 slaves . The trade increased again after 1515. By adding up bills of lading, Saunders calculated that between July 1514 and August 1517 the captain of Arguim dispatched to Portugal at least 744 slaves per year. In 1517-20, Arguim exports rose more dramatically to 1,340 slaves per year. There could have been many reasons for this increase, among them an improvement in the running of the trading station and an increase in the supply of slaves, as a result of drought and the wars that accompanied the redrawing of the political map of the territories of the dying empire of Mali. The main reason, however, may have been an inter-regional shift in the slave trade, away from the coast of Upper Guinea, prompted by the temporary suppression of the trading activities of the Cape Verde Islanders by the Crown in 1517-1521. The Mina factory and the Gulf of Guinea Approximately 10 percent of the gold the Crown factory bought in Mina was paid for in slaves. The factory therefore felt an acute need for a regular and plentiful supply of slaves. It had to rely mostly on shipments from the Gulf of Guinea, because there was no trade on the adjacent Ivory Coast, and on the Malagueta Coast the supply was too scattered and navigation dangerous in the rainy season. Trade with the Gulf of Guinea was more feasible. In 1479, two caravels brought to Mina over 400 slaves purchased in the Niger Delta. As a source of supply, however, the Niger Delta presented many problems. The return passage was long, tedious and often dangerous. Moreover, the vessels used by the Mina factory were mostly small caraveloes that could only take a limited number of slaves. The trips of the Niger Delta, and especially Benin, were unpopular among the Portuguese sailors because of the health hazards involved, and so the larger caravels from Lisbon would only seldom fetch slaves from there. According to J. L. Vogt, in the last decades of the fifteenth century Crown vessels shipped at most 300 slaves per year from this area to the Mina factory. It was partly to address these shortages that a Crown factory was founded in Benin in 1486, but the initiative did not prove very successful. The number of slaves that the factory purchased was not large. Bastiam Fernandez, who served as factor there in the early 1500’s, bought only 227 slaves in more than twenty months, or 134 slaves per year. In order to ensure a satisfactory supply of slaves at Mina, the Crown usually had to combine its own expeditions with purchases from the Sao Tome and Principe islanders, who had by then begun importing slaves from the Niger Delta and the Bight of Biafra, and eventually resorted to slave delivery contracts with larger entrepreneurs who were granted exclusive trading privileges in various regions of the Gulf of Guinea. The quantitative evidence suggests that even this combination was not necessarily adequate. In 1499, Pero da Caminha, the captain of Sao Tome, announced a shipment of thirty slaves and promised sixty more, ninety slaves in total. In 1504-1507 the Mina factory received about 187 slaves per year and in 1511-1513 some 210 slaves per year, consistently below the 300 slaves per year suggested by Vogt. The slave purchases of the Mina factory expanded significantly only after 1513. In 1513-1514 they increased to 553 slaves annually. In 1517-1519 the Delta, and especially Benin, were unpopular among the Portuguese sailors because of the health hazards involved, and so the larger caravels from Lisbon would only seldom fetch slaves from there. According to J. L. Vogt, in the last decades of the fifteenth century Crown vessels shipped at most 300 slaves per year from this area to the Mina factory. It was partly to address these shortages that a Crown factory was founded in Benin in 1486, but the initiative did not prove very successful. The number of slaves that the factory purchased was not large. Bastiam Fernandez, who served as factor there in the early 1500’s, bought only 227 slaves in more than twenty months, or 134 slaves per year. In order to ensure a satisfactory supply of slaves at Mina, the Crown usually had to combine its own expeditions with purchases from the Sao Tome and Principe islanders, who had by then begun importing slaves from the Niger Delta and the Bight of Biafra, and eventually resorted to slave delivery contracts with larger entrepreneurs who were granted exclusive trading privileges in various regions of the Gulf of Guinea. The quantitative evidence suggests that even this combination was not necessarily adequate. In 1499, Pero da Caminha, the captain of Sao Tome, announced a shipment of thirty slaves and promised sixty more, ninety slaves in total. In 1504-1507 the Mina factory received about 187 slaves per year and in 1511-1513 some 210 slaves per year, consistently below the 300 slaves per year suggested by Vogt. The slave purchases of the Mina factory expanded significantly only after 1513. In 1513-1514 they increased to 553 slaves annually. Quantitative data on the volume of the Crown slave trade become available only by the end of the fifteenth century and cover, in a rather fragmentary fashion, the period 1486-1521. For most of this period, we do not have simultaneous data for all four receiving areas: Portugal, Arguim, Cape Verde Islands and Mina/Gulf of Guinea agencies. The sole exception is the year 1511, when 978 slaves are documented as received by Crown agencies . Moreover, the overall volume of the Crown slave trade cannot be derived by simply adding up the volume for each area. Double-counting is a real danger in years for which data are available for both Portugal on the one hand, and Arguim and the Cape Verde Islands on the other. It is very likely that the slaves received originally by the Arguim or Cape Verde Crown agencies found their way to Portugal soon after the original purchase. The same danger exists, to a lesser degree, where data on the Crown slave trade in the Gulf of Guinea are concerned.

Slaves received by the Crown agencies in Sao Tome or Principe might be double-counted among the slaves received in Mina. Where such potential conflict exists, the highest of the available figures is adopted here, and the other component figures disregarded in order to arrive at the minimum number of slaves actually received by the Crown. Numerical data for the Gulf of Guinea are too sporadic to yield a clear picture for this period, but sufficient to support a projection of c. 200 slaves per year. The minimum overall slave trade carried on by the Crown in this period was thus approximately 8oo slaves per year, within a range of between 700 and 1,000. In the first decade of the sixteenth century, the Crown slave trade appears to have declined slightly. The numerical evidence suggests an annual volume of trade ranging between 400 and 950 slaves, with a sharp increase by the end of the decade. The increase continued into the early 1510’s, when the documented Crown slave trade ranged widely between c. 650 and 1,500 slaves per year. The peak occurred in the late 1510’s, when the figures rose dramatically to 1,700-2,000 slaves per year, mostly as a result of the sharp upswing in the Arguim trade and imports to Sao Tome. In the period for which numerical data are available, the Crown trade thus ranged from a low of c. 700 slaves per year to a high of 2,000 slaves in the late 1510’s. The minimum average volume in the period 1486-1521 was c. 1,000 slaves per year. 1519 the Crown banned private slave trade from Kongo. (Elbl 31-75)

To simplify administration and, more importantly, secure large cash advances, the Portuguese Crown leased sections of the West African coast to prominent entrepreneurs for fixed payments. The lease-holder was issued an assurance that the Crown would refrain from issuing other licenses to trade in the same region, and he was free either to carry on trade directly or to issue licenses to interested third parties. The lease-holders, however, were not monopolists; they still had to compete with holders of standing privileges, such as the settlers of the Cape Verde Islands, Sao Tome, and Principe. As slaves were the most important commodity exported from those West African regions that did not trade in gold, most of the leases on those regions were probably expected to be paid for in slaves or proceeds from their sales. Bartolomeu Marchione’s contract with the Crown late in the fifteenth century constitutes the earliest documented example of such a lease. The 1510 saw a dramatic growth in slaving, as both the Gulf of Guinea islands and the Portuguese Crown targeted West Central Africa as a potentially important supplier of slaves. It is very likely that by 1516, West Central Africa had become the fastest growing, and possibly even the largest, supplier of the Atlantic slave trade. (Elbl 31-75)

The value of a slave can be interpreted as the discounted sum of expected lifetime earnings net of consumption and as such was heavily dependent on skills, life expectancy, and interest rates. We can assume, therefore, that from the planters’ perspective, newly arrived slaves were largely undifferentiated except by anticipated productivity, and possibly by a culturally shaped gender bias on the part of both African sellers and American buyers. Slaves who had just arrived from Africa tended to have lower values than those who were born in the Americas or had lived there for several years. Lower life expectancy of newly arrived slaves was probably Even more important in affecting price than language and knowledge of how to perform tasks on plantations. Slaves born in the Americas lived longer than their migrant counterparts, but it is worth making a further distinction in the latter group between those who were sold from the slave vessel and those who, though born in Africa, had survived what eighteenth-century observers termed the ‘seasoning’ process. This process took place typically over their first year in the Americas, during which time their susceptibility to diseases in the new environment was greatest. Life expectancy at a given age was thus greater for Creoles than for those born in Africa but who had lived in the Americas for at least a year, and greater for both groups than those who had recently arrived from Africa. The sample analyzed here is clearly for slaves with the lowest life expectancy of all. There is no extensive or reliable numerical evidence on deaths among Africans in the year after disembarkation and sale, but African-born slaves in nineteenth-century Cuba were valued about 6 percent below their Creole counterparts after standardizing for age, gender, and occupation. If the excess mortality rate among new arrivals was 10 percent in the first year, then newly arrived slaves from Africa would have been priced perhaps 15 percent below their unskilled Creole counterparts. The heart of the slave economy of the Americas from the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries lay in the Caribbean, rather than the North-American mainland or Brazil. (Eltis 673-700)

The historical record establishes, that pawning was common at the Gold Coast and Bight of Benin in the seventeenth century and at Upper Guinea, Old Calabar, Cameroons, Gabon and the Loango coast by the second half of the eighteenth century. Of the various types of servility that underpinned the Atlantic world, slavery has rightly attracted most attention, but the existence of indenture and convict labor, impressed sailors and child labor reveals that servile relationships more generally were fundamental to the development of the early modern world. Pawnship, enslavement for debt and panyarring were other forms of servility in Western Africa closely associated with slavery that sometimes resulted in transport to the Americas. Pawning of people as collateral for credit was considered to be distinct from slavery. Slavery and pawnship were related but not the same. (Lovejoy 67-89)

The abolition of the slave trade was in 1807. British efforts to abolish the maritime slave trade after 1807 rippled across the slave-trading hinterlands of the African continent. Treaties prohibiting the Atlantic slave trade north of the equator led to a concentration of slave trading activities in south-central Africa. In the second half of the century, trade focusing on legitimate goods, especially ivory, exacerbated the internal slave trade and promoted the economic exploitation of slaves. Three aspects of British abolition and commerce affected south-central Africa: first, pressure on Portugal and Brazil following abolition, which influenced activities in the Mozambican and Angolan trading colonies and coincided with increased investment in the global commodity trade; second, from 1820 but especially after 1850, British abolitionist and commercial treaties with East African coastal and island polities; and, finally, to the south, the 1806 British colonization of the Cape and resulting commercial and abolitionist involvement there. The agents engaged by British commerce and abolition came to view south- central Africa as a field for new opportunities. The first area of British involvement included free trade and abolitionist treaties with Portugal and Brazil. Early-nineteenth-century Anglo-Portuguese treaties accepted (or chose to ignore that the slave trade would continue south of the equator, mostly from ports in Angola and Mozambique. Napol’on Bonaparte’s 1807 invasion of Portugal and the subsequent relocation of the Portuguese royalty along with Anglo-Portuguese merchants to Brazil allowed British manufacturers greater access to the Brazilian and Portuguese African trade. Brazilian traders, who had previously been the local middlemen for British imports, found themselves increasingly marginalized. In reaction they concentrated on trading slaves in ports where they could escape the dominance of Anglo-Portuguese merchants and the enforcement of humanitarian measures insisted on by the British. Slaving thus intensified at previously marginal ports, such as Benguela and Cabinda in west-central Africa and Quelimane and Delagoa Bay in southeastern Africa. From 1801 to 1850, 1,383,342 slaves were embarked from the Angolan and Congolese ports of west-central Africa (nearly 30 percent more than the 1,082,310 embarked from 1751 to 1800). After 1850, when effective abolition of the trade extended south of the equator by the closure of Brazilian ports to slave traders, international trade from west- and east-central African ports shifted to beeswax, ivory, and rubber. British pressure to end the Portuguese royal monopoly on such commodities on the west and east coasts, especially ivory in 1834-35, enhanced the profitability and reach of the ivory trade. Exports of ivory still encouraged trade in slaves in the interior of the continent. Whereas some slaves were used as porters for ivory, expendable and recently acquired slaves – exhausted and famished – were not effective porters. Instead the slave and ivory trades developed together as predominantly male ivory hunters desired slaves, often women. With ivory destined for international markets, the Chokwe purchased female slaves from Ovimbundu caravans that reached the interior and had previously supplied slaves for the Atlantic trade. The boom in rubber pro- duction in the late nineteenth century had a similar effect, as the Chokwe collected rubber with which they purchased slaves. The Ovimbundu also found a market for slaves on plantations in coastal southern Angola. (Though the trade in slaves was officially prohibited, slavery in Angola ended only in 1878.) Slaves also continued to be exported as “contract workers” to the Atlantic islands of S’o Tom’ and Pr’ncipe, where they produced cocoa. Similar British influences prevailed on the east coast. Initially, the lack of enforcement of abolition in the Indian Ocean sector increased slave purchases at ports such as Quelimane and Delagoa Bay. Later, slaving spread with the rise of the international commodity trade and the end of the Portuguese royal monopoly on ivory. From at least the mid- eighteenth century, trade with the interior supplied slaves for the Portuguese prazos (colonial land grants) and the gold mines on the Zambezi River. In the nineteenth century, the intensification of the southern slave trade began to undermine the prazo system as production by slaves gave way to the arbitrary export of all dependents. The Portuguese and Luso-Africans financed trading expeditions, such as those of autonomous Chikunda, who became “the point men of Portuguese and Indian merchant capital and the brawn on which long- distance trade depended.” African merchants also took the initiative: Makua, Yao, and Bisa traders penetrated farther into the interior beyond Lake Malawi and competed for control of the slave and ivory trades. British commercial and abolitionist treaties with coastal and island East African polities also directed the penetration of trade into south- central Africa.

To strengthen its standing in the Indian Ocean and control of the Mascarene Islands acquired from France after the Napoleonic Wars, the British negotiated treaties in 1820 with the leader of the most powerful slave trading polity in Madagascar, the Merina King Radama I. In exchange for material and military aid and recognition of his sovereignty over nearly the entire island, Radama agreed to abolish the slave trade. The sugar plantations of the Mascarene Islands drew slaves from the east coast of Africa instead: from 1820 to the 1860’s, Mascarene demand for slaves in southeastern Africa rivaled that of Brazil and greatly contributed to the growth of the slave trade from ports that stretched south from Kilwa to Delagoa Bay. Abolition of the trade in the northern half of East Africa further accentuated the importance of these southeastern ports. Overall, throughout the nineteenth century, exports of slaves into the lands bordering the western Indian Ocean may have numbered 1.5 million, many of whom originated from south-central Africa. Farther north British abolitionist treaties combined with the com- modity trade on the Swahili coast encouraged a trade in slaves with and within south-central Africa. By the mid-eighteenth century, the Swahili coast north of Kilwa and south of Mombasa had fallen under the influ- ence of Omani rulers who settled in Zanzibar after they ousted the Portuguese from their mercantile forts. Sa”d Sayyid ibn Sultan, who succeeded to the throne in 1791, commissioned coastal traders to bring ivory and then slaves from the interior. In the nineteenth century, as the Omani rulers’ power waned in relation to that of an ascendant western Europe, Sa”d’s successors negotiated a series of commercial and aboli- tionist treaties with the British in exchange for military protection from internal and external threats. These treaties resulted in the slow aboli- tion of the legal trade in slaves and an increase in the trade in cloves and in ivory. Zanzibar’s plantation owners demanded more slaves to harvest cloves. Together with South Asian financiers, the plantation owners sponsored ivory and slave trading expeditions, such as those of Tippu Tip (Hamed bin Muhammed), whose trade and tribute realm stretched across the eastern portion of the Central African interior. Goods such as sugar, produced on coastal plantations and traded in the form of alcohol, and Indian and American cloth were exchanged for slaves and ulti- mately for ivory and cloves that reached international markets. By the 1850’s Swahili traders from Zanzibar and the adjacent mainland reached as far west as the upper Zambezi River. They controlled access to politi- cal and economic centers of the Luba, eastern Lunda, and Bemba. In the 1870’s, however, drought, disease, and crop failure cut into the land and labor assets of the Omani coastal elites. In 1873 Sultan Seyyid Barghash, facing increasingly aggressive British pressure to terminate maritime slaving in the western Indian Ocean, signed a treaty that abolished all slave trading and closed Zanzibar’s slave market, even as smuggling continued. Traders focused on ivory, still linked to internal slavery, which could be exchanged in international market (Gordon 915-938)


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