Chapter 9 Resistance and Rebellion

By Floyd Nelson,2014-05-07 20:52
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Chapter 9 Resistance and Rebellion

    Breaking the Silence Learning about the Transatlantic Slave Trade

6. Resistance, Rebellion and Abolition

African Abolition Struggles and Opposition Movements

    Across the Atlantic World, there were always individuals who, acting either alone or as members of groups, publicly expressed their opposition to the Transatlantic Slave Trade. However, the most intense opposition was by the enslaved Africans themselves and their resistance, together with abolitionists across Europe and the United States, was eventually enough to bring the trade to an end. European opposition to slavery was important, but only within a wider campaign against the trade. Ultimately, the people who did most to fight the trade, and who paid the heaviest price for doing so, were the Africans themselves.

    The Africans caught up in the Transatlantic Slave Trade did not want to be enslaved. They rebelled whenever they could and their resistance showed how individuals and communities completely rejected their enslavement. Resistance took on many forms, from individuals escaping, to armed revolt, depending on a number of different factors. Despite the role played by the African elites in supplying slaves to the European traders, the Transatlantic Slave Trade was imposed upon village communities through violence and terror. An example of this was the many forts - initially set up for European trade and self defence - in a chain along the West African coast. Because of this new and unfamiliar system of oppression, African resistance was different from traditional forms of social protest.

There were four main times when resistance took place:

    ? when slaves were captured and sold

    ? on the way to the coast and in the barracoons

    ? on board the ships during the Middle Passage

    ? on arrival in the Americas or Caribbean

    Sometimes European enslavers provided arms to regional groups (or States) so that they could violently raid neighbouring states and capture slaves for the trade. Many states like this sprang up near the coastal slave forts and also in the interior. The Bambara State of Segu, for example, formed in about 1712, has been described as ‘an enormous machine to produce

    slaves’. Slave raiding and trading were crucial parts of its economy and Europeans provided

    arms for this purpose. Similarly, the ruler of Dahomey (after he had led the capture of Ouidah in 1727) sold large numbers of military captives, who he considered to be his personal property, to the Europeans. But even these military campaigns could not provide enough slaves to satisfy the demand and this forced the king to buy Africans from independent slave raiders and resell them to the Europeans.

    So whether they lived inside or outside these (European sponsored) ‘raiding states’, African populations were exposed to raids from professional warriors. One of the primary roles of these new states that were developed from Senegal to Angola, was to undermine and displace states and leaders that were opposed to the slave trade. However, local communities also learnt how to defend themselves within this new context, and developed an extremely strong culture of resistance to both their European and African captors.

Resistance at the Coast

    At every stage of their enslavement, Africans resisted, including on the coast, and particularly in the forts. Descriptions of these revolts are vivid and show how Africans took


    Breaking the Silence Learning about the Transatlantic Slave Trade

every possible opportunity to free themselves. In 1727, for example, enslaved Africans

    organised a rebellion at the Dutch fort of Christiansborg on the Gold Coast, fighting the

    Dutch soldiers and killing the fort’s governor. Many of the Africans held in the fort managed

    to escape, but others had been injured and so were unable to get away. They were caught

    when the Dutch regained control of the fort and put to death. Their bodies were beheaded and

    thrown into the sea the usual punishment for rebellious slaves in the barracoons. This was

    meant to help prevent suicides as Europeans thought Africans believed that their souls

    returned to the ancestors for rebirth after death. This could not happen if the head was

    separated from the body, and so Europeans beheaded the dead bodies of their African slaves

    as a lesson for surviving slaves. But still suicides amongst Africans were commonplace and

    these too, were acts of resistance by Africans, against their enslavement. Slavers of the Dutch

    West India Company witnessed the following case, in 1767:

    ‘A harsh response followed a sale of Ashanti slaves in Elmina.... Six captives had

    been personal servants of a recently dead director-general of the.... company, and

    they would have been freed if the Asantehene had paid some debts which he owed the

    company. But he did not, and the Dutch decided to sell the men concerned to traders.

    We put their feet in shackles... on the day that they were to be sold; the slave

    dungeons were thoroughly searched for knives and weapons, but apparently not


The result...was that when the company slaves were ordered into yards to hold each other,

    they [the personal slaves]...cut their own throats; one negro even cut the throat of his wife

    and then his own; the yard of the noble company’s chief castle was thus turned into a


The records of the English Royal African Company are also full of stories of protest and

    rebellion. In 1703, for example, Africans overpowered the guards at the Company’s fort at

    Sekondi on the Gold Coast and beheaded its governor. In the same year a European agent

    was captured in Anamabo and forced to buy his life with the money he had brought with him

    to buy slaves. 382 slave-ship revolts have been recorded, two-thirds of which took place at

    the loading port or within a week of setting sail. When such revolts were stopped, they

    usually resulted in the death of many enslaved Africans. It is estimated that an average of 57

    slaves died per incident in 18 revolts on ships in the Senegambia region, compared to 24 per

    incident in 49 revolts elsewhere on the coast.

In 1730, Captain Adrien Vanvoorn - a Dutch slaver and owner of the Phoenix from Nantes in

    France - was moored at the mouth of the River Volta in West Africa, negotiating the

    purchase of slaves from a King in the area. Without warning, a group of Africans appeared

    from nowhere, burnt the ship and killed many members of the crew. Similarly, Captain

    William Potter of the Perfect, a slave ship registered in the English port of Liverpool, had a

    similar experience in 1758 on the River Gambia, when his ship was attacked by local

    Africans, who had witnessed the sale taking place. Potter had almost finished purchasing

    over 300 slaves and was preparing to sail to Charleston, South Carolina. The entire crew was

    killed in the assault. Ten years after this event, the Côte d’or, a 200-ton vessel belonging to

    Rafael Mendez of Bordeaux in France, was attacked by warriors in rafts on the River Bonny.

    Heavily armed with guns and knives, they boarded the ship and freed the enslaved Africans.

    When an English vessel approached, the Africans fled and the crew were able to escape.


    Breaking the Silence Learning about the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Hundreds of similar instances were reported, but some events had a greater impact on the

    trade than others. One well-documented event took place at Calabar in 1767, when seven

    English ships - five from Liverpool, one from Bristol and one from London - were waiting

    for slave cargoes on the Old Calabar River. A group of armed Africans from Old Calabar

    attacked the English, but they were unsuccessful because the King’s soldiers helped the

    English slavers. The leader of the Old Calabar warriors was then beheaded, and the survivors

    were sold into slavery in the West Indies.

Resistance during the Middle Passage

    There are also many detailed descriptions of revolts that took place during the early stages of

    the Middle Passage. In 1776, for example, an English Captain, Peleg Clarke, described how

    slaves aboard his vessel rose up, struggled with the crew, and jumped overboard. Of these

    slaves, 28 men and two women drowned, but six survived and were recaptured. In 1765,

    Captain Hopkins of the Sally arrived on the island of Antigua in the Caribbean and described an insurrection (see glossary) that had taken place on board his vessel four hours after

    leaving Calabar. A number of the captive Africans, who were vomiting from seasickness, had

    been allowed on deck to be tended to by healthy slaves. Somehow these enslaved Africans

    managed to free the entire group, though in the resulting struggle Hopkins forced 80 Africans

    overboard to their deaths.

Whatever the outcomes was, the vast majority of rebellions resulted in bloodshed. If the

    enslaved got the upper hand, even temporarily, most of the crew could expect to be killed and

    if the crew kept control, the death of the rebel leaders was almost inevitable. If the captains

    or the crew were less vigilant or used less force, it often resulted in rebellion.

If they failed to free themselves, enslaved Africans could expect the most gruesome

    punishments at the hands of the Europeans, often meant to serve as an example to others. The

    captain of a Danish vessel, for example, Fredericius Ovartus, after suppressing an African

    uprising on board his ship, removed the limbs of his captives over a period of three days, in

    front of others on board. On the fourth day, their heads were cut off. A French captain who

    had successfully stopped a rebellion on board his ship, hanged the rebel leaders by their feet

    and whipped them to death. A Dutch captain who survived a revolt, hanged an Ashanti rebel

    leader by his arms after cutting off his hands. The leader was left to bleed to death in front of

    the other enslaved Africans.

Appalling violence like this continued on the Atlantic voyage to the New World and

    maximum security was imposed on every part of the journey. Slavers used the ship’s guns,

    and even cannons mounted on deck pointing at the slave holds, to keep order. But even so,

    the records of the Dutch West India Company list 15 major revolts on board ships between

    the years 1751-75, most of them taking place while the ships were still near to the African

    coast. It is thought that at least one insurrection took place every 8-10 journeys for Dutch

    slavers, and one for every 25 voyages for French. In 1770 for example, the Africans on board

    took control of the Dutch slave ship Guinniese Vriendschap, (its Captain was Essjerrie Ettin).

    But soon after, they were overpowered by forces from the Dutch warship Castor. In 1795,

    enslaved Africans seized control of the Neptunius, and tried to return to Africa. An English

    warship had been told of the situation, but because it was not an English ship, opened fire

    and blew the Neptunius and its African captives, out of the water. In 1751, the approximately 260 Africans aboard the Middelburgs Welvaren escaped from the hold and challenged the

    crew. The Captain ordered the cannon on board to be used against them, and 230 Africans


    Breaking the Silence Learning about the Transatlantic Slave Trade

were killed. On another occasion, slaves on board the Vigilantie in 1780 overpowered the

    crew and took control of the ship, forcing the crew to escape in lifeboats. The ship was

    eventually captured by an English warship.

The European slavers only rarely reported accounts of successful African rebellions. One of

    the earliest incidents that took place was in 1532, when a Portuguese vessel, the Misericordia

    (its Captain was Estevão Carreira), was transporting 109 slaves from Saõ Tomé to Elmina.

    Somehow, the Africans freed themselves, killed all the crew except for the navigators, and

    vanished. The navigators later reached Elmina in a lifeboat, but nothing more was ever heard

    of either the Misericordia or of its human cargo. Something similar happened in 1752 on the

    British ship the Marlborough, which was registered in Bristol. The 400 slaves on board, who

    were being transported from Elmina on the Gold Coast and Bonny on the Niger Delta, rose

    up and killed 33 of the 35 crew the two remaining crew were kept alive to navigate. The ship then started its return voyage to Bonny, but there was a violent disagreement about the

    destination of the ship and the result was the death of 98 people. The Gold Coast group

    finally took control of the ship and headed for Elmina with one of the navigators. This group,

    too, vanished from written history.

Resistance on Plantations

    On plantations, Africans also resisted their enslavement in a number of ways. Sometimes

    they deliberately damaged property - including livestock, others ate dirt to make themselves

    ill and unable to work. Women even found ways of killing their unborn children to prevent

    them from being born into slavery.

Sometimes slaves ‘temporarily’ ran away from the plantations as a way of bargaining with

    the plantation owner or his attorney. They would find a sympathetic free person to bargain on

    their behalf for a number of things, for example better treatment, less severe working

    conditions, sometimes for bigger food rations or even for a particularly cruel overseer to be

    dismissed. Sometimes it worked and the enslaved African would return to the plantation, but

    this kind of tactic was risky. It was difficult to find a safe hiding place and the punishment

    for running away could be severe.

An example of this happened on Amity Hall plantation in Vere, Jamaica, where there were

    normally about 300 slaves. In April 1802 Alex Moir, the manager of a neighbouring estate

    who had formerly been an overseer on Amity Hall, wrote a letter to the owner of the

    plantation. He reported that the overseer at Amity Hall was treating the slaves with great

    cruelty and that as a consequence ‘the number of runaways increased to an unexampled

    degree - there being no fewer than from 25 to 30 continually absent.’ He said that several of

    the runaways had ‘come to me with whom they are acquainted...’ A month later Moir wrote

    to her again:

    ‘I here enclose a list of all your Slaves now runaways - many of them I have very lately seen, & they are determined to suffer death rather than return to their duty ... They declare that the

    moment any other person is appointed to the management of it they will return... and when

    they have such a person ... they will behave as well as any Slave in the Island.’

His next letter informed the owner that three of the runaways, ‘worth to you, Madam ?600

    currency [have] perished of hunger in woods’.


    Breaking the Silence Learning about the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Another very important example was the rebellion that took place in Western Jamaica in

    1831-1832, involving about 20,000 slaves. Its inspirer and principal organiser was the slave

    Sam Sharp, a Baptist lay preacher who also had contacts with the so-called ‘Native Baptists’.

    Sharpe led the slaves to strike against any further work unless the plantation owners agreed

    to pay them wages. And if they refused they said they would fight for their freedom.

    This rebellion did go ahead on the night of 27 December, 1831, but was crushed by the

    overwhelming European military forces. By the middle of February 1832 only small parties

    of rebels were still active and by two months later, all resistance had ended. Sharp was

    captured and executed on 23 May 1832. Approximately 750 slaves and 14 free persons were

    convicted, in both the military and slave courts, for participation in the rebellion. Most of

    those placed on trial, were sentenced to death. Other sentences were so severe that only the

    strongest could have survived. The Methodist missionary Henry Bleby, who interviewed

    Sam Sharp while he was in prison at Montego Bay awaiting execution, recorded his famous

    defiant statement: ‘I would rather die upon yonder gallows that live in slavery…’

Runaways and Maroon Wars, 1600-1800

    Many slaves ran away from the plantations with the intention of permanently gaining their

    freedom. They did this either individually or in groups, sometimes in secret or in the course

    of a rebellion. Many slave rebellions were planned and carried out, particularly in the

    colonies where sugar production was the main form of economic activity.

    The Maroons were former slaves (and their descendants) who had escaped from slavery and established their own free settlements. The word maroon comes from the Spanish word

    ‘cimarrón’, meaning wild or untamed. At first it was used to describe Amerindians who the

    Spanish could not control. Settlements of escaped slaves were established in the British

    colonies of Jamaica and Dominica and what were then the Dutch colonies of Suriname and

    Berbice in northern South America.

In the 17th and 18

    th centuries, there were rebellions throughout the Caribbean. They were all suppressed, but the two rebellions in Jamaica in 1760, were powerful enough to threaten the

    colonial establishment.

The First Maroon War started in Jamaica in 1728 and lasted for ten years. It was an attempt

    to disperse the Maroon settlements and re-enslave their occupants. But finally in 1739, the

    British signed peace treaties with the leaders of the undefeated Maroons from the two major

    Maroon settlements. Freedom and land were granted to the inhabitants of these settlements

    and under the terms of one of these treaties, the inhabitants of Accompong still pay no taxes


The rebellion in Berbice in 1763 developed into a War of Liberation. The rebel slave forces

    drove the Dutch northwards down the Berbice River to the coast, and set up rebel

    headquarters at Fort Nassau. From there, the rebel leader Cuffee, wrote to the Dutch

    Governor, claiming the whole colony and signing the letter as ‘Governor of Berbice’. Then

    he suggested a compromise - that the southern half should be free and ruled by the Blacks

    and the northern half by the Whites. But then Dutch reinforcements arrived and there was

    conflict within the rebel leadership. Finally, the Dutch regained control. In 1804 the British

    forces occupied Berbice, and the Dutch colonies of Essequibo and Demerara to the west of it.

    In 1814, the Dutch handed them over to Britain and in 1831 they became known as British

    Guiana. 5

    Breaking the Silence Learning about the Transatlantic Slave Trade

    In the Dutch colony of Suriname, lying to the east of Berbice, escaped slaves were even more successful. There, in the interior, they not only formed several stable Maroon settlements, but they also established them as free self-governing African communities. The Dutch were never able to suppress or conquer these communities, and they still exist today.

    While the British and French fought over the island of Dominica between 1763 and 1783, settlements established by escaped slaves continued to grow. By 1785 there were several Maroon settlements in the mountainous centre of the island. However, military expeditions were sent to disperse them and capture their leaders, which they did successfully by 1786.

    The island of Grenada had also been fought over by the French and British. In 1795 the mulatto plantation owner Julien Fedon, freed his slaves and formed an army together with them, enslaved Africans from other plantations and some French settlers. For a time they controlled most of the island, until finally the British regained their control and re-enslaved the Africans who had been freed.

The Haitian Revolution

    The most decisive of all the slave rebellions in the region happened in the French colony of Saint Domingue. It began in 1791 as an ordinary slave uprising, but over the course of the next few years, it became a struggle not only against the slave owners and slave owning interests, but also a struggle for national liberation from French power. Led by Toussaint L’Ouverture, the enslaved Africans forced the abolition of slavery, expelled the French

    plantation owners, and took all their property. In 1798 the British tried to capture the island but Toussaint forced them to withdraw. In 1804, Napoleon sent his forces to recover the island and restore slavery. But the army of former slaves led by Dessalines Toussaint’s

    successor defeated them, and the independent Republic of Haiti was established. The new

    Haitian Constitution of 1805 declared that any black person who arrived in the country would automatically become a citizen. This effectively abolished slavery and granted nationhood and citizenship on all former slaves. This was revolutionary and as a result, slaves from many societies in the Americas fled to Haiti in search of liberty and citizenship, the country becoming a beacon of black liberation.

European and American Anti-Slavery Movements

    European opposition to the Transatlantic Slave Trade developed slowly, and for a long time it was not effective because of the economic interests involved. There had always been individuals in Europe, and among the European settlers in the Americas, who had voiced their opposition to the trade and to the institution of slavery. But it was not until the late 1700’s that anything resembling a serious political movement against slavery, began in Europe.

    The European abolitionist movement was dominated by members of religious groups, by philosophers and by a small number of radical political leaders. But not many of these people called for outright and immediate abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, including the Roman Catholic Church. Some priests were against the trade, but many Catholics in the Spanish American colonies, were not. In general, those who were concerned about slavery, protested against the enslavement of indigenous populations rather than of Africans. This meant that they mostly lobbied the Vatican and European governments for abolition of the


    Breaking the Silence Learning about the Transatlantic Slave Trade

trade in indigenous slaves and indigenous slavery. Sometimes they were successful, but the

    result was that when conditions were improved for indigenous populations, it was at the

    expense of African slaves.

Early on, there were a few random protests against slavery and the slave trade. Bartholomew

    de Las Casas for example - the leading philosopher-priest of the Catholic movement in

    Spanish America criticised the trade after seeing the mortality, neglect and exploitation of enslaved Africans. Queen Elizabeth I of England was also reasonably sensitive to the social

    destruction caused by kidnapping in Africa, and she urged her subjects to obtain slaves by

    ‘honest’ means. Kidnapping, she said, was a moral offence, but slave trading was not. Other

    European monarchs did not get involved in this debate, although many, like Elizabeth, said

    they were against importing Africans into Europe, but not into their overseas colonies.

So at this time, there was some agitation towards the slave trade, but no one was committed

    enough to fight publicly for its abolition. In the 1600’s for example, the Quakers in the

    English Caribbean colonies called for ‘moderation’ in their use of slaves, which meant

    making provisions to free loyal or responsible slaves. Although the Quakers at this time were

    not opposed to the slave trade, or to slavery in general, the English slave owners saw this as

    an attempt to threaten their property rights, and they persecuted and forced out members of

    the Caribbean Quaker community as a result.

Ironically, European philosophers who wrote about human liberty, social freedom and justice,

    also supported and participated in the slave trade. John Locke, for example, the English

    philosopher, was involved in the slave trade, and so was Thomas Hobbes, also an English

    philosopher. He wrote about Africans as captives of war who had been defeated by a

    dominant state, and so their enslavement was lawful and moral. For both Hobbes and Locke,

    it was better to enslave prisoners of war than to put them to death, as had previously been the

    case. Enslaving them was more enlightened because it also exposed Africans to European


    thSome of the 18 century French Enlightenment philosophers such as Voltaire, Montesquieu, Diderot and Rousseau were generally in favour of the abolition of the slave trade. They wrote

    about the immorality of imposing inequality based on race, and of taking away people’s

    liberty and described the slave trade as ‘corrupting to civilization and degrading to all those

    who engaged in it’. Voltaire in particular, rejected racist ideas and ridiculed the idea that whites should be entitled to enslave blacks and he questioned the whole concept of ‘race’. He

    thought it was a sign of ignorance that people considered skin colour, hair texture or facial

    structure, as important indicators of how civilised someone was, and he criticised the slavers

    for using these arguments to justify their trade. Montesquieu, another French philosopher,

    was also hostile to slavery. He wrote about the brutalising nature of slavery, saying that it

    victimised both slaver and the slave, in a relationship of mutual violence. He believed that

    this was a moral crisis for Europeans and that greed had led to the destruction of indigenous

    Americans and the enslavement of the Africans. He also pointed out the irony that such an

    unsavoury business could lead to the mass consumption of cheap sugar. The writings of these

    philosophers were later valuable weapons in the fight to abolish both slavery and the slave



    Breaking the Silence Learning about the Transatlantic Slave Trade

At the same time, the American War of Independence against Britain was demonstrating that

    slaves were more than keen to fight and die for the promise of liberty and citizenship. Many

    enslaved Africans supported the fight against the British. This helped generate anti-slave

    trade sentiments and meant that some American colonists were happy to fight for the

    abolition of the slave trade.

The Massachusetts Assembly had already debated, but failed to pass, a resolution to abolish

    the slave trade before the War of Independence broke out. This had come about because of

    the fear that importing large numbers of slaves into the Americas would allow rebellious

    Africans to take root in America. But eventually, the fear of insurrection by the 700,000

    black slaves who were now in the mainland colonies, together with the discussions about

    human rights that were fuelling the American revolutionary war, combined to create political

    problems for the emerging nation. The issue of the slave trade and slavery now demanded

    public discussion. In 1780, the State of Pennsylvania banned the trade from 1789, and the

    States of New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island followed. After that, neighbouring

    Canada passed its laws, leaving only the American State of Georgia now openly supporting

    the slave trade.

    In Britain in 1783, the House of Commons debated a bill to abolish the slave trade on moral

    grounds. But the bill was defeated because a majority argued that the slave trade was too

    profitable. Five years later in England, Thomas Clarkson founded the Committee for

    Effecting the Abolition of Slave Trade. This Committee later became the British Anti-Slavery

    Society, who campaigned for a two-phased approach to abolition, first of the slave trade, and

    then of slavery.

The Anti-Slavery Society was supported in Parliament by the evangelical leader, William

    Wilberforce, the Member of Parliament for the town of Hull and by the Prime Minister,

    William Pitt. Clarkson campaigned that the slave trade was unprofitable. He argued that it led

    to many of the English crew losing their lives on the slave ships, and that it damaged both

    African and European colonial societies. Pitt, always thinking about the economic side,

    argued that the evil of the trade should be stopped, provided that English financial interests

    did not suffer. The following year, the British Privy Council in London started an

    investigation into the trade.

Following these developments in England, the Société des Amis des Noirs was founded in

    France also with the aim of abolishing the trade. Although it was led by important people like

    Marie-Jean Condorcet, Antoine Lavoisier, Jacques-Pierre Brissot, Honoré Mirabeau, Etienne

    Clavìere, Louis-Alexandre La Rochefoucauld, and Jerome Petion, the French abolitionist

    movement never gained the same popular support as the British movement.

It was the Americans, after they had achieved their independence from Britain, who took the

    lead in the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Many newly independent American

    states, such as the Carolinas, Maryland and Virginia, outlawed the importation of slaves from

    Africa in the 1780s. In 1778, the trade was described as corrupted by an immoral ‘lust for

    gain,’ and Virginia voted to free all illegally imported Africans.

A bill for the abolition of the slave trade was passed in England in 1807 and implemented in

    1808. The British parliament had now been persuaded that economic benefits of transatlantic


    Breaking the Silence Learning about the Transatlantic Slave Trade

    slaving could no longer be used to justify the trade. In France, the post-revolutionary French National Assembly debated the Transatlantic Slave Trade and slavery in their colonial societies, and in 1793, they condemned both. The French Assembly also followed the decision taken 20 years earlier by the British courts, declaring that any person arriving on French soil, would automatically become free. However, a distinction was still made between trading in slaves and owning them. In France, slavery was abolished in 1794, but the slave trade was still allowed to continue.

    Elsewhere in Europe, the Danish government went the furthest of all European governments at this time. In 1792 they declared that from 1803 onwards, the trade in African slaves would no longer be allowed in its colonies. This gave Danish West Indian settlements 10 years to ‘stock up’ on their slave populations, and more Africans were imported into St. Croix and St. Thomas during this period than in the whole of the last century. For the Danish government, the economic benefits of transatlantic slave trading were now so low, that it was no longer worth fighting the increasing moral and political criticism of the trade. Danish forts on the African coast, for example Christiansborg at Accra, were now no longer profitable, and the Danish, like the English, now preferred to make use of slaves born in their colonies, rather than buy new ones. Plantation owners now also went to some lengths to promote the ‘natural reproduction’ of slaves, because they thought it would make slavery a less controversial issue.

    They thought that if they could reduce slave mortality - especially among infants - and increase birth rates, then there would be enough of a labour force in their colonies, and they would not need to import more Africans.

    Yet, despite these moves towards abolition and the increasing criticism of the slave trade, the most important consideration for European governments, was its profitability. In most colonies, black women were now given cash or material incentives to have children, so that Europeans could ensure a future labour force in their colonies. Abolitionists in England, France, Denmark, Holland and elsewhere in Europe supported this change in policy, believing that it would help to improve the conditions of the slaves. Also, while slave trading was now banned in Northern European colonies, slavers had now found new markets in the older colonial empires of Spain and Portugal, where slave trading had not yet been outlawed. So, following the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the colonies of England, France, Denmark and Holland, Cuba a Spanish colony, and Brazil a Portuguese colony, thbecame the largest 19 century slave markets. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the British

    had pressured Spain, Portugal, France and the Netherlands to abolish the slave trade. But Spain and Portugal were allowed to continue slaving, in order to increase the slave populations in their colonies.

    In 1800, the United States Federal Government voted to make it illegal after 1808 for any American resident or citizen to ship slaves, or invest in any slave trading that supplied slaves to a foreign country. As a result, between 1800 and 1808, large numbers of Africans were imported into the major US slave-owning states, such as South Carolina and Louisiana. In 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte again legalised transatlantic slaving in the French colonies, which was celebrated by the slavers of Nantes and Marseilles. In the period after 1808, Europe traded illegally in slaves, mostly to Cuba and Brazil. Britain and America put political pressure on the Spanish and Portuguese governments to abolish the trade. This finally happened in Portugal in 1815 and in Spain and the Netherlands in 1818. Despite these agreements, still enslaved Africans continued to be imported on a huge scale, into Cuba and


    Breaking the Silence Learning about the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Puerto Rico, in English, French, Dutch, Danish, Portuguese and American ships. English and

    American warships made some attempts to prevent this. In 1818, the French once again

    abolished the slave trade.

The Haitian government also participated in policing the seas to suppress the trade in slaves.

    In 1819, for example, a Haitian naval vessel, the Wilberforce, seized a Spanish slave ship off

    its coasts. The Dos Unidos was laden with slaves headed for Cuba. The Africans were freed and declared citizens of Haiti, despite demands by the Cuban government to Haiti’s President

    Boyer, to return the slaves.

The Spanish and Portuguese governments and colonists declared that they wanted slavery to

    continue because it was a ‘life-line of colonial development’, and they criticised the English for their ‘duplicity and hypocrisy’. They said that England had only decided to enforce anti-

    slave-trade policies because its own colonies were developed and no longer needed African-

    born slaves. And they said that by suppressing the trade, England was attempting to deny the

    Hispanic region of the Caribbean and Latin America the same opportunities for development.

    So in the 1820’s, thousands of slaves continued to be shipped into Brazil every year. Finally,

    the Transatlantic Slave Trade was abolished by Portugal in 1831, but it was not until 1850

    that Brazil actually refused new African slaves.

Slavery also took off in Cuba during this age of abolitionism. By 1830, the island had twice

    as many sugar plantations as it had in 1800, and the slave population was growing rapidly as

    a result of imports from Africa. This was in spite of a Spanish law, which declared that any

    African who could prove that he or she had been illegally imported into a colony would be

    set free. Just like the Portuguese law of 1831, it was not applied.

It was also in Cuban waters that the most famous anti-slavery legal case of the Americas

    began. In 1839, 49 African captives who were on board the slave vessel Amistad (meaning

    friendship’) to Cuba, freed themselves and launched a successful revolt. The Africans on

    board tried to force two Cuban sailors to return the ship to Africa. Instead the ship sailed to

    the United States, where the Africans were taken into custody at Long Island. The Spanish

    government demanded that the Africans were returned to Cuba to stand trial for piracy and

    murder. However, abolitionists in the USA made the case public, and got together a high-

    profile defence team that included John Quincy Adams, former President of the USA. In

    March 1841, the case found its way to the US Supreme Court, where the Court ruled that the

    Africans had been illegally enslaved and that it was their natural right to fight for freedom.

    Ten months later, 35 of the original 49 Africans who had survived the ordeal, were returned

    to their homelands.

Yet, despite this celebrated case, slave owners continued to import Africans to Cuba in their

    thousands. Slavery grew on the island and Cuba became the world’s leading producers of

    cane sugar. Finally the trade was ended in the 1860s.


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