American Negro Slavery - A Survey of the Supply, Employment and Control of Negro Labor as Determined by the Plantation Regime
by Ulrich Bonnell Phillips
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A Survey of the Supply, Employment and Control Of Negro Labor As Determined by the Plantation Regime








The Portuguese began exploring the west coast of Africa shortly before Christopher Columbus was born; and no sooner did they encounter negroes than they began to seize and carry them in captivity to Lisbon. The court chronicler Azurara set himself in 1452, at the command of Prince Henry, to record the valiant exploits of the negro-catchers. Reflecting the spirit of the time, he praised them as crusaders bringing savage heathen for conversion to civilization and christianity. He gently lamented the massacre and sufferings involved, but thought them infinitely outweighed by the salvation of souls. This cheerful spirit of solace was destined long to prevail among white peoples when contemplating the hardships of the colored races. But Azurara was more than a moralizing annalist. He acutely observed of the first cargo of captives brought from southward of the Sahara, less than a decade before his writing, that after coming to Portugal "they never more tried to fly, but rather in time forgot all about their own country," that "they were very loyal and obedient servants, without malice"; and that "after they began to use clothing they were for the most part very fond of display, so that they took great delight in robes of showy colors, and such was their love of finery that they picked up the rags that fell from the coats of other people of the country and sewed them on their own garments, taking great pleasure in these, as though it were matter of some greater perfection."[1] These few broad strokes would portray with equally happy precision a myriad other black servants born centuries after the writer's death and dwelling in a continent of whose existence he never dreamed. Azurara wrote further that while some of the captives were not able to endure the change and died happily as Christians, the others, dispersed among Portuguese households, so ingratiated themselves that many were set free and some were married to men and women of the land and acquired comfortable estates. This may have been an earnest of future conditions in Brazil and the Spanish Indies; but in the British settlements it fell out far otherwise.

[Footnote 1: Gomez Eannes de Azurara Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea, translated by C.R. Beazley and E.P. Prestage, in the Hakluyt Society Publications, XCV, 85.]

As the fifteenth century wore on and fleets explored more of the African coast with the double purpose of finding a passage to India and exploiting any incidental opportunities for gain, more and more human cargoes were brought from Guinea to Portugal and Spain. But as the novelty of the blacks wore off they were held in smaller esteem and treated with less liberality. Gangs of them were set to work in fields from which the Moorish occupants had recently been expelled. The labor demand was not great, however, and when early in the sixteenth century West Indian settlers wanted negroes for their sugar fields, Spain willingly parted with some of hers. Thus did Europe begin the coercion of African assistance in the conquest of the American wilderness.

Guinea comprises an expanse about a thousand miles wide lying behind three undulating stretches of coast, the first reaching from Cape Verde southeastward nine hundred miles to Cape Palmas in four degrees north latitude, the second running thence almost parallel to the equator a thousand miles to Old Calabar at the head of "the terrible bight of Biafra," the third turning abruptly south and extending some fourteen hundred miles to a short distance below Benguela where the southern desert begins. The country is commonly divided into Upper Guinea or the Sudan, lying north and west of the great angle of the coast, and Lower Guinea, the land of the Bantu, to the southward. Separate zones may also be distinguished as having different systems of economy: in the jungle belt along the equator bananas are the staple diet; in the belts bordering this on the north and south the growing of millet and manioc respectively, in small clearings, are the characteristic industries; while beyond the edges of the continental forest cattle contribute much of the food supply. The banana, millet and manioc zones, and especially their swampy coastal plains, were of course the chief sources of slaves for the transatlantic trade.

Of all regions of extensive habitation equatorial Africa is the worst. The climate is not only monotonously hot, but for the greater part of each year is excessively moist. Periodic rains bring deluge and periodic tornadoes play havoc. The dry seasons give partial relief, but they bring occasional blasts from the desert so dry and burning that all nature droops and is grateful at the return of the rains. The general dank heat stimulates vegetable growth in every scale from mildew to mahogany trees, and multiplies the members of the animal kingdom, be they mosquitoes, elephants or boa constrictors. There would be abundant food but for the superabundant creatures that struggle for it and prey upon one another. For mankind life is at once easy and hard. Food of a sort may often be had for the plucking, and raiment is needless; but aside from the menace of the elements human life is endangered by beasts and reptiles in the forest, crocodiles and hippopotami in the rivers, and sharks in the sea, and existence is made a burden to all but the happy-hearted by plagues of insects and parasites. In many districts tse-tse flies exterminate the cattle and spread the fatal sleeping-sickness among men; everywhere swarms of locusts occasionally destroy the crops; white ants eat timbers and any other useful thing, short of metal, which may come in their way; giant cockroaches and dwarf brown ants and other pests in great variety swarm in the dwellings continuously—except just after a village has been raided by the great black ants which are appropriately known as "drivers." These drivers march in solid columns miles on miles until, when they reach food resources to their fancy, they deploy for action and take things with a rush. To stay among them is to die; but no human being stays. A cry of "Drivers!" will depopulate a village instantly, and a missionary who at one moment has been combing brown ants from his hair will in the next find himself standing safely in the creek or the water barrel, to stay until the drivers have taken their leave. Among less spectacular things, mosquitoes fly in crowds and leave fevers in their wake, gnats and flies are always on hand, chigoes bore and breed under toe-nails, hook-worms hang themselves to the walls of the intestines, and other threadlike worms enter the eyeballs and the flesh of the body. Endurance through generations has given the people large immunity from the effects of hook-worm and malaria, but not from the indigenous diseases, kraw-kraw, yaws and elephantiasis, nor of course from dysentery and smallpox which the Europeans introduced. Yet robust health is fairly common, and where health prevails there is generally happiness, for the negroes have that within their nature. They could not thrive in Guinea without their temperament.

It is probable that no people ever became resident on or near the west coast except under compulsion. From the more favored easterly regions successive hordes have been driven after defeat in war. The Fangs on the Ogowe are an example in the recent past. Thus the inhabitants of Guinea, and of the coast lands especially, have survived by retreating and adapting themselves to conditions in which no others wished to dwell. The requirements of adaptation were peculiar. To live where nature supplies Turkish baths without the asking necessitates relaxation. But since undue physical indolence would unfit people for resistance to parasites and hostile neighbors, the languid would perish. Relaxation of mind, however, brought no penalties. The climate in fact not only discourages but prohibits mental effort of severe or sustained character, and the negroes have submitted to that prohibition as to many others, through countless generations, with excellent grace. So accustomed were they to interdicts of nature that they added many of their own through conventional taboo, some of them intended to prevent the eating of supposedly injurious food, others calculated to keep the commonalty from infringing upon the preserves of the dignitaries.[2]

[Footnote 2: A convenient sketch of the primitive African regime is J.A. Tillinghast's The Negro in Africa and America, part I. A fuller survey is Jerome Dowd's The Negro Races, which contains a bibliography of the sources. Among the writings of travelers and sojourners particularly notable are Mary Kingsley's Travels in West Africa as a vivid picture of coast life, and her West African Studies for its elaborate and convincing discussion of fetish, and the works of Sir A.B. Ellis on the Tshi-, Ewe- and Yoruba-speaking peoples for their analyses of institutions along the Gold Coast.]

No people is without its philosophy and religion. To the Africans the forces of nature were often injurious and always impressive. To invest them with spirits disposed to do evil but capable of being placated was perhaps an obvious recourse; and this investiture grew into an elaborate system of superstition. Not only did the wind and the rain have their gods but each river and precipice, and each tribe and family and person, a tutelary spirit. These might be kept benevolent by appropriate fetish ceremonies; they might be used for evil by persons having specially great powers over them. The proper course for common-place persons at ordinary times was to follow routine fetish observances; but when beset by witch-work the only escape lay in the services of witch-doctors or priests. Sacrifices were called for, and on the greatest occasions nothing short of human sacrifice was acceptable.

As to diet, vegetable food was generally abundant, but the negroes were not willingly complete vegetarians. In the jungle game animals were scarce, and everywhere the men were ill equipped for hunting. In lieu of better they were often fain to satisfy their craving for flesh by eating locusts and larvae, as tribes in the interior still do. In such conditions cannibalism was fairly common. Especially prized was an enemy slain in war, for not only would his body feed the hungry but fetish taught that his bravery would pass to those who shared the feast.

In African economy nearly all routine work, including agriculture, was classed as domestic service and assigned to the women for performance. The wife, bought with a price at the time of marriage, was virtually a slave; her husband her master. Now one woman might keep her husband and children in but moderate comfort. Two or more could perform the family tasks much better. Thus a man who could pay the customary price would be inclined to add a second wife, whom the first would probably welcome as a lightener of her burdens. Polygamy prevailed almost everywhere.

Slavery, too, was generally prevalent except among the few tribes who gained their chief sustenance from hunting. Along with polygamy, it perhaps originated, if it ever had a distinct beginning, from the desire to lighten and improve the domestic service. [3] Persons became slaves through capture, debt or malfeasance, or through the inheritance of the status. While the ownership was absolute in the eyes of the law and captives were often treated with great cruelty, slaves born in the locality were generally regarded as members of their owner's family and were shown much consideration. In the millet zone where there was much work to be done the slaveholdings were in many cases very large and the control relatively stringent; but in the banana districts an easy-going schedule prevailed for all. One of the chief hardships of the slaves was the liability of being put to death at their master's funeral in order that their spirits might continue in his service. In such case it was customary on the Gold Coast to give the victim notice of his approaching death by suddenly thrusting a knife through each cheek with the blades crossing in his mouth so that he might not curse his master before he died. With his hands tied behind him he would then be led to the ceremonial slaughter. The Africans were in general eager traders in slaves as well as other goods, even before the time when the transatlantic trade, by giving excessive stimulus to raiding and trading, transformed the native economy and deranged the social order.

[Footnote 3: Slavery among the Africans and other primitive peoples has been elaborately discussed by H.J. Nieboer, Slavery as an Industrial System: Ethnological Researches (The Hague, 1900).]

Apart from a few great towns such as Coomassee and Benin, life in Guinea was wholly on a village basis, each community dwelling in its own clearing and having very slight intercourse with its neighbors. Politically each village was governed by its chief and its elders, oftentimes in complete independence. In occasional instances, however, considerable states of loose organization were under the rule of central authorities. Such states were likely to be the creation of invaders from the eastward, the Dahomans and Ashantees for example; but the kingdom of Benin appears to have arisen indigenously. In many cases the subordination of conquered villages merely resulted in their paying annual tribute. As to language, Lower Guinea spoke multitudinous dialects of the one Bantu tongue, but in Upper Guinea there were many dialects of many separate languages.

Land was so abundant and so little used industrially that as a rule it was not owned in severalty; and even the villages and tribes had little occasion to mark the limits of their domains. For travel by land there were nothing but narrow, rough and tortuous foot-paths, with makeshift bridges across the smaller streams. The rivers were highly advantageous both as avenues and as sources of food, for the negroes were expert at canoeing and fishing.

Intertribal wars were occasional, but a crude comity lessened their frequency. Thus if a man of one village murdered one of another, the aggrieved village if too weak to procure direct redress might save its face by killing someone in a third village, whereupon the third must by intertribal convention make common cause with the second at once, or else coerce a fourth into the punitive alliance by applying the same sort of persuasion that it had just felt. These later killings in the series were not regarded as murders but as diplomatic overtures. The system was hard upon those who were sacrificed in its operation, but it kept a check upon outlawry.

A skin stretched over the section of a hollow tree, and usually so constructed as to have two tones, made an instrument of extraordinary use in communication as well as in music. By a system long anticipating the Morse code the Africans employed this "telegraph drum" in sending messages from village to village for long distances and with great speed. Differences of speech were no bar, for the tom tom code was interlingual. The official drummer could explain by the high and low alternations of his taps that a deed of violence just done was not a crime but a pourparler for the forming of a league. Every week for three months in 1800 the tom toms doubtless carried the news throughout Ashantee land that King Quamina's funeral had just been repeated and two hundred more slaves slain to do him honor. In 1806 they perhaps reported the ending of Mungo Park's travels by his death on the Niger at the hands of the Boussa people. Again and again drummers hired as trading auxiliaries would send word along the coast and into the country that white men's vessels lying at Lagos, Bonny, Loango or Benguela as the case might be were paying the best rates in calico, rum or Yankee notions for all slaves that might be brought.

In music the monotony of the tom tom's tone spurred the drummers to elaborate variations in rhythm. The stroke of the skilled performer could make it mourn a funeral dirge, voice the nuptial joy, throb the pageant's march, and roar the ambush alarm. Vocal music might be punctuated by tom toms and primitive wind or stringed instruments, or might swell in solo or chorus without accompaniment. Singing, however, appears not so characteristic of Africans at home as of the negroes in America. On the other hand garrulous conversation, interspersed with boisterous laughter, lasted well-nigh the livelong day. Daily life, indeed, was far from dull, for small things were esteemed great, and every episode was entertaining. It can hardly be maintained that savage life is idyllic. Yet the question remains, and may long remain, whether the manner in which the negroes were brought into touch with civilization resulted in the greater blessing or the greater curse. That manner was determined in part at least by the nature of the typical negroes themselves. Impulsive and inconstant, sociable and amorous, voluble, dilatory, and negligent, but robust, amiable, obedient and contented, they have been the world's premium slaves. Prehistoric Pharaohs, mediaeval Pashas and the grandees of Elizabethan England esteemed them as such; and so great a connoisseur in household service as the Czar Alexander added to his palace corps in 1810 two free negroes, one a steward on an American merchant ship and the other a body-servant whom John Quincy Adams, the American minister, had brought from Massachusetts to St. Petersburg.[4]

[Footnote 4: Writings of John Quincy Adams, Ford ed., III, 471, 472 (New York, 1914).]

The impulse for the enslavement of negroes by other peoples came from the Arabs who spread over northern Africa in the eighth century, conquering and converting as they went, and stimulating the trade across the Sahara until it attained large dimensions. The northbound caravans carried the peculiar variety of pepper called "grains of paradise" from the region later known as Liberia, gold from the Dahomey district, palm oil from the lower Niger, and ivory and slaves from far and wide. A small quantity of these various goods was distributed in southern Europe and the Levant. And in the same general period Arab dhows began to take slave cargoes from the east coast of Africa as far south as Mozambique, for distribution in Arabia, Persia and western India. On these northern and eastern flanks of Guinea where the Mohammedans operated and where the most vigorous of the African peoples dwelt, the natives lent ready assistance in catching and buying slaves in the interior and driving them in coffles to within reach of the Moorish and Arab traders. Their activities, reaching at length the very center of the continent, constituted without doubt the most cruel of all branches of the slave-trade. The routes across the burning Sahara sands in particular came to be strewn with negro skeletons.[5]

[Footnote 5: Jerome Dowd, "The African Slave Trade," in the Journal of Negro History, II (1917), 1-20.]

This overland trade was as costly as it was tedious. Dealers in Timbuctoo and other centers of supply must be paid their price; camels must be procured, many of which died on the journey; guards must be hired to prevent escapes in the early marches and to repel predatory Bedouins in the later ones; food supplies must be bought; and allowance must be made for heavy mortality among the slaves on their terrible trudge over the burning sands and the chilling mountains. But wherever Mohammedanism prevailed, which gave particular sanction to slavery as well as to polygamy, the virtues of the negroes as laborers and as eunuch harem guards were so highly esteemed that the trade was maintained on a heavy scale almost if not quite to the present day. The demand of the Turks in the Levant and the Moors in Spain was met by exportations from the various Barbary ports. Part of this Mediterranean trade was conducted in Turkish and Moorish vessels, and part of it in the ships of the Italian cities and Marseilles and Barcelona. Venice for example had treaties with certain Saracen rulers at the beginning of the fourteenth century authorizing her merchants not only to frequent the African ports, but to go in caravans to interior points and stay at will. The principal commodities procured were ivory, gold, honey and negro slaves.[6]

[Footnote 6: The leading authority upon slavery and the slave-trade in the Mediterranean countries of Europe is J.A. Saco, Historia de la Esclavitud desde los Tiempas mas remotas hasta nuestros Dias (Barcelona, 1877), vol. III.]

The states of Christian Europe, though little acquainted with negroes, had still some trace of slavery as an inheritance from imperial Rome and barbaric Teutondom. The chattel form of bondage, however, had quite generally given place to serfdom; and even serfdom was disappearing in many districts by reason of the growth of towns and the increase of rural population to the point at which abundant labor could be had at wages little above the cost of sustaining life. On the other hand so long as petty wars persisted the enslavement of captives continued to be at least sporadic, particularly in the south and east of Europe, and a considerable traffic in white slaves was maintained from east to west on the Mediterranean. The Venetians for instance, in spite of ecclesiastical prohibitions, imported frequent cargoes of young girls from the countries about the Black Sea, most of whom were doomed to concubinage and prostitution, and the rest to menial service.[7] The occurrence of the Crusades led to the enslavement of Saracen captives in Christendom as well as of Christian captives in Islam.

[Footnote 7: W.C. Hazlitt, The Venetian Republic(London, 1900), pp. 81, 82.]

The waning of the Crusades ended the supply of Saracen slaves, and the Turkish capture of Constantinople in 1453 destroyed the Italian trade on the Black Sea. No source of supply now remained, except a trickle from Africa, to sustain the moribund institution of slavery in any part of Christian Europe east of the Pyrenees. But in mountain-locked Roussillon and Asturias remnants of slavery persisted from Visigothic times to the seventeenth century; and in other parts of the peninsula the intermittent wars against the Moors of Granada supplied captives and to some extent reinvigorated slavery among the Christian states from Aragon to Portugal. Furthermore the conquest of the Canaries at the end of the fourteenth century and of Teneriffe and other islands in the fifteenth led to the bringing of many of their natives as slaves to Castille and the neighboring kingdoms.

Occasional documents of this period contain mention of negro slaves at various places in the Spanish peninsula, but the number was clearly small and it must have continued so, particularly as long as the supply was drawn through Moorish channels. The source whence the negroes came was known to be a region below the Sahara which from its yield of gold and ivory was called by the Moors the land of wealth, "Bilad Ghana," a name which on the tongues of European sailors was converted into "Guinea." To open a direct trade thither was a natural effort when the age of maritime exploration began. The French are said to have made voyages to the Gold Coast in the fourteenth century, though apparently without trading in slaves. But in the absence of records of their activities authentic history must confine itself to the achievements of the Portuguese.

In 1415 John II of Portugal, partly to give his five sons opportunity to win knighthood in battle, attacked and captured the Moorish stronghold of Ceuta, facing Gibraltar across the strait. For several years thereafter the town was left in charge of the youngest of these princes, Henry, who there acquired an enduring desire to gain for Portugal and Christianity the regions whence the northbound caravans were coming. Returning home, he fixed his residence at the promontory of Sagres, on Cape St. Vincent, and made his main interest for forty years the promotion of maritime exploration southward.[8] His perseverance won him fame as "Prince Henry the Navigator," though he was not himself an active sailor; and furthermore, after many disappointments, it resulted in exploration as far as the Gold Coast in his lifetime and the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope twenty-five years after his death. The first decade of his endeavor brought little result, for the Sahara shore was forbidding and the sailors timid. Then in 1434 Gil Eannes doubled Cape Bojador and found its dangers imaginary. Subsequent voyages added to the extent of coast skirted until the desert began to give place to inhabited country. The Prince was now eager for captives to be taken who might inform him of the country, and in 1441 Antam Gonsalvez brought several Moors from the southern edge of the desert, who, while useful as informants, advanced a new theme of interest by offering to ransom themselves by delivering on the coast a larger number of non-Mohammedan negroes, whom the Moors held as slaves. Partly for the sake of profit, though the chronicler says more largely to increase the number of souls to be saved, this exchange was effected in the following year in the case of two of the Moors, while a third took his liberty without delivering his ransom. After the arrival in Portugal of these exchanged negroes, ten in number, and several more small parcels of captives, a company organized at Lagos under the direction of Prince Henry sent forth a fleet of six caravels in 1444 which promptly returned with 225 captives, the disposal of whom has been recounted at the beginning of this chapter.

[Footnote 8: The chief source for the early Portuguese voyages is Azurara's Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea, already cited.]

In the next year the Lagos Company sent a great expedition of twenty-six vessels which discovered the Senegal River and brought back many natives taken in raids thereabout; and by 1448 nearly a thousand captives had been carried to Portugal. Some of these were Moorish Berbers, some negroes, but most were probably Jolofs from the Senegal, a warlike people of mixed ancestry. Raiding in the Jolof country proved so hazardous that from about 1454 the Portuguese began to supplement their original methods by planting "factories" on the coast where slaves from the interior were bought from their native captors and owners who had brought them down in caravans and canoes. Thus not only was missionary zeal eclipsed but the desire of conquest likewise, and the spirit of exploration erelong partly subdued, by commercial greed. By the time of Prince Henry's death in 1460 Portugal was importing seven or eight hundred negro slaves each year. From this time forward the traffic was conducted by a succession of companies and individual grantees, to whom the government gave the exclusive right for short terms of years in consideration of money payments and pledges of adding specified measures of exploration. As new coasts were reached additional facilities were established for trade in pepper, ivory and gold as well as in slaves. When the route round Africa to India was opened at the end of the century the Guinea trade fell to secondary importance, but it was by no means discontinued.

Of the negroes carried to Portugal in the fifteenth century a large proportion were set to work as slaves on great estates in the southern provinces recently vacated by the Moors, and others were employed as domestic servants in Lisbon and other towns. Some were sold into Spain where they were similarly employed, and where their numbers were recruited by a Guinea trade in Spanish vessels in spite of Portugal's claim of monopoly rights, even though Isabella had recognized these in a treaty of 1479. In short, at the time of the discovery of America Spain as well as Portugal had quite appreciable numbers of negroes in her population and both were maintaining a system of slavery for their control.

When Columbus returned from his first voyage in the spring of 1493 and announced his great landfall, Spain promptly entered upon her career of American conquest and colonization. So great was the expectation of adventure and achievement that the problem of the government was not how to enlist participants but how to restrain a great exodus. Under heavy penalties emigration was restricted by royal decrees to those who procured permission to go. In the autumn of the same year fifteen hundred men, soldiers, courtiers, priests and laborers, accompanied the discoverer on his second voyage, in radiant hopes. But instead of wealth and high adventure these Argonauts met hard labor and sickness. Instead of the rich cities of Japan and China sought for, there were found squalid villages of Caribs and Lucayans. Of gold there was little, of spices none.

Columbus, when planting his colony at Isabella, on the northern coast of Hispaniola (Hayti), promptly found need of draught animals and other equipment. He wrote to his sovereigns in January, 1494, asking for the supplies needed; and he offered, pending the discovery of more precious things, to defray expenses by shipping to Spain some of the island natives, "who are a wild people fit for any work, well proportioned and very intelligent, and who when they have got rid of their cruel habits to which they have been accustomed will be better than any other kind of slaves."[9] Though this project was discouraged by the crown, Columbus actually took a cargo of Indians for sale in Spain on his return from his third voyage; but Isabella stopped the sale and ordered the captives taken home and liberated. Columbus, like most of his generation, regarded the Indians as infidel foreigners to be exploited at will. But Isabella, and to some extent her successors, considered them Spanish subjects whose helplessness called for special protection. Between the benevolence of the distant monarchs and the rapacity of the present conquerors, however, the fate of the natives was in little doubt. The crown's officials in the Indies were the very conquerors themselves, who bent their soft instructions to fit their own hard wills. A native rebellion in Hispaniola in 1495 was crushed with such slaughter that within three years the population is said to have been reduced by two thirds. As terms of peace Columbus required annual tribute in gold so great that no amount of labor in washing the sands could furnish it. As a commutation of tribute and as a means of promoting the conversion of the Indians there was soon inaugurated the encomienda system which afterward spread throughout Spanish America. To each Spaniard selected as an encomendero was allotted a certain quota of Indians bound to cultivate land for his benefit and entitled to receive from him tutelage in civilization and Christianity. The grantees, however, were not assigned specified Indians but merely specified numbers of them, with power to seize new ones to replace any who might die or run away. Thus the encomendero was given little economic interest in preserving the lives and welfare of his workmen.

[Footnote 9: R.H. Major, Select Letters of Columbus, 2d. ed., 1890, p. 88.]

In the first phase of the system the Indians were secured in the right of dwelling in their own villages under their own chiefs. But the encomenderos complained that the aloofness of the natives hampered the work of conversion and asked that a fuller and more intimate control be authorized. This was promptly granted and as promptly abused. Such limitations as the law still imposed upon encomendero power were made of no effect by the lack of machinery for enforcement. The relationship in short, which the law declared to be one of guardian and ward, became harsher than if it had been that of master and slave. Most of the island natives were submissive in disposition and weak in physique, and they were terribly driven at their work in the fields, on the roads, and at the mines. With smallpox and other pestilences added to their hardships, they died so fast that before 1510 Hispaniola was confronted with the prospect of the complete disappearance of its laboring population.[10] Meanwhile the same regime was being carried to Porto Rico, Jamaica and Cuba with similar consequences in its train.

[Footnote 10: E. g. Bourne, Spain in America (New York, 1904); Wilhelm Roscher, The Spanish Colonial System, Bourne ed. (New York, 1904); Konrad Habler, "The Spanish Colonial Empire," in Helmolt, History of the World, vol I.]

As long as mining remained the chief industry the islands failed to prosper; and the reports of adversity so strongly checked the Spanish impulse for adventure that special inducements by the government were required to sustain any flow of emigration. But in 1512-1515 the introduction of sugar-cane culture brought the beginning of a change in the industrial situation. The few surviving gangs of Indians began to be shifted from the mines to the fields, and a demand for a new labor supply arose which could be met only from across the sea.

Apparently no negroes were brought to the islands before 1501. In that year, however, a royal decree, while excluding Jews and Moors, authorized the transportation of negroes born in Christian lands; and some of these were doubtless carried to Hispaniola in the great fleet of Ovando, the new governor, in 1502. Ovando's reports of this experiment were conflicting. In the year following his arrival he advised that no more negroes be sent, because of their propensity to run away and band with and corrupt the Indians. But after another year had elapsed he requested that more negroes be sent. In this interim the humane Isabella died and the more callous Ferdinand acceded to full control. In consequence a prohibition of the negro trade in 1504 was rescinded in 1505 and replaced by orders that the bureau in charge of colonial trade promote the sending of negroes from Spain in large parcels. For the next twelve years this policy was maintained—the sending of Christian negroes was encouraged, while the direct slave trade from Africa to America was prohibited. The number of negroes who reached the islands under this regime is not ascertainable. It was clearly almost negligible in comparison with the increasing demand.[11]

[Footnote 11: The chief authority upon the origin and growth of negro slavery in the Spanish colonies is J.A. Saco, Historia de la Esclavitud de la Raza Africana en el Nuevo Mundo y en especial en los Paises Americo-Hispanos. (Barcelona, 1879.) This book supplements the same author's Historia de la Esclavitud desde los Tiempos remotos previously cited.]

The policy of excluding negroes fresh from Africa—"bozal negroes" the Spaniards called them—was of course a product of the characteristic resolution to keep the colonies free from all influences hostile to Catholic orthodoxy. But whereas Jews, Mohammedans and Christian heretics were considered as champions of rival faiths, the pagan blacks came increasingly to be reckoned as having no religion and therefore as a mere passive element ready for christianization. As early as 1510, in fact, the Spanish crown relaxed its discrimination against pagans by ordering the purchase of above a hundred negro slaves in the Lisbon market for dispatch to Hispaniola. To quiet its religious scruples the government hit upon the device of requiring the baptism of all pagan slaves upon their disembarkation in the colonial ports.

The crown was clearly not prepared to withstand a campaign for supplies direct from Africa, especially after the accession of the youth Charles I in 1517. At that very time a clamor from the islands reached its climax. Not only did many civil officials, voicing public opinion in their island communities, urge that the supply of negro slaves be greatly increased as a means of preventing industrial collapse, but a delegation of Jeronimite friars and the famous Bartholomeo de las Casas, who had formerly been a Cuban encomendero and was now a Dominican priest, appeared in Spain to press the same or kindred causes. The Jeronimites, themselves concerned in industrial enterprises, were mostly interested in the labor supply. But the well-born and highly talented Las Casas, earnest and full of the milk of human kindness, was moved entirely by humanitarian and religious considerations. He pleaded primarily for the abolition of the encomienda system and the establishment of a great Indian reservation under missionary control, and he favored the increased transfer of Christian negroes from Spain as a means of relieving the Indians from their terrible sufferings. The lay spokesmen and the Jeronimites asked that provision be made for the sending of thousands of negro slaves, preferably bozal negroes for the sake of cheapness and plenty; and the supporters of this policy were able to turn to their use the favorable impression which Las Casas was making, even though his programme and theirs were different.[12] The outcome was that while the settling of the encomienda problem was indefinitely postponed, authorization was promptly given for a supply of bozal negroes.

[Footnote 12: Las Casas, Historio de las Indias (Madrid, 1875, 1876); Arthur Helps, Life of Las Casas (London, 1873); Saco, op. cit., pp. 62-104.]

The crown here had an opportunity to get large revenues, of which it was in much need, by letting the slave trade under contract or by levying taxes upon it. The young king, however, freshly arrived from the Netherlands with a crowd of Flemish favorites in his train, proceeded to issue gratuitously a license for the trade to one of the Flemings at court, Laurent de Gouvenot, known in Spain as Garrevod, the governor of Breza. This license empowered the grantee and his assigns to ship from Guinea to the Spanish islands four thousand slaves. All the historians until recently have placed this grant in the year 1517 and have called it a contract (asiento); but Georges Scelle has now discovered and printed the document itself which bears the date August 18, 1518, and is clearly a license of grace bearing none of the distinctive asiento features.[13] Garrevod, who wanted ready cash rather than a trading privilege, at once divided his license into two and sold them for 25,000 ducats to certain Genoese merchants domiciled at Seville, who in turn split them up again and put them on the market where they became an object of active speculation at rapidly rising prices. The result was that when slaves finally reached the islands under Garrevod's grant the prices demanded for them were so exorbitant that the purposes of the original petitioners were in large measure defeated. Meanwhile the king, in spite of the nominally exclusive character of the Garrevod grant, issued various other licenses on a scale ranging from ten to four hundred slaves each. For a decade the importations were small, however, and the island clamor increased.

[Footnote 13: Georges Scelle, Histoire Politique de la Traite Negriere aux Indes de Castille: Contrats et Traites d'Asiento (Paris, 1906), I, 755. Book I, chapter 2 of the same volume is an elaborate discussion of the Garrevod grant.]

In 1528 a new exclusive grant was issued to two German courtiers at Seville, Eynger and Sayller, empowering them to carry four thousand slaves from Guinea to the Indies within the space of the following four years. This differed from Garrevod's in that it required a payment of 20,000 ducats to the crown and restricted the price at which the slaves were to be sold in the islands to forty ducats each. In so far it approached the asientos of the full type which became the regular recourse of the Spanish government in the following centuries; but it fell short of the ultimate plan by failing to bind the grantees to the performance of their undertaking and by failing to specify the grades and the proportion of the sexes among the slaves to be delivered. In short the crown's regard was still directed more to the enrichment of courtiers than to the promotion of prosperity in the islands.

After the expiration of the Eynger and Sayller grant the king left the control of the slave trade to the regular imperial administrative boards, which, rejecting all asiento overtures for half a century, maintained a policy of granting licenses for competitive trade in return for payments of eight or ten ducats per head until 1560, and of thirty ducats or more thereafter. At length, after the Spanish annexation of Portugal in 1580, the government gradually reverted to monopoly grants, now however in the definite form of asientos, in which by intent at least the authorities made the public interest, with combined regard to the revenue and a guaranteed labor supply, the primary consideration.[14] The high prices charged for slaves, however, together with the burdensome restrictions constantly maintained upon trade in general, steadily hampered the growth of Spanish colonial industry. Furthermore the allurements of Mexico and Peru drained the older colonies of virtually all their more vigorous white inhabitants, in spite of severe penalties legally imposed upon emigration but never effectively enforced.

[Footnote 14: Scelle, I, books 1-3.]

The agricultural regime in the islands was accordingly kept relatively stagnant as long as Spain preserved her full West Indian domination. The sugar industry, which by 1542 exported the staple to the amount of 110,000 arrobas of twenty-five pounds each, was standardized in plantations of two types—the trapiche whose cane was ground by ox power and whose labor force was generally thirty or forty negroes (each reckoned as capable of the labor of four Indians); and the inqenio, equipped with a water-power mill and employing about a hundred slaves.[15] Occasional slave revolts disturbed the Spanish islanders but never for long diminished their eagerness for slave recruits. The slave laws were relatively mild, the police administration extremely casual, and the plantation managements easy-going. In short, after introducing slavery into the new world the Spaniards maintained it in sluggish fashion, chiefly in the islands, as an institution which peoples more vigorous industrially might borrow and adapt to a more energetic plantation regime.

[Footnote 15: Saco, pp. 127, 128, 188; Oviedo, Historia General de las Indias, book 4. chap. 8.]



At the request of a slaver's captain the government of Georgia issued in 1772 a certificate to a certain Fenda Lawrence reciting that she, "a free black woman and heretofore a considerable trader in the river Gambia on the coast of Africa, hath voluntarily come to be and remain for some time in this province," and giving her permission to "pass and repass unmolested within the said province on her lawfull and necessary occations."[1] This instance is highly exceptional. The millions of African expatriates went against their own wills, and their transporters looked upon the business not as passenger traffic but as trade in goods. Earnings came from selling in America the cargoes bought in Africa; the transportation was but an item in the trade.

[Footnote 1: U.B. Phillips, Plantation and Frontier Documents, printed also as vols. I and II of the Documentary History of American Industrial Society (Cleveland, O., 1909), II, 141, 142. This publication will be cited hereafter as Plantation and Frontier.]

The business bulked so large in the world's commerce in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that every important maritime community on the Atlantic sought a share, generally with the sanction and often with the active assistance of its respective sovereign. The preliminaries to the commercial strife occurred in the Elizabethan age. French traders in gold and ivory found the Portuguese police on the Guinea Coast to be negligible; but poaching in the slave trade was a harder problem, for Spain held firm control of her colonies which were then virtually the world's only slave market.

The test of this was made by Sir John Hawkins who at the beginning of his career as a great English sea captain had informed himself in the Canary Islands of the Afro-American opportunity awaiting exploitation. Backed by certain English financiers, he set forth in 1562 with a hundred men in three small ships, and after procuring in Sierra Leone, "partly by the sword and partly by other means," above three hundred negroes he sailed to Hispaniola where without hindrance from the authorities he exchanged them for colonial produce. "And so, with prosperous success, and much gain to himself and the aforesaid adventurers, he came home, and arrived in the month of September, 1563."[2] Next year with 170 men in four ships Hawkins again captured as many Sierra Leone natives as he could carry, and proceeded to peddle them in the Spanish islands. When the authorities interfered he coerced them by show of arms and seizure of hostages, and when the planters demurred at his prices he brought them to terms through a mixture of diplomacy and intimidation. After many adventures by the way he reached home, as the chronicler concludes, "God be thanked! in safety: with the loss of twenty persons in all the voyage; as with great profit to the venturers in the said voyage, so also to the whole realm, in bringing home both gold, silver, pearls, and other jewels in great store. His name therefore be praised for evermore! Amen." Before two years more had passed Hawkins put forth for a third voyage, this time with six ships, two of them among the largest then afloat. The cargo of slaves, procured by aiding a Guinea tribe in an attack upon its neighbor, had been duly sold in the Indies when dearth of supplies and stress of weather drove the fleet into the Mexican port of San Juan de Ulloa. There a Spanish fleet of thirteen ships attacked the intruders, capturing their treasure ship and three of her consorts. Only the Minion under Hawkins and the bark Judith under the young Francis Drake escaped to carry the harrowing tale to England. One result of the episode was that it filled Hawkins and Drake with desire for revenge on Spain, which was wreaked in due time but in European waters. Another consequence was a discouragement of English slave trading for nearly a century to follow.

[Footnote 2: Hakluyt, Voyages, ed. 1589. This and the accounts of Hawkins' later exploits in the same line are reprinted with a valuable introduction in C.R. Beazley, ed., Voyages and Travels (New York, 1903), I, 29-126.]

The defeat of the Armada in 1588 led the world to suspect the decline of Spain's maritime power, but only in the lapse of decades did the suspicion of her helplessness become a certainty. Meantime Portugal was for sixty years an appanage of the Spanish crown, while the Netherlands were at their heroic labor for independence. Thus when the Dutch came to prevail at sea in the early seventeenth century the Portuguese posts in Guinea fell their prey, and in 1621 the Dutch West India Company was chartered to take them over. Closely identified with the Dutch government, this company not only founded the colony of New Netherland and endeavored to foster the employment of negro slaves there, but in 1634 it seized the Spanish island of Curacao near the Venezuelan coast and made it a basis for smuggling slaves into the Spanish dominions. And now the English, the French and the Danes began to give systematic attention to the African and West Indian opportunities, whether in the form of buccaneering, slave trading or colonization.

The revolt of Portugal in 1640 brought a turning point. For a quarter-century thereafter the Spanish government, regarding the Portuguese as rebels, suspended all trade relations with them, the asiento included. But the trade alternatives remaining were all distasteful to Spain. The English were heretics; the Dutch were both heretics and rebels; the French and the Danes were too weak at sea to handle the great slave trading contract with security; and Spain had no means of her own for large scale commerce. The upshot was that the carriage of slaves to the Spanish colonies was wholly interdicted during the two middle decades of the century. But this gave the smugglers their highest opportunity. The Spanish colonial police collapsed under the pressure of the public demand for slaves, and illicit trading became so general and open as to be pseudo legitimate. Such a boom came as was never felt before under Protestant flags in tropical waters. The French, in spite of great exertions, were not yet able to rival the Dutch and English. These in fact had such an ascendency that when in 1663 Spain revived the asiento by a contract with two Genoese, the contractors must needs procure their slaves by arrangement with Dutch and English who delivered them at Curacao and Jamaica. Soon after this contract expired the asiento itself was converted from an item of Spanish internal policy into a shuttlecock of international politics. It became in fact the badge of maritime supremacy, possessed now by the Dutch, now by the French in the greatest years of Louis XIV, and finally by the English as a trophy in the treaty of Utrecht.

By this time, however, the Spanish dominions were losing their primacy as slave markets. Jamaica, Barbados and other Windward Islands under the English; Hayti, Martinique and Guadeloupe under the French, and Guiana under the Dutch were all more or less thriving as plantation colonies, while Brazil, Virginia, Maryland and the newly founded Carolina were beginning to demonstrate that slave labor had an effective calling without as well as within the Caribbean latitudes. The closing decades of the seventeenth century were introducing the heyday of the slave trade, and the English were preparing for their final ascendency therein.

In West African waters in that century no international law prevailed but that of might. Hence the impulse of any new country to enter the Guinea trade led to the project of a chartered monopoly company; for without the resources of share capital sufficient strength could not be had, and without the monopoly privilege the necessary shares could not be sold. The first English company of moment, chartered in 1618, confined its trade to gold and other produce. Richard Jobson while in its service on the Gambia was offered some slaves by a native trader. "I made answer," Jobson relates, "we were a people who did not deal in any such commodities; neither did we buy or sell one another, or any that had our own shapes; at which he seemed to marvel much, and told us it was the only merchandize they carried down, and that they were sold to white men, who earnestly desired them. We answered, they were another kind of people, different from us; but for our part, if they had no other commodities, we would return again."[3] This company speedily ending its life, was followed by another in 1631 with a similarly short career; and in 1651 the African privilege was granted for a time to the East India Company.

[Footnote 3: Richard Jobson, The Golden Trade (London 1623,), pp. 29, 87, quoted in James Bandinel, Some Account of the Trade in Slaves from Africa (London, 1842), p. 43.]

Under Charles II activities were resumed vigorously by a company chartered in 1662; but this promptly fell into such conflict with the Dutch that its capital of L122,000 vanished. In a drastic reorganization its affairs were taken over by a new corporation, the Royal African Company, chartered in 1672 with the Duke of York at its head and vested in its turn with monopoly rights under the English flag from Sallee on the Moroccan coast to the Cape of Good Hope.[4] For two decades this company prospered greatly, selling some two thousand slaves a year in Jamaica alone, and paying large cash dividends on its L100,000 capital and then a stock dividend of 300 per cent. But now came reverses through European war and through the competition of English and Yankee private traders who shipped slaves legitimately from Madagascar and illicitly from Guinea. Now came also a clamor from the colonies, where the company was never popular, and from England also where oppression and abuses were charged against it by would-be free traders. After a parliamentary investigation an act of 1697 restricted the monopoly by empowering separate traders to traffic in Guinea upon paying to the company for the maintenance of its forts ten per cent, on the value of the cargoes they carried thither and a percentage on certain minor exports carried thence.

[Footnote 4: The financial career of the company is described by W.R. Scott, "The Constitution and Finances of the Royal African Company of England till 1720," in the American Historical Review, VIII. 241-259.]

The company soon fell upon still more evil times, and met them by evil practices. To increase its capital it offered new stock for sale at reduced prices and borrowed money for dividends in order to encourage subscriptions. The separate traders meanwhile were winning nearly all its trade. In 1709-1710, for example, forty-four of their vessels made voyages as compared with but three ships of the company, and Royal African stock sold as low as 2-1/8 on the L100. A reorganization in 1712 however added largely to the company's funds, and the treaty of Utrecht brought it new prosperity. In 1730 at length Parliament relieved the separate traders of all dues, substituting a public grant of L10,000 a year toward the maintenance of the company's forts. For twenty years more the company, managed in the early thirties by James Oglethorpe, kept up the unequal contest until 1751 when it was dissolved.

The company regime under the several flags was particularly dominant on the coasts most esteemed in the seventeenth century; and in that century they reached a comity of their own on the basis of live and let live. The French were secured in the Senegal sphere of influence and the English on the Gambia, while on the Gold Coast the Dutch and English divided the trade between them. Here the two headquarters were in forts lying within sight of each other: El Mina of the Dutch, and Cape Coast Castle of the English. Each was commanded by a governor and garrisoned by a score or two of soldiers; and each with its outlying factories had a staff of perhaps a dozen factors, as many sub-factors, twice as many assistants, and a few bookkeepers and auditors, as well as a corps of white artisans and an abundance of native interpreters, boatmen, carriers and domestic servants. The Dutch and English stations alternated in a series east and west, often standing no further than a cannon-shot apart. Here and there one of them had acquired a slight domination which the other respected; but in the case of the Coromantees (or Fantyns) William Bosman, a Dutch company factor about 1700, wrote that both companies had "equal power, that is none at all. For when these people are inclined to it they shut up the passes so close that not one merchant can come from the inland country to trade with us; and sometimes, not content with this, they prevent the bringing of provisions to us till we have made peace with them." The tribe was in fact able to exact heavy tribute from both companies; and to stretch the treaty engagements at will to its own advantage.[5] Further eastward, on the densely populated Slave Coast, the factories were few and the trade virtually open to all comers. Here, as was common throughout Upper Guinea, the traits and the trading practices of adjacent tribes were likely to be in sharp contrast. The Popo (or Paw Paw) people, for example, were so notorious for cheating and thieving that few traders would go thither unless prepared to carry things with a strong hand. The Portuguese alone bore their grievances without retaliation, Bosman said, because their goods were too poor to find markets elsewhere.[6]But Fidah (Whydah), next door, was in Bosman's esteem the most agreeable of all places to trade in. The people were honest and polite, and the red-tape requirements definite and reasonable. A ship captain after paying for a license and buying the king's private stock of slaves at somewhat above the market price would have the news of his arrival spread afar, and at a given time the trade would be opened with prices fixed in advance and all the available slaves herded in an open field. There the captain or factor, with the aid of a surgeon, would select the young and healthy, who if the purchaser were the Dutch company were promptly branded to prevent their being confused in the crowd before being carried on shipboard. The Whydahs were so industrious in the trade, with such far reaching interior connections, that they could deliver a thousand slaves each month.[7]

[Footnote 5: Bosman's Guinea (London, 1705), reprinted in Pinkerton's Voyages, XVI, 363.]

[Footnote 6: Ibid., XVI, 474-476.]

[Footnote 7: Ibid., XVI, 489-491.]

Of the operations on the Gambia an intimate view may be had from the journal of Francis Moore, a factor of the Royal African Company from 1730 to 1735.[8] Here the Jolofs on the north and the Mandingoes on the south and west were divided into tribes or kingdoms fronting from five to twenty-five leagues on the river, while tributary villages of Arabic-speaking Foulahs were scattered among them. In addition there was a small independent population of mixed breed, with very slight European infusion but styling themselves Portuguese and using a "bastard language" known locally as Creole. Many of these last were busy in the slave trade. The Royal African headquarters, with a garrison of thirty men, were on an island in the river some thirty miles from its mouth, while its trading stations dotted the shores for many leagues upstream, for no native king was content without a factory near his "palace." The slaves bought were partly of local origin but were mostly brought from long distances inland. These came generally in strings or coffles of thirty or forty, tied with leather thongs about their necks and laden with burdens of ivory and corn on their heads. Mungo Park when exploring the hinterland of this coast in 1795-1797, traveling incidentally with a slave coffle on part of his journey, estimated that in the Niger Valley generally the slaves outnumbered the free by three to one.[9] But as Moore observed, the domestic slaves were rarely sold in the trade, mainly for fear it would cause their fellows to run away. When captured by their master's enemies however, they were likely to be sent to the coast, for they were seldom ransomed.

[Footnote 8: Francis Moore, Travels in Africa (London, 1738).]

[Footnote 9: Mungo Park, Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa (4th ed., London, 1800), pp. 287, 428.]

The diverse goods bartered for slaves were rated by units of value which varied in the several trade centers. On the Gold Coast it was a certain length of cowrie shells on a string; at Loango it was a "piece" which had the value of a common gun or of twenty pounds of iron; at Kakongo it was twelve- or fifteen-yard lengths of cotton cloth called "goods";[10] while on the Gambia it was a bar of iron, apparently about forty pounds in weight. But in the Gambia trade as Moore described it the unit or "bar" in rum, cloth and most other things became depreciated until in some commodities it was not above a shilling's value in English money. Iron itself, on the other hand, and crystal beads, brass pans and spreadeagle dollars appreciated in comparison. These accordingly became distinguished as the "heads of goods," and the inclusion of three or four units of them was required in the forty or fifty bars of miscellaneous goods making up the price of a prime slave.[11] In previous years grown slaves alone had brought standard prices; but in Moore's time a specially strong demand for boys and girls in the markets of Cadiz and Lisbon had raised the prices of these almost to a parity. All defects were of course discounted. Moore, for example, in buying a slave with several teeth missing made the seller abate a bar for each tooth. The company at one time forbade the purchase of slaves from the self-styled Portuguese because they ran the prices up; but the factors protested that these dealers would promptly carry their wares to the separate traders, and the prohibition was at once withdrawn.

[Footnote 10: The Abbe Proyart, History of Loango (1776), in Pinkerton's Voyages, XVI, 584-587.]

[Footnote 11: Francis Moore, Travels in Africa, p.45.]

The company and the separate traders faced different problems. The latter were less easily able to adjust their merchandise to the market. A Rhode Island captain, for instance, wrote his owners from Anamabo in 1736, "heare is 7 sails of us rume men, that we are ready to devour one another, for our case is desprit"; while four years afterward another wrote after trading at the same port, "I have repented a hundred times ye lying in of them dry goods", which he had carried in place of the customary rum.[12] Again, a veteran Rhode Islander wrote from Anamabo in 1752, "on the whole I never had so much trouble in all my voiges", and particularized as follows: "I have Gott on bord 61 Slaves and upards of thirty ounces of Goold, and have Gott 13 or 14 hhds of Rum yet Left on bord, and God noes when I shall Gett Clear of it ye trade is so very Dull it is actuly a noof to make a man Creasey my Cheef mate after making foor or five Trips in the boat was taken Sick and Remains very bad yett then I sent Mr. Taylor, and he got not well, and three more of my men has [been] sick.... I should be Glad I coold Com Rite home with my slaves, for my vesiel will not Last to proceed farr we can see Day Lite al Roond her bow under Deck.... heare Lyes Captains hamlet, James, Jepson, Carpenter, Butler, Lindsay; Gardner is Due; Ferguson has Gone to Leward all these is Rum ships."[13]

[Footnote 12: American Historical Record, I (1872), 314, 317.]

[Footnote 13: Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, LXIX, 59, 60.]

The separate traders also had more frequent quarrels with the natives. In 1732 a Yankee captain was killed in a trade dispute and his crew set adrift. Soon afterward certain Jolofs took another ship's officers captive and required the value of twenty slaves as ransom. And in 1733 the natives at Yamyamacunda, up the Gambia, sought revenge upon Captain Samuel Moore for having paid them in pewter dollars on his previous voyage, and were quieted through the good offices of a company factor.[14] The company suffered far less from native disorders, for a threat of removing its factory would bring any chief to terms. In 1731, however, the king of Barsally brought a troop of his kinsmen and subjects to the Joar factory where Moore was in charge, got drunk, seized the keys and rifled the stores.[15] But the company's chief trouble was with its own factors. The climate and conditions were so trying that illness was frequent and insanity and suicide occasional; and the isolation encouraged fraudulent practices. It was usually impossible to tell the false from the true in the reports of the loss of goods by fire and flood, theft and rapine, mildew and white ants, or the loss of slaves by death or mutiny. The expense of the salary list, ship hire, provisions and merchandise was heavy and continuous, while the returns were precarious to a degree. Not often did such great wars occur as the Dahomey invasion of the Whidah country in 1726[16] and the general fighting of the Gambia peoples in 1733-1734[17] to glut the outward bound ships with slave cargoes. As a rule the company's advantage of steady markets and friendly native relations appears to have been more than offset by the freedom of the separate traders from fixed charges and the necessity of dependence upon lazy and unfaithful employees.

[Footnote 14: Moore, pp. 112, 164, 182.]

[Footnote 15: Ibid., p. 82.]

[Footnote 16: William Snelgrave, A New Account of Some Parts of Guinea and the Slave Trade (London, 1734), pp. 8-32.]

[Footnote 17: Moore, p. 157.]

Instead of jogging along the coast, as many had been accustomed to do, and casting anchor here and there upon sighting signal smokes raised by natives who had slaves to sell,[18] the separate traders began before the close of the colonial period to get their slaves from white factors at the "castles," which were then a relic from the company regime. So advantageous was this that in 1772 a Newport brig owned by Colonel Wanton cleared L500 on her voyage, and next year the sloop Adventure, also of Newport, Christopher and George Champlin owners, made such speedy trade that after losing by death one slave out of the ninety-five in her cargo she landed the remainder in prime order at Barbados and sold them immediately in one lot at L35 per head.[19]

[Footnote 18: Snelgrave, introduction.]

[Footnote 19: Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, LXIX, 398, 429.]

In Lower Guinea the Portuguese held an advantage, partly through the influence of the Catholic priests. The Capuchin missionary Merolla, for example, relates that while he was in service at the mouth of the Congo in 1685 word came that the college of cardinals had commanded the missionaries in Africa to combat the slave trade. Promptly deciding this to be a hopeless project, Merolla and his colleagues compromised with their instructions by attempting to restrict the trade to ships of Catholic nations and to the Dutch who were then supplying Spain under the asiento. No sooner had the chiefs in the district agreed to this than a Dutch trading captain set things awry by spreading Protestant doctrine among the natives, declaring baptism to be the only sacrament required for salvation, and confession to be superfluous. The priests then put all the Dutch under the ban, but the natives raised a tumult saying that the Portuguese, the only Catholic traders available, not only paid low prices in poor goods but also aspired to a political domination. The crisis was relieved by a timely plague of small-pox which the priests declared and the natives agreed was a divinely sent punishment for their contumacy,—and for the time at least, the exclusion of heretical traders was made effective.[20] The English appear never to have excelled the Portuguese on the Congo and southward except perhaps about the close of the eighteenth century.

[Footnote 20: Jerom Merolla da Sorrente, Voyage to Congo (translated from the Italian), in Pinkerton's Voyages, XVI, 253-260.]

The markets most frequented by the English and American separate traders lay on the great middle stretches of the coast—Sierra Leone, the Grain Coast (Liberia), the Ivory, Gold and Slave Coasts, the Oil Rivers as the Niger Delta was then called, Cameroon, Gaboon and Loango. The swarm of their ships was particularly great in the Gulf of Guinea upon whose shores the vast fan-shaped hinterland poured its exiles along converging lines.

The coffles came from distances ranging to a thousand miles or more, on rivers and paths whose shore ends the European traders could see but did not find inviting. These paths, always of single-file narrowness, tortuously winding to avoid fallen trees and bad ground, never straightened even when obstructions had rotted and gone, branching and crossing in endless network, penetrating jungles and high-grass prairies, passing villages that were and villages that had been, skirting the lairs of savage beasts and the haunts of cannibal men, beset with drought and famine, storm and flood, were threaded only by negroes, bearing arms or bearing burdens. Many of the slaves fell exhausted on the paths and were cut out of the coffles to die. The survivors were sorted by the purchasers on the coast into the fit and the unfit, the latter to live in local slavery or to meet either violent or lingering deaths, the former to be taken shackled on board the strange vessels of the strange white men and carried to an unknown fate. The only consolations were that the future could hardly be worse than the recent past, that misery had plenty of company, and that things were interesting by the way. The combination of resignation and curiosity was most helpful.

It was reassuring to these victims to see an occasional American negro serving in the crew of a slaver and to know that a few specially favored tribesmen had returned home with vivid stories from across the sea. On the Gambia for example there was Job Ben Solomon who during a brief slavery in Maryland attracted James Oglethorpe's attention by a letter written in Arabic, was bought from his master, carried to England, presented at court, loaded with gifts and sent home as a freeman in 1734 in a Royal African ship with credentials requiring the governor and factors to show him every respect. Thereafter, a celebrity on the river, he spread among his fellow Foulahs and the neighboring Jolofs and Mandingoes his cordial praises of the English nation.[21] And on the Gold Coast there was Amissa to testify to British justice, for he had shipped as a hired sailor on a Liverpool slaver in 1774, had been kidnapped by his employer and sold as a slave in Jamaica, but had been redeemed by the king of Anamaboe and brought home with an award by Lord Mansfield's court in London of L500 damages collected from the slaving captain who had wronged him.[22]

The bursting of the South Sea bubble in 1720 shifted the bulk of the separate trading from London to the rival city of Bristol. But the removal of the duties in 1730 brought the previously unimportant port of Liverpool into the field with such vigor that ere long she had the larger half of all the English slave trade. Her merchants prospered by their necessary parsimony. The wages they paid were the lowest, and the commissions and extra allowances they gave in their early years were nil.[23] By 1753 her ships in the slave traffic numbered eighty-seven, totaling about eight thousand tons burthen and rated to carry some twenty-five thousand slaves. Eight of these vessels were trading on the Gambia, thirty-eight on the Gold and Slave Coasts, five at Benin, three at New Calabar, twelve at Bonny, eleven at Old Calabar, and ten in Angola.[24] For the year 1771 the number of slavers bound from Liverpool was reported at one hundred and seven with a capacity of 29,250 negroes, while fifty-eight went from London rated to carry 8,136, twenty-five from Bristol to carry 8,810, and five from Lancaster with room for 950. Of this total of 195 ships 43 traded in Senegambia, 29 on the Gold Coast, 56 on the Slave Coast, 63 in the bights of Benin and Biafra, and 4 in Angola. In addition there were sixty or seventy slavers from North America and the West Indies, and these were yearly increasing.[25] By 1801 the Liverpool ships had increased to 150, with capacity for 52,557 slaves according to the reduced rating of five slaves to three tons of burthen as required by the parliamentary act of 1788. About half of these traded in the Gulf of Guinea, and half in the ports of Angola.[26] The trade in American vessels, particularly those of New England, was also large. The career of the town of Newport in fact was a small scale replied of Liverpool's. But acceptable statistics of the American ships are lacking.

[Footnote 21: Francis Moore, Travels in Africa, pp. 69, 202-203.]

[Footnote 22: Gomer Williams, History of the Liverpool Privateers, with an Account of the Liverpool Slave Trade (London, 1897), pp. 563, 564.]

[Footnote 23: Ibid., p. 471, quoting A General and Descriptive History of Liverpool (1795).]

[Footnote 24: Ibid., p. 472 and appendix 7.]

[Footnote 25: Edward Long, History of Jamaica (London, 1774), p. 492 note.]

[Footnote 26: Corner Williams, Appendix 13.]

The ship captains in addition to their salaries generally received commissions of "4 in 104," on the gross sales, and also had the privilege of buying, transporting and selling specified numbers of slaves on their private account. When surgeons were carried they also were allowed commissions and privileges at a smaller rate, and "privileges" were often allowed the mates likewise. The captains generally carried more or less definite instructions. Ambrose Lace, for example, master of the Liverpool ship Marquis of Granby bound in 1762 for Old Calabar, was ordered to combine with any other ships on the river to keep down rates, to buy 550 young and healthy slaves and such ivory as his surplus cargo would purchase, and to guard against fire, fever and attack. When laden he was to carry the slaves to agents in the West Indies, and thence bring home according to opportunity sugar, cotton, coffee, pimento, mahogany and rum, and the balance of the slave cargo proceeds in bills of exchange.[27] Simeon Potter, master of a Rhode Island slaver about the same time, was instructed by his owners: "Make yr Cheaf Trade with The Blacks and little or none with the white people if possible to be avoided. Worter yr Rum as much as possible and sell as much by the short mesuer as you can." And again: "Order them in the Bots to worter thear Rum, as the proof will Rise by the Rum Standing in ye Son."[28] As to the care of the slave cargo a Massachusetts captain was instructed in 1785 as follows: "No people require more kind and tender treatment: to exhilarate their spirits than the Africans; and while on the one hand you are attentive to this, remember that on the other hand too much circumspection cannot be observed by yourself and people to prevent their taking advantage of such treatment by insurrection, etc. When you consider that on the health of your slaves almost your whole voyage depends—for all other risques but mortality, seizures and bad debts the underwriters are accountable for—you will therefore particularly attend to smoking your vessel, washing her with vinegar, to the clarifying your water with lime or brimstone, and to cleanliness among your own people as well as among the slaves."[29]

[Footnote 27: Ibid., pp. 486-489.]

[Footnote 28: W.B. Weeden, Economic and Social History of New England (Boston [1890]), II, 465.]

[Footnote 29: G.H. Moore, Notes on the History of Slavery in Massachusetts (New York, 1866), pp. 66, 67, citing J.O. Felt, Annals of Salem, 2d ed., II, 289, 290.]

Ships were frequently delayed for many months on the pestilent coast, for after buying their licenses in one kingdom and finding trade slack there they could ill afford to sail for another on the uncertain chance of a more speedy supply. Sometimes when weary of higgling the market, they tried persuasion by force of arms; but in some instances as at Bonny, in 1757,[30] this resulted in the victory of the natives and the destruction of the ships. In general the captains and their owners appreciated the necessity of patience, expensive and even deadly as that might prove to be.

[Footnote 30: Gomer Williams, pp. 481, 482.]

The chiefs were eager to foster trade and cultivate good will, for it brought them pompous trappings as well as useful goods. "Grandy King George" of Old Calabar, for example, asked of his friend Captain Lace a mirror six feet square, an arm chair "for my salf to sat in," a gold mounted cane, a red and a blue coat with gold lace, a case of razors, pewter plates, brass flagons, knives and forks, bullet and cannon-ball molds, and sailcloth for his canoes, along with many other things for use in trade.[31]

[Footnote 31: Ibid., pp. 545-547.]

The typical New England ship for the slave trade was a sloop, schooner or barkentine of about fifty tons burthen, which when engaged in ordinary freighting would have but a single deck. For a slaving voyage a second flooring was laid some three feet below the regular deck, the space between forming the slave quarters. Such a vessel was handled by a captain, two mates, and from three to six men and boys. It is curious that a vessel of this type, with capacity in the hold for from 100 to 120 hogsheads of rum was reckoned by the Rhode Islanders to be "full bigg for dispatch,"[32] while among the Liverpool slave traders such a ship when offered for sale could not find a purchaser.[33] The reason seems to have been that dry-goods and sundries required much more cargo space for the same value than did rum.

[Footnote 32: Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections, LXIX, 524.]

[Footnote 33: Ibid., 500.]

The English vessels were generally twice as great of burthen and with twice the height in their 'tween decks. But this did not mean that the slaves could stand erect in their quarters except along the center line; for when full cargoes were expected platforms of six or eight feet in width were laid on each side, halving the 'tween deck height and nearly doubling the floor space on which the slaves were to be stowed. Whatever the size of the ship, it loaded slaves if it could get them to the limit of its capacity. Bosnian tersely said, "they lie as close together as it is possible to be crowded."[34] The women's room was divided from the men's by a bulkhead, and in time of need the captain's cabin might be converted into a hospital.

[Footnote 34: Bosnian's Guinea, in Pinkerton's Voyages, XVI, 490.]

While the ship was taking on slaves and African provisions and water the negroes were generally kept in a temporary stockade on deck for the sake of fresh air. But on departure for the "middle passage," as the trip to America was called by reason of its being the second leg of the ship's triangular voyage in the trade, the slaves were kept below at night and in foul weather, and were allowed above only in daylight for food, air and exercise while the crew and some of the slaves cleaned the quarters and swabbed the floors with vinegar as a disinfectant. The negro men were usually kept shackled for the first part of the passage until the chances of mutiny and return to Africa dwindled and the captain's fears gave place to confidence. On various occasions when attacks of privateers were to be repelled weapons were issued and used by the slaves in loyal defense of the vessel.[35] Systematic villainy in the handling of the human cargo was perhaps not so characteristic in this trade as in the transport of poverty-stricken white emigrants. Henry Laurens, after withdrawing from African factorage at Charleston because of the barbarities inflicted by some of the participants in the trade, wrote in 1768: "Yet I never saw an instance of cruelty in ten or twelve years' experience in that branch equal to the cruelty exercised upon those poor Irish.... Self interest prompted the baptized heathen to take some care of their wretched slaves for a market, but no other care was taken of those poor Protestant Christians from Ireland but to deliver as many as possible alive on shoar upon the cheapest terms, no matter how they fared upon the voyage nor in what condition they were landed."[36]

[Footnote 35: E. g., Gomer Williams, pp. 560, 561.]

[Footnote 36: D.D. Wallace, Life of Henry Laurens (New York, 1915), pp. 67, 68. For the tragic sufferings of an English convict shipment in 1768 see Plantation and Frontier, I, 372-373]

William Snelgrave, long a ship captain in the trade, relates that he was accustomed when he had taken slaves on board to acquaint them through his interpreter that they were destined to till the ground in America and not to be eaten; that if any person on board abused them they were to complain to the interpreter and the captain would give them redress, but if they struck one of the crew or made any disturbance they must expect to be severely punished. Snelgrave nevertheless had experience of three mutinies in his career; and Coromantees figured so prominently in these that he never felt secure when men of that stock were in his vessel, for, he said, "I knew many of these Cormantine negroes despised punishment and even death itself." In one case when a Coromantee had brained a sentry he was notified by Snelgrave that he was to die in the sight of his fellows at the end of an hour's time. "He answered, 'He must confess it was a rash action in him to kill him; but he desired me to consider that if I put him to death I should lose all the money I had paid for him.'" When the captain professed himself unmoved by this argument the negro spent his last moments assuring his fellows that his life was safe.[37]

[Footnote 37: Snelgrave, Guinea and the Slave Trade (London, 1734), pp. 162-185. Snelgrave's book also contains vivid accounts of tribal wars, human sacrifices, traders' negotiations and pirate captures on the Grain and Slave Coasts.]

The discomfort in the densely packed quarters of the slave ships may be imagined by any who have sailed on tropic seas. With seasickness added it was wretched; when dysentery prevailed it became frightful; if water or food ran short the suffering was almost or quite beyond endurance; and in epidemics of scurvy, small-pox or ophthalmia the misery reached the limit of human experience. The average voyage however was rapid and smooth by virtue of the steadily blowing trade winds, the food if coarse was generally plenteous and wholesome, and the sanitation fairly adequate. In a word, under stern and often brutal discipline, and with the poorest accommodations, the slaves encountered the then customary dangers and hardships of the sea.[38]

[Footnote 38: Voluminous testimony in regard to conditions on the middle passage was published by Parliament and the Privy Council in 1789-1791. Summaries from it may be found in T.F. Buxton, The African Slave Trade and the Remedy (London, 1840), part I, chap. 2; and in W.O. Blake, History of Slavery and the Slave Trade (Columbus, Ohio, 1859), chaps, 9, 10.]

Among the disastrous voyages an example was that of the Dutch West India Company's ship St. John in 1659. After buying slaves at Bonny in April and May she beat about the coast in search of provisions but found barely enough for daily consumption until at the middle of August on the island of Amebo she was able to buy hogs, beans, cocoanuts and oranges. Meanwhile bad food had brought dysentery, the surgeon, the cooper and a sailor had died, and the slave cargo was daily diminishing. Five weeks of sailing then carried the ship across the Atlantic, where she put into Tobago to refill her leaking water casks. Sailing thence she struck a reef near her destination at Curacao and was abandoned by her officers and crew. Finally a sloop sent by the Curacao governor to remove the surviving slaves was captured by a privateer with them on board. Of the 195 negroes comprising the cargo on June 30, from one to five died nearly every day, and one leaped overboard to his death. At the end of the record on October 29 the slave loss had reached 110, with the mortality rate nearly twice as high among the men as among the women.[39] About the same time, on the other hand, Captain John Newton of Liverpool, who afterwards turned preacher, made a voyage without losing a sailor or a slave.[40] The mortality on the average ship may be roughly conjectured from the available data at eight or ten per cent.

[Footnote 39: E.B. O'Callaghan ed., Voyages of the Slavers St. John and Arms of Amsterdam (Albany, N.Y., 1867), pp. 1-13.]

[Footnote 40: Corner Williams, p. 515.]

Details of characteristic outfit, cargo, and expectations in the New England branch of trade may be had from an estimate made in 1752 for a projected voyage.[41] A sloop of sixty tons, valued at L300 sterling, was to be overhauled and refitted, armed, furnished with handcuffs, medicines and miscellaneous chandlery at a cost of L65, and provisioned for L50 more. Its officers and crew, seven hands all told, were to draw aggregate wages of L10 per month for an estimated period of one year. Laden with eight thousand gallons of rum at 1_s. 8_d_. per gallon and with forty-five barrels, tierces and hogsheads of bread, flour, beef, pork, tar, tobacco, tallow and sugar—all at an estimated cost of L775—it was to sail for the Gold Coast. There, after paying the local charges from the cargo, some 35 slave men were to be bought at 100 gallons per head, 15 women at 85 gallons, and 15 boys and girls at 65 gallons; and the residue of the rum and miscellaneous cargo was expected to bring some seventy ounces of gold in exchange as well as to procure food supplies for the westward voyage. Recrossing the Atlantic, with an estimated death loss of a man, a woman and two children, the surviving slaves were to be sold in Jamaica at about L21, L18, and L14 for the respective classes. Of these proceeds about one-third was to be spent for a cargo of 105 hogsheads of molasses at 8_d_. per gallon, and the rest of the money remitted to London, whither the gold dust was also to be sent. The molasses upon reaching Newport was expected to bring twice as much as it had cost in the tropics. After deducting factor's commissions of from 2-1/2 to 5 per cent. on all sales and purchases, and of "4 in 104" on the slave sales as the captain's allowance, after providing for insurance at four per cent. on ship and cargo for each leg of the voyage, and for leakage of ten per cent. of the rum and five per cent. of the molasses, and after charging off the whole cost of the ship's outfit and one-third of her original value, there remained the sum of L357, 8s. 2d. as the expected profits of the voyage.

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