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Are the slavs somehow involved in slavery?

Are the slavs somehow involved in slavery?

Why are the slavs / slavic people called the slavs? It looks like the name suggests that it has to do something with slavery.

It was actually the other way around.

slave (n.)

late 13c., "person who is the chattel or property of another," from Old French esclave (13c.), from Medieval Latin Sclavus "slave" (source also of Italian schiavo, French esclave, Spanish esclavo), originally "Slav" (see Slav); so used in this secondary sense because of the many Slavs sold into slavery by conquering peoples.

This sense development arose in the consequence of the wars waged by Otto the Great and his successors against the Slavs, a great number of whom they took captive and sold into slavery. [Klein]

For more information see here.

European Slaves, The Story of the Men and Women brought to North-Africa

Slavery. Images of Africans chained together and pushed into European vessels come to mind. They are boarding the ships on the west coast of Africa, at the start of a long journey across the Atlantic. Many starve to death, die of disease, or perish due to other reasons. It is a horrific episode in human history. To this day, Europeans and Americans alike bear the guilt of our ancestor’s actions.

Approximately 15 million Africans became slaves due to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Every child learns about this in school, everyone knows about this suffering of the Africans. Yet, today, I’d like to highlight a less known episode of slavery. The slavery of the Europeans in North-Africa.

The Holocaust being of greater horror and death toll than the Armenian genocide, does not mean the Armenian genocide is not worth talking about. Similarly, even though the European slaves amounted to a ‘mere’ one million, it does not mean that therefore it is not worth discussing. Did you know already that there were approximately 1.000.000 European slaves taken to North-Africa?

Slavery in Europe

It is common knowledge that the ancient Romans had slaves. It is known that many Europeans in the middle ages had little personal liberties. Moreover, the English word of ‘Slave’ comes from the name of the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe, as they have a long history of being taken as slaves. The Slavs were taken by the Viking raiders, who would sell them on the slave markets of the Eastern Roman Empire and of the Islamic Caliphate. The Vikings also took Western European captives as slaves, though in relatively small numbers. Furthermore, the Viking raids ended at the start of the 2nd millennium.

The Ottomans would terrorize the Balkans after their capture of Constantinople. Bulgarians, Romanians, Macedonians and so on, all the Christians in the Balkans supplied slaves for the Ottoman Empire. However, this slavery was restricted to the Balkans, and it did not affect the rest of Europe.

The fact that until the 19th century Europeans were being captured and taken as slaves, is hardly known. Any European living on the coast, or daring to board a ship, was under threat of being attacked by the Barbary pirates. It was a slave trade that started around the middle ages, after the Muslims had captured North-Africa.

‘Mare Nostrum’

The Mediterranean Sea, once referred to as ”Our Sea” by the Roman Empire, was now a battlefield. The Christian nations were in a near constant war with the Ottoman Empire and its protectorate occupying the modern-day Algeria and Libya the Barbary States. A fitting etymological coincidence as one might argue they were indeed barbaric.

After the reconquest of Spain was completed in 1492, the Muslims were expelled to Morocco. As the fighting on land had ceased, the fighting on the sea in the form of piracy and coastal raids increased. Although Morocco was not a part of the Ottoman Empire, and had its own sultan, they differed little in their views on slavery.

Before the trans-Atlantic slave trade from Africa to the New World had started, the of European slaves in the Islamic world was already a lucrative business.

Thomas Pellow

One of the most telling accounts of this brutal slavery, comes from an English boy called Thomas Pellow. He preserved his story thanks to his escape after 23 years of slavery. Once he returned to England, he authored a book about the story of his life. At the age of 11, in 1716, he started his career as a sailor. On his maiden voyage he was captured, along with the rest of the crew, by Moroccan pirates.

The pirates transported Thomas and the other European slaves to the slave pens of the Sultan. After arriving to the pens, he found himself in a hopeless position. Guards would force the men to perform hard physical labour. Thomas would, just like the others, work from sunrise to sunset. African guards would beat them relentlessly when they would not work hard enough. Many starved to death due to lack of nutrition and absolute exhaustion. The Sultan would sentence many to death for whatever whimsical reason he would have at that moment.

There was the option of death, escape, or wait for your government to pay the ransom required to set you free. Ransoms generally set on extortionate amounts, amounting to more than a person’s life wages.

The Islamic Trade in European Slaves


There was one other way to get out of performing this arduous labour. You could convert to Islam. Not only did this mean you would certainly go to hell, but it also meant your government would no longer attempt to set you free. The government did not care about those that had turned to Islam, the so-called renegades.

After a long series of torture, Thomas Pellow, on the brink of death, converted to Islam. His life was a bit easier now, as he moved from bricklayer to soldier. The Sultan used the renegades as his private military force that he would use to attack those that rebelled against him. His personal bodyguard consisted of Sub-Saharan Africans fiercely loyal to him. They too were slaves, but as they were indoctrinated by childhood they were proud of their position and did not consider themselves as slaves.

Many Europeans converted and never saw their homelands again, blending into Moroccan society. Despite some slaves being freed, most that did not convert would die in the slave pens.

The Brutality

As Thomas served as a soldier at the court, he witnessed the arrivals of new slaves. He witnessed the punishment slaves endured. He witnessed the cruelty bestowed upon them. Men would be sawed in two, starting between the legs working up to the head. Emissaries from other countries were burned alive. Slaves had their necks broken. Life, in the court of the Moroccan Sultan, had no value whatsoever.

Let us admit that the Europeans suffered in Morocco. They suffered in Algeria. They suffered in Tunisia. And they suffered in Libya. Around one million Europeans ended up as slaves in this region. Some would die within days, others within months, and some would struggle on for decades. It is a gross offence to these lost souls to ignore this part of history.

When did it End?

The end of this slavery did not come out of voluntary compassion towards the slaves, as it had done in Europe and the United States. There were no debates in the Islamic world whether or not this was morally the right way to treat other humans. There had been no enlightenment, no humanism that set life as having intrinsic value.

No, it did not end until the combined powers of the European navy sailed to the coastal cities of North Africa and bombarded them relentlessly.

Napoleon’s defeat created a new opportunity. Europe found itself in a period without war, but with experienced armies. They sent a fleet to the Barbary States and used force to make the local rulers submit to their will. Only the threat of death and complete destruction of their empires convinced the Muslim rulers of North Africa that slavery should be abolished.

Are the slavs somehow involved in slavery? - History

Slavery in America, typically associated with blacks from Africa, was an enterprise that began with the shipping of more than 300,000 white Britons to the colonies. This little known history is fascinatingly recounted in White Cargo (New York University Press, 2007). Drawing on letters, diaries, ship manifests, court documents, and government archives, authors Don Jordan and Michael Walsh detail how thousands of whites endured the hardships of tobacco farming and lived and died in bondage in the New World.

Following the cultivation in 1613 of an acceptable tobacco crop in Virginia, the need for labor accelerated. Slavery was viewed as the cheapest and most expedient way of providing the necessary work force. Due to harsh working conditions, beatings, starvation, and disease, survival rates for slaves rarely exceeded two years. Thus, the high level of demand was sustained by a continuous flow of white slaves from England, Ireland, and Scotland from 1618 to 1775, who were imported to serve America’s colonial masters.


These white slaves in the New World consisted of street children plucked from London’s back alleys, prostitutes, and impoverished migrants searching for a brighter future and willing to sign up for indentured servitude. Convicts were also persuaded to avoid lengthy sentences and executions on their home soil by enslavement in the British colonies. The much maligned Irish, viewed as savages worthy of ethnic cleansing and despised for their rejection of Protestantism, also made up a portion of America’s first slave population, as did Quakers, Cavaliers, Puritans, Jesuits, and others.

Around 1618 at the start of their colonial slave trade, the English began by seizing and shipping to Virginia impoverished children, even toddlers, from London slums. Some impoverished parents sought a better life for their offspring and agreed to send them, but most often, the children were sent despite their own protests and those of their families. At the time, the London authorities represented their actions as an act of charity, a chance for a poor youth to apprentice in America, learn a trade, and avoid starvation at home. Tragically, once these unfortunate youngsters arrived, 50% of them were dead within a year after being sold to farmers to work the fields.


A few months after the first shipment of children, the first African slaves were shipped to Virginia. Interestingly, no American market existed for African slaves until late in the 17th century. Until then, black slave traders typically took their cargo to Bermuda. England’s poor were the colonies’ preferred source of slave labor, even though Europeans were more likely than Africans to die an early death in the fields. Slave owners had a greater interest in keeping African slaves alive because they represented a more significant investment. Black slaves received better treatment than Europeans on plantations, as they were viewed as valuable, lifelong property rather than indentured servants with a specific term of service.


These indentured servants represented the next wave of laborers. They were promised land after a period of servitude, but most worked unpaid for up to 15 years with few ever owning any land. Mortality rates were high. Of the 1,200 who arrived in 1619, more than two thirds perished in the first year from disease, working to death, or Indian raid killings. In Maryland, out of 5,000 indentured servants who entered the colony between 1670 and 1680, 1,250 died in bondage, 1,300 gained their right to freedom, and only 241 ever became landowners.

Early in the 17th century, the headright system, a land allocation program to attract new colonists, began in Jamestown, Virginia as an attempt to solve labor shortages. The program provided acreage to heads of households that funded travel to the colony for destitute individuals to work the land. It led to the sharp growth of indentured servitude and slavery because the more slaves imported by a colonist, the larger the tracts of land received. Promises of prosperity and land were used to lure the poor, who were typically enslaved for three to 15 years. All the while, agents profited handsomely by augmenting their land holdings. Corruption was rampant in the headright system and included double-counting of individual slaves, land allocations for servants who were dead upon arrival, and per head fees given for those kidnapped off English streets.

Purveyors of slaves often worked in teams of spirits, captains, and office-keepers to kidnap people from English ports for sale in the American labor market. Spirits lured or kidnapped potential servants and arranged for their transport with ship captains. Office-keepers maintained a base to run the operation. They would entertain their prey and get them to sign papers until an awaiting ship became available. Spirits and their accomplices were occasionally put on trial, but court records show that they got off easily and that the practice was tolerated because it was so profitable.

The indentured servant system of people who voluntarily mortgaged their freedom evolved into slavery. England essentially dumped its unwanted in the American colonies, where they were treated no better than livestock. Servants were regularly battered, whipped, and humiliated. Disease was rampant, food was in short supply, and working and living conditions were grim. War with local native Indian tribes was common. Severe punishment made escape unrealistic. Initially, running away was considered a capital crime, with clemency granted in exchange for an agreement to increase the period of servitude.

In the 1640s, the transportation of the Irish began. Britain’s goal was to obliterate Ireland’s Catholics to make room for English planters. Catholics who refused to attend a Protestant church could be fined. If they were unable to pay, they could be sold as slaves. Following the end of the English Civil Wars in 1651, English military and political leader Oliver Cromwell focused his attention on Ireland, where the people had allied with the defeated royalists during the conflict. Famine was created by the intentional destruction of food stocks. Those implicated in the rebellion had their land confiscated and were sold into slavery. Anyone refusing to relocate was threatened with death, including children.

Scots were also subjected to transportation to the British colonies for religious differences, as England imposed Anglican disciplines on the Church of Scotland as well. The English army was deployed to break up illegal church assemblies and imprison or deport religious protesters.

Cruelty to servants was rampant. Beatings were common, and the perpetrators, buttressed by juries made up of fellow landowners, were rarely punished for abuse or even murder. In time, efforts were made to improve the lot of servants. Legislation in 1662 provided for a “competent diet, clothing and lodging” and disciplinary measures not to “exceed the bounds of moderation.” Servants were granted the right to complain, but the cruelty continued.

Infanticide by unmarried women was common, as they could be severely punished for “fornication.” The mother faced a whipping, fines, and extra years added to her servitude. Her offspring faced time in bondage as well. If the mother was the victim of a rape by the master, he faced a fine and the loss of a servant but wasn’t subjected to whipping.

Several uprisings in the American colonies awakened slave owners to problems, exposing their vulnerability within the caste-like master-servant social system they had created. In 1676, Nathaniel Bacon, an aristocrat from England who became a Virginia colonist, instigated an insurrection, referred to as Bacon’s Rebellion, that changed the course of white slavery.

Prior to Bacon’s Rebellion, much discontentment existed among servants over seemingly empty promises of land following their periods of indenture. When they were finally freed of their obligations, many found that they couldn’t afford the required land surveying fees and the exorbitant poll taxes.

In 1675, when war broke out with some of the native tribes, Bacon joined the side of the warring settlers and offered freedom to every slave and servant who deserted his master and joined Bacon in battle. Hundreds enthusiastically joined him in the insurgency. When Bacon died suddenly, his supporters fled or surrendered some were recaptured, put in chains, and beaten or hanged. However, because of the revolt, whites gained rights. Whippings were forbidden without a formal judicial order.


By the early 1770s, the convict trade was big business, more profitable than the black slave trade because criminals were cheap. They could be sold for one third the price of indentured servants. England’s jails were being emptied into America on a significant scale. Additionally, merchants who traded in convicts from England and Ireland received a subsidy for every miscreant transported to America. Up to a third of incoming convicts died from dysentery, smallpox, typhoid, and freezing temperatures. Upon arrival, they were advertised for sale, inspected, and taken away in chains by new masters.


Following the Revolutionary War, the British continued to ship convict labor as “indentured servants” to America. During that time, seven ships filled with prisoners made the journey, and two successfully landed. In 1789, convict importation was legally banned across the U.S. America would no longer be the dumping ground for British criminals. It took another 30 years before the indentured servant trade ended completely.

A well written and well researched historical narrative, White Cargo does an excellent job of elucidating a forgotten part of our colonial past by telling the story of thousands of Britons who lived and died in bondage before African slaves were transported to the New World.

Early Demand for Slaves

How could the impoverished, illiterate German settlers own African slaves? Early on, the governor and other functionaries realized that if Le Cote des Allemands were to become the breadbasket of the colony, and save the capital New Orleans from starvation as intended, the young German couples and single men would need more hands to complete the back-breaking labor of clearing the land, tilling the soil and protecting crops from floods, hurricanes, occasional Indian raids, insects and seasonal drought, all this in a hot and humid climate very different from that of their homeland. Many complaints were made to the governor about the “neglect of the German farmers in the assignment of slaves” (Merrill 28), but the urgent message about the need for slave labor to the French king in1724, found in the National Archives in Paris, and much-quoted by historians of Louisiana and of the German Coast, seems to have been the final straw:

“If these families who remain of the great number who have passed here are not helped by Negroes, they will perish bit by bit doing what a man and his wife have to do on a terrain .… There are many worn out of the women who injure themselves … and sometimes they both [man and wife] perish, and such cases are not rare.” It goes on to say, “They would consider themselves very lucky if they were given assistance of one or two Negroes according to the size of their terrains, their strengths, and … their management abilities.” In a final point, the census taker says, ”They would nourish their Negroes very well with the great quantity of vegetables and pumpkins which they harvest in addition to rice and corn,” suggesting, too, that with more work hands available, the Germans could cultivate indigo, process lumber and other merchandise “for exporting to France or for Cap Francois [Haiti].” (source: Robichaux, Merrill, Yoes)

Although the German settlers were described by Gov. Kerlerec as “accustomed in their own country to working to exhaustion and to a hard life “( Merrill 32), they soon had to depend on assistance of other workers. While there was a modest influx of more German and foreign indentured servants to help the original settlers in the 1720s and 1730s, it is fairly clear that economics figured into the equation, because the labor of African slaves — already acclimated to the rigors of agricultural labor in the colonial world — was unpaid, and slaves were captives, unable to leave, no matter how tough the conditions. The first “Negroes” in the late 1720s were listed by the Company of the Indies as piece d’Indie as they were entered in their shipping papers to camouflage their identities as Africans, since technically African slaves were not permitted (Dart 464). It appears that the governor of the colony procured them in New Orleans and assigned them to settlers on the German Coast. Who received slaves, in what order and whether the Germans paid for them is also not known, as no documentation of the value of these slaves, their names, origins, and date of sale has been found. In succeeding decades, however, the German farmers could afford to procure their own slaves.

An example of a master-slave relationship in this early period is Jean Baptiste Honoré Destrehan who arrived from France in Louisiana in 1730, and was soon appointed Treasurer of the colony. In that decade – 1731 to 1738 – he fathered a daughter with his African slave Genoveva [Genevieve] Bienville, Catalina aka Catiche, who became the progenitor of a large Honoré family of color , some of whose descendants still live within miles of the famous Destrehan Plantation in St. Charles Parish. Jean Baptiste went on to marry Catherine de Gauvny and had seven legitimate children with her.

Why Africans Were Involved In The Slave Trade

The fact that Africans enslaved Africans has been explained with reference to the fact that there was no universal African identity at the time of the Slave Trade because African Society was organised along Tribal and Ethnic lines.

In addition, Slavery was not completely foreign to Africa because the insitution already existed prior to the arrival of Europeans.

For instance, Wars between African Kingdoms such as the Asante and Fante produced captives and prisoners of War that were treated as Slaves within African Society.

Africans were also attracted to the consumer goods Europeans would exchange for Slaves, and whilst the Transatlantic Slave tried greatly increased the demand for Slaves, it was not responsible for introducing the concept of Slavery to Africa.

Kingdoms such as the Ashanti and Dahomey Empires waged Wars to capture more Slaves and they grew enormous wealth and power from their involvement in the Slave Trade.

Ultimately, it does not seem possible that the Transatlantic Slave Trade would have existed on such a large scale without the complicity of the powerful African Nations that dominated the African interior and benefitted from the Trade.

As such, in considering the History of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, its also important to acknowledge the role played by Africans in the trade because ascribing the entire Transatlantic Slave Trade to Europeans would amount to a denial not only of African involvement, but it would also suggest that African States were powerless to prevent the Trade in circumstances where the Historical power and development of Pre-Colonial African States at the time of European arrival demonstrates that this simply could not be the case because of the total dominance Africans held over the African interior.

This dominance was not affected by the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and was only swept away with the arrival of Colonialism, another Chapter in the continuing encounters between Africa and Europe.

When the Slave Traders Were African

This August marked 400 years since the first documented enslaved Africans arrived in the U.S. In 1619, a ship reached the Jamestown settlement in the colony of Virginia, carrying “some 20 and odd Negroes” who were kidnapped from their villages in present-day Angola. The anniversary coincides with a controversial debate in the U.S. about whether the country owes reparations to the descendants of slaves as compensation for centuries of injustice and inequality. It is a moment for posing questions of historic guilt and responsibility.

But the American side of the story is not the only one. Africans are now also reckoning with their own complicated legacy in the slave trade, and the infamous “Middle Passage” often looks different from across the Atlantic.

Records from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, directed by historian David Eltis at Emory University, show that the majority of captives brought to the U.S. came from Senegal, Gambia, Congo and eastern Nigeria. Europeans oversaw this brutal traffic in human cargo, but they had many local collaborators. “The organization of the slave trade was structured to have the Europeans stay along the coast lines, relying on African middlemen and merchants to bring the slaves to them,” said Toyin Falola, a Nigerian professor of African studies at the University of Texas at Austin. “The Europeans couldn’t have gone into the interior to get the slaves themselves.”

The anguished debate over slavery in the U.S. is often silent on the role that Africans played. That silence is echoed in many African countries, where there is hardly any national discussion or acknowledgment of the issue. From nursery school through university in Nigeria, I was taught about great African cultures and conquerors of times past but not about African involvement in the slave trade. In an attempt to reclaim some of the dignity that we lost during colonialism, Africans have tended to magnify stories of a glorious past of rich traditions and brave achievement.

But there are other, less discussed chapters of our history. When I was growing up, my father Chukwuma Nwaubani spoke glowingly of my great-grandfather, Nwaubani Ogogo Oriaku, a chief among our Igbo ethnic group who sold slaves in the 19th century. “He was respected by everyone around,” he said. “Even the white people respected him.” From the 16th to the 19th centuries, an estimated 1.4 million Igbo people were transported across the Atlantic as slaves.

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By WNN Editors Team on December 5, 2013 Comments Off on Her ancestors were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history

Democracy Now! – WNN Features

Metal shackles that were used to hold the legs of an enslaved man to the floor of a slave ship. Image: Cambridgeshire.gov.uk

(WNN/DN) New York, UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: As United States citizens accept the pervasive role slavery had on the emerging society inside the the U.S. during the building of the nation, slaves that were bought and sold in the country’s northern region emerge as a surprisingly large part of the slave trade that existed throughout the country from 1760s to the 1820s.

This and other issues are discussed as Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! interviews Katrina Browne, a descendent of the prominent and wealthy northern DeWolf family who owned the largest number of slaves ever recorded in the history of the United States. Their record of slave ownership, known today as human trafficking, runs from the 18th century land owners of Rhode Island to the slave-trading plantations in Cuba.

From the slave-worked plantations of Cuba the DeWolf family influence in the American slave-trade in Rhode Island even infiltrated by association to the mortar-and-brick building efforts for higher education in the United States as Brown University also benefited financially during it’s earliest days through monies received directly by the Rhode Island slave-trade. Today the truth is out that as African slaves were not allowed to attend or even enter universities in the early days, their forced enslavement paid for the existence, building and operation of ivy-league institutions of higher learning like Brown University, as well as others in New England like Harvard and Yale.

“In a little time after, amongst the poor chained men, I found some of my own nation, which in a small degree gave ease to my mind. I inquired of these what was to be done with us they gave me to understand we were to be carried to these white people’s country to work for them,” outlined Nigerian slave Olaudah Equiano in his book “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself. ” that was published in 1789. “I then was a little revived, and thought, if it were no worse than working, my situation was not so desperate but I still feared I should be put to death, the white people looked and acted, as I thought, in so savage a manner for I had never seen among any people such instances of brutal cruelty,” continued Equiano.

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue our conversation on slavery, we’re joined by a woman who uncovered that her ancestors were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. Katrina Browne is with us. She documented her roots in the film “Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North.”

KATRINA BROWNE: One day my grandmother traced back. I was in seminary when I got a booklet in the mail that she wrote for all her grandchildren. She shared our family history—all the happy days. She also explained that the first DeWolf, Mark Anthony, came to Bristol as a sailor in 1744. And then he wrote, “I haven’t stomach enough to describe the ensuing slave trade!”

What hit me hard was the realization that I already knew this—knew, but somehow buried it along the way. What no one in my family realized was that the DeWolfs were with the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. They brought over 10,000 Africans to the Americas in chains. Half a million of their descendants could be alive today.

AMY GOODMAN: A clip from Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, narrated, produced and directed by Katrina Browne. After the film aired on PBS’s POV in 2008, she went on to found the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery to inspire dialogue and active response to this history and its many legacies. Katrina Browne now joins us from Washington, D.C. And still with us, MIT Professor Craig Steven Wilder, author of the new book, Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities.

Katrina, take us from there. You discover, though you say you knew, some kind of primal secret, what your family—how significant the DeWolfs were in slave trading.

KATRINA BROWNE: It’s—in our family case, it’s a bit of a stand-in for the region as a whole, because I heard things as a child, but I didn’t allow them to sink in, because it’s so—it’s basically cognitive dissonance, I would say, for white Northerners to think that we have any relationship to slavery, because we’re so much—I think all of us— raised and educated in our schools to believe the South were the bad guys and the North were the—Northerners were the heroes. So, it was hard to comprehend and shocking to discover as I dug more into it.

And because of this larger untold story of the role of the North, I decided to produce a documentary. And what we did was basically I invited relatives to join me on a journey to retrace the triangle trade of our ancestors. And nine brave cousins came with me, and we went to Rhode Island and then Ghana and Cuba, where the DeWolfs owned plantations, in that pattern that Professor Wilder was talking about of, even after slavery was abolished in the North, even after the slave trade itself was abolished in the North, folks like the DeWolfs continued to be invested in slavery through actual plantations in the Caribbean—in their case, Cuba—as well as through that carrying trade of provisioning the islands and the American South.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to another clip of Traces of the Trade. You and your relatives, as you said, go to Ghana. You’ve just visited the dark, dank rooms where Africans were kept until they were sold and loaded onto ships. This is your relative, Tom DeWolf, describing his reaction.

TOM DEWOLF: The thing that I guess strikes me more than anything right now is that we’ve talked, when we were in Bristol and we were in Providence and were listening to historians and scholars, and we’ve heard people talk about, you know, “You’ve got to place it in the context of the times,” and, “This is the way things were done,” and “This is how, you know, life was.” And I just—I sit in that dungeon, and I say, “[bleep]. It was an evil thing, and they knew it was an evil thing, and they did it anyway.” And I couldn’t have said that before—before tonight.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to another clip from Traces of the Trade, when you and your relatives visit Bristol, Rhode Island, where the DeWolf family lived and operated their slave trade. In this scene, you’re visiting with local historians.

KATRINA BROWNE: The more historians we talk to, the more sobering it got.

KEVIN JORDAN: The slave trade, you’ve got to remember, is not just a few people taking a boat and sending it out. Everyone in town lived off slavery—the boat makers, the ironworkers who made the shackles, the coopers who made the barrels to hold the rum, the distillers who took the molasses and sugar and made it into rum. So, literally the whole town was dependent on the slave trade.

JOANNE POPE MELISH: All of the North was involved. All these cities and towns along the coast—Salem, Boston, Providence, New London, New Haven, New York, and the rural areas around them—either traded slaves or manufactured goods or raised farm products for the slave trade.

A 1799 ledger of Katrina Browne’s ancestor James DeWolf details the sale of 13 slaves in Havana, Cuba. This ledger has been preserved by the Bristol Preservation & Historical Society in Rhode Island. Image: Providenceejournal/Frieda Squires/Bristol Preservation & Historical Society

AMY GOODMAN: That was historian Joanne Pope Melish in a clip from Traces of the Trade. Katrina Browne, some members of your family went on this journey with you. You were also shunned by others. Where has this taken you? I mean, this is not, as you point out, just any family involved with slavery, although that’s unbelievable to say in itself, it’s the—your family is the largest slave-trading family in the United States, and it’s in the North.

KATRINA BROWNE: Yeah, so, you know, it wouldn’t shock you or listeners to hear that there was obviously a great deal of anxiety and discomfort and nervousness about the idea of publicizing our family history. And I think one of the things I’ve come to appreciate is the depth of the emotions that get in the way for white Americans more broadly, not just our family. We’re an extreme case, but I think it’s a—it’s a sort of an example of a larger pattern, which is that defensiveness, fear, guilt, shame, those emotions get in our way both from really confronting the history and coming to appreciate the vast extent of sort of the tentacles of the institution of slavery and how fundamental it was to the birth and success of our nation and to paving the way for the waves of immigrants that came subsequently.

So, you know, discomfort looking at that history, but then also, obviously, discomfort around grappling with the implications for today and really coming to grips with that. And I hear so many black Americans say, you know, “We’re not trying to guilt-trip you. Quit taking it so personally. We just want you white folks to show up for the work, together with us, of repairing those harms that, you know, continue to plague this country.” So, I’ve noticed how I’ve gone from, like, you know, extreme kind of major guilt reaction upon learning this about my family and my region to a more grounded and, I would say, mature and calmer ability to take stock of the inheritance that I think—you know, we’re an extreme case, again, but it provides a view into what I think all white Americans need to look at in terms of those legacies of white privilege and whatnot.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Katrina, what is your family’s, the DeWolf family’s, relation to Brown? Of course, your last name is Browne. But Brown University, of course, they’re based in Rhode Island. I know the DeWolf—one of the DeWolfs wrote the alma mater of Brown.

KATRINA BROWNE: The—so, I’m Browne with an E, so it is a different Brown. But, yeah, James DeWolf, who was one of the more prominent slave traders in the DeWolf family, apprenticed with John Brown, who was a slave trader, and they both ended up in Congress and worked together to help preserve the slave trade, to help protect the Rhode Island slave trade and all kind of—you know, in cahoots even with President Thomas Jefferson around some of that. It’s a longer story. But in any case, the economy of Rhode Island was steeped in the slave trade. It was actually—it usually shocks people to hear that Rhode Island was the leading slave-trading state in the country, you know, not South Carolina or Virginia. So—and that leads to the founding of the university and some of the early funds for Brown University.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting that Ruth Simmons, who was the former president of Brown, great-granddaughter of slaves, first African-American president of any Ivy League university, also—and I want to bring Craig Wilder back into this conversation—commissioned the first Ivy League study of her university—


AMY GOODMAN: —Brown University’s connection to slavery. Professor Wilder?

CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: I think this is actually a critical moment in American history. And throughout the process of sort of talking about the book, one of the things I’ve constantly returned to is her decision in 2003 to commission a study of Brown’s relationship to the slave trade. And this happened for a number of reasons. You know, there was a blow-up at Yale at its 300th anniversary about Yale’s relationship to the slave trade, which became quite controversial. That also helped spark rumors about other institutions. And the public secret of Brown’s relationship became even more pronounced and lively when she became president, when the first non-white president of an Ivy League institution took office. It was tremendous—it took tremendous courage to make that decision. The report in 2006 is an extraordinary example of moral leadership, of how we actually get this conversation happening.

And as Ms. Browne was saying about the documentary, one of the things I think is fascinating about both President Simmons’ decision, the subsequent report and the public reaction to it is that much of the hostility and fear that people had anticipated, the problems that they had anticipated when the report and the commission were first announced, actually didn’t really materialize. And if you look at the recent history of the way in which we have engaged with the question of slavery in America’s past—the Brown report, documentaries like Traces of the Trade, the New York Historical Society’s exhibit on slavery in New York, the anniversary of the end of the slave trade in England—one of the things I found fascinating is that it provides extraordinary evidence that the public is ready for a difficult conversation, that in many ways we tend to underestimate the capacity of people to really deal with, and their desire to deal with, these problems.

When her cousin, I believe it is, in the documentary was saying that—you know, reacting to the slave-trading port and this material culture of the slave trade that’s surrounding him, one of the things I like to remember—remind people is that the things that white Americans find difficult and horrific, that generate feelings of guilt and fear, are also actually troubling and horrific and difficult for black Americans. And in that very fact, there’s the possibility of a real, genuine and useful conversation about slavery and American society. I think we’re moving toward that. We’re moving there slowly, but we are getting there. And I think the public is actually ahead of the rest of us at times. I think the media tends to be more conservative and afraid of these discussions than the public are. And if you look at the tremendous, you know, crowds that showed up for those exhibits, you actually see evidence of that.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Craig Steven Wilder, his new book is Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. He’s a professor of American history at MIT. I also want to thank Katrina Browne, producer and director of the documentary, “Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North.”

Katrina Browne documented her own roots in the film, “Traces of the Trade: A Story From the Deep North” which revealed how her family, based in Rhode Island, was once the largest slave trading family in U.S. history. After the film aired on PBS in 2008, Browne went on to found the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery. We speak to Browne and Craig Steven Wilder, author of the new book, “Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America’s Universities.”

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Ancient era Edit

Slavery was a major economic and social institution in Europe during the classical era and a great deal is known about the ancient Greeks and Romans in relation to the topic. Rome added Portugal to its empire (2nd century BC), the latter a province of Lusitania at the time, and the name of the future kingdom was derived from "Portucale", a Roman and post-Roman settlement situated at the mouth of the Douro River. The details of slavery in Roman Portugal are not well-known however, there were several forms of slavery, including enslaved miners and domestic servants.

Visigothic and Suebi kingdoms Edit

The Visigoths and the Suebi (Germanic tribes), of the 5th century AD, seized control of the Iberian peninsula as the Roman Empire fell. At the time, Portugal did not exist as a separate kingdom, but was primarily a part of the Visigothic Iberian kingdom (the Visigothic ruling class lived apart and heavily taxed the native population). However, during this period, a gradual transition to feudalism and serfdom was occurring throughout Europe.

Islamic Iberia Edit

After the Umayyad conquest of Hispania in the 8th century, in which Moors from North Africa crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and defeated the Visigothic rulers of Iberia, the territory of both modern-day Portugal and Spain fell under Islamic control. The pattern of slavery and serfdom in the Iberian Peninsula differs from the rest of Western Europe due to the Islamic conquest. They established Moorish kingdoms in Iberia, including the area that is occupied by modern Portugal. In comparison to the north, classical-style slavery continued for a longer period of time in southern Europe and trade between Christian Europe, across the Mediterranean, with Islamic North Africa meant that Slavic and Christian Iberian slaves appeared in Italy, Spain, Southern France and Portugal in the 8th century, the Islamic conquest in Portugal and Spain changed this pattern. [ citation needed ]

Trade ties between the Moorish kingdoms and the North African Moorish state led to a greater flow of trade within those geographical areas. In addition, the Moors engaged sections of Spaniards and Portuguese Christians in slave labor. There was not a “racial” component to slavery in Iberia. The Moors used ethnic European slaves: 1/12 of Iberian population were slave Europeans, less than 1% of Iberia were Moors and more than 99% were native Iberians. Periodic Arab and Moorish raiding expeditions were sent from Islamic Iberia to ravage the remaining Christian Iberian kingdoms, bringing back stolen goods and slaves. In a raid against Lisbon in 1189, for example, the Almohad caliph Yaqub al-Mansur held 3,000 women and children as captives, while his governor of Córdoba, in a subsequent attack upon Silves, held 3,000 Christian slaves in 1191. In addition, the Christian Iberians who lived within Arab and Moorish-ruled territories were subject to specific laws and taxes for state protection.

Reconquista Edit

Muslim Moors who converted to Christianity, known as Moriscos, were enslaved by the Portuguese during the Reconquista 9.3 per cent of slaves in southern Portugal were Moors [3] and many Moors were enslaved in 16th-century Portugal. [4] It has been documented that other slaves were treated better than Moriscos, the slaves were less than 1% of population. [5]

After the Reconquista period, Moorish slaves began to outnumber Slavic slaves in both importance and numbers in Portugal. [6]

Age of Discovery Edit

Black slaves Edit

African slaves prior to 1441 were predominately Berbers and Arabs from the North African Barbary coast, known as ‘Moors” to the Iberian. They were typically enslaved during wars and conquests between Christian and Islamic kingdoms. [7] The first expeditions of Sub-Saharan Africa were sent out by Prince Infante D. Henrique, known commonly today as Henry the Navigator, with the intent to probe how far the kingdoms of the Moors and their power reached. [8] The expeditions sent by Henry came back with African slaves as a way to compensate for the expenses of their voyages. The enslavement of Africans was seen as a military campaign because the people that the Portuguese encountered were identified as Moorish and thus associated with Islam. [9] The royal chronicler Gomes Eanes de Zurara was never decided on the “Moorishness” of the slaves brought back from Africa, due to a seeming lack of contact with Islam. Slavery in Portugal and the number of slaves expanded after the Portuguese began exploration of Sub-Saharan Africa. [10]

Slave raids in Sub-Saharan Africa began in the 1430s and 1440s as war campaigns, but this period was short-lived. The Portuguese quickly transitioned into a trade network with African nobility and slavers. Prince Infante D. Henrique began selling African slaves in Lagos in 1444. In 1455, Pope Nicholas V gave Portugal the rights to continue the slave trade in West Africa, under the provision that they convert all people who are enslaved. The Portuguese soon expanded their trade along the whole west coast of Africa. Infante D Henrique held the monopoly on all expeditions to Africa granted by the crown until his death in 1460. Afterward, any ship sailing for Africa required authorization from the crown. All slaves and goods brought back to Portugal were subject to duties and tariffs. [11] Slaves were baptized before shipment. Their process of enslavement, which was viewed by critics as cruel, was justified by the conversion of the enslaved to Christianity. [12]

The high demand for slaves was due to a shortage of laborers in Portugal. Black slaves were in higher demand than Moorish slaves because they were much easier to convert to Christianity and less likely to escape [ citation needed ] . Although it was more expensive to purchase a slave than it was to employ a freeman, the sparse population and the lack of free labor made the purchase of a slave a necessary investment. The number of black slaves in Portugal given by contemporary accounts argue that Lisbon and the colonies of Portugal averaged a maximum of 10% of the population between the 16th and 18th centuries, but these numbers are impossible to verify. Most slaves in Portugal were concentrated in Lisbon and to the south in the Algarve. [12] The number of black slaves brought to Lisbon and sold cannot be known. This is because the records of both royal institutions responsible for the sale of black slaves, the Casa de Guiné and the Casa dos Escravos were damaged during the earthquake of 1755 in Lisbon, and the fiscal records containing the numbers and sales of these companies were destroyed. The records of the royal chronicler Zurara claim that 927 African slaves were brought to Portugal between 1441 and 1448, and an estimated 1000 black slaves arrived in Portugal each year afterward. A common estimate is that around 2000 black slaves arrive in Lisbon annually after 1490. [13]

During the 15th century, there were thousands of Africans in Portugal but were rare in Europe. The majority of Africans were servants but some were considered as trustworthy and responsible slaves. [14] Because of Portugal’s small population, Portuguese colonization was only possible with the large number of slaves they had acquired. In the late 15th and into the 16th centuries, the Portuguese economic reliance on slaves was less in question than the sheer number of slaves found in Portugal. [10] People wishing to purchase slaves in Portugal had two sources, the royal slaving company, the Casa da Guiné, or from slave merchants who had purchased their slaves through the Casa de Guiné to sell as retail. There were up to 70 slave merchants in Lisbon in the 1550s. Slave auctions occurred in the town or market square, or in the streets of central Lisbon. The sale of slaves was compared by observers as similar to the sale of horses or livestock. The laws of commerce regarding slavery addresses them as merchandise or objects. There was a period of time set upon purchase for the buyer to decide if he is happy with the slave he had purchased. [15]

The occupations of slaves varied widely. Some slaves in Lisbon could find themselves working in domestic settings, but most worked hard labor in the mines and metal forges, while others worked at the docks loading and maintaining ships. Some slaves worked peddling cheap goods at the markets and returning the profits to their masters. Opportunities for slaves to become free were scarce, however there were many instances in which slaves had either elevated their status or obtained their freedom. Slaves were able to buy their freedom by saving any earnings, so long as their masters allow them to keep their earnings, or purchase a slave to replace them. Women slaves could be freed if their masters chose to marry them, but this was more common among the colonies. When Lisbon was on the verge of being invaded in 1580, slaves were promised their freedom in exchange for their military service. 440 slaves took the offer and most, after being freed, left Portugal. Black female slaves were desired for sexual purposes, resulting in many mixed-race offspring. This prompted the Council of Trent in 1563 to denounce the widespread immorality. Mulattoes had the ability to integrate into society, some would even command whole fleets of ships. Slavery did little to alter society in Portugal, due to the slight ease of enslaved people’s integration, those who did not assimilate were treated similar to the poor. [16] Nevertheless, very few slaves survived in Western Europe towards the end of the sixteenth century.

Asians Edit

After the Portuguese first made contact with Japan in 1543, a large-scale slave trade developed in the Nanban trade, one of the Portuguese trade includes the Portuguese purchase of Japanese that sold them to various locations overseas, including Portugal itself, the Nanban trade existed from 1543 to 1614s. [17] [18] [19] [20] Many documents mention the large slave trade along with protests against the enslavement of Japanese. Japanese slaves are believed to be the first of their nation to end up in Europe, and the Portuguese purchased large numbers of Japanese slave girls to bring to Portugal for sexual purposes, as noted by the Church in 1555. King Sebastian feared that it was having a negative effect on Catholic proselytization since the slave trade in Japanese was growing to large proportions, so he commanded that it be banned in 1571. [21] [22] Records of three Japanese slaves dating from the 16th century, named Gaspar Fernandes, Miguel and Ventura who ended up in Mexico showed that they were purchased by Portuguese slave traders in Japan, brought to Manila from where they were shipped to Mexico by their owner Perez. [23]

More than several hundred Japanese, especially women, were sold as slaves. [24] Portuguese visitors so often engaged in slavery in Japan and occasionally South Asian and African crew members were taken to Macau and other Portuguese colonies in Southeast Asia, the Americas, [25] and India, where there was a community of Japanese slaves and traders in Goa by the early 17th century. [26] Later European East India Companies, including those of the Dutch and British, were involved in prostitution while visiting or staying in Japan. [27] Japanese slave women were even occasionally sold as concubines to South Asian and black African crew members, along with their European counterparts serving on Portuguese ships trading in Japan, mentioned by Luis Cerqueira, a Portuguese Jesuit, in a 1598 document. [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] Hideyoshi blamed the Portuguese and Jesuits for this slave trade and banned Christian proselytizing as a result. [33] [34]

Some Korean slaves were bought by the Portuguese and brought to Portugal from Japan, where they had been among the tens of thousands of Korean prisoners of war transported to Japan during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–98). [35] [36] Historians pointed out that at the same time Hideyoshi expressed his indignation and outrage at the Portuguese trade in Japanese slaves, he himself was engaging in a mass slave trade of Korean prisoners of war in Japan. [37] [38] Chinese were bought in large numbers as slaves by the Portuguese in the 1520s. [39] Japanese Christian Daimyos mainly responsible for selling to the Portuguese their fellow Japanese. Japanese women and Japanese men, Javanese, Chinese, and Indians were all sold as slaves in Portugal. [40]

Some Chinese slaves in Spain ended up there after being brought to Lisbon, Portugal, and sold when they were boys. Tristán de la China was a Chinese who was taken as a slave by the Portuguese, [41] while he was still a boy and in the 1520s was obtained by Cristobál de Haro in Lisbon, and taken to live in Seville and Valladolid. [42] He was paid for his service as a translator on the 1525 Loaísa expedition, [43] during which he was still an adolescent. [44] The survivors, including Tristan, were shipwrecked for a decade until 1537 when they were brought back by a Portuguese ship to Lisbon. [45]

There are records of Chinese slaves in Lisbon as early as 1540. [46] According to modern historians, the first known visit of a Chinese person to Europe dates to 1540 (or soon after), when a Chinese scholar, apparently enslaved by Portuguese raiders somewhere on the southern China coast, was brought to Portugal. Purchased by João de Barros, he worked with the Portuguese historian on translating Chinese texts into Portuguese. [47]

In sixteenth century southern Portugal there were Chinese slaves but the number of them was described as "negligible", being outnumbered by East Indian, Mourisco, and African slaves. [48] Amerindians, Chinese, Malays, and Indians were slaves in Portugal but in far fewer number than Turks, Berbers, and Arabs. [49] China and Malacca were origins of slaves delivered to Portugal by Portuguese viceroys. [50] A testament from 23 October 1562 recorded a Chinese man named António who was enslaved and owned by a Portuguese woman, Dona Maria de Vilhena, a wealthy noblewoman in Évora. [51] [52] [53] [54] [55] [56] [57] [58] [59] [60] [61] [62] [63] [64] António was among the three most common male names given to male slaves in Évora. [65] D. Maria owned one of the only two Chinese slaves in Évora and she specifically selected and used him from among the slaves she owned to drive her mules for her because he was Chinese since rigorous and demanding tasks were assigned to Mourisco, Chinese, and Indian slaves. [66] D. Maria's owning a Chinese, 3 Indians, and 3 Mouriscos among her fifteen slaves reflected on her high social status, since Chinese, Mouriscos, and Indians were among the ethnicities of prized slaves and were very expensive compared to blacks, so high class individuals owned these ethnicities and it was because her former husband Simão was involved in the slave trade in the east that she owned slaves of many different ethnicities. [67] When she died, D. Maria freed twelve of her slaves including this Chinese man in her testament, leaving them with sums from 20,000 to 10,000 réis in money. [68] [69] D. Maria de Vilhena was the daughter of the nobleman and explorer Sancho de Tovar, the capitão of Sofala (List of colonial governors of Mozambique), and she was married twice, the first marriage to the explorer Cristóvão de Mendonça, and her second marriage was to Simão da Silveira, capitão of Diu (Lista de governadores, capitães e castelões de Diu). [70] [71] [72] D. Maria was left a widow by Simão, [73] and she was a major slave owner, possessing the most slaves in Évora, with her testament recording fifteen slaves. [74]

A legal case was brought before the Spanish Council of the Indies in the 1570s, involving two Chinese men in Seville, one of them a freeman, Esteban Cabrera, and the other a slave, Diego Indio, against Juan de Morales, Diego's owner. Diego called on Esteban to give evidence as a witness on his behalf. [75] [41] Diego recalled that he was taken as a slave by Francisco de Casteñeda from Mexico, to Nicaragua, then to Lima in Peru, then to Panama, and eventually to Spain via Lisbon, while he was still a boy. [76] [77] [78] [79]

Chinese boys were kidnapped from Macau and sold as slaves in Lisbon while they were still children. [80] Brazil imported some of Lisbon's Chinese slaves. [81] Fillippo Sassetti saw some Chinese and Japanese slaves in Lisbon among the large slave community in 1578, although most of the slaves were blacks. [82] Brazil and Portugal were both recipients of Chinese slaves bought by Portuguese. [83] Portugal exported to Brazil some Chinese slaves. Military, religious, and civil service secretarial work and other lenient and light jobs were given to Chinese slaves while hard labor was given to Africans. Only African slaves in 1578 Lisbon outnumbered the large numbers of Japanese and Chinese slaves in the same city. [84] Some of the Chinese slaves were sold in Brazil, a Portuguese colony. [85] [86] Cooking was the main profession of Chinese slaves around 1580 in Lisbon, according to Fillippo Sassetti from Florence and the Portuguese viewed them as diligent, smart, and "loyal". [87] [88] [89]

The Portuguese "highly regarded" Asian slaves like Chinese and Japanese, much more "than slaves from sub-Saharan Africa" and Moorish Muslims. [90] [91] The Portuguese attributed qualities like intelligence and industriousness to Chinese and Japanese slaves which is why they favored them more. [92] Traits such as high intelligence were ascribed to Chinese, Indian and Japanese slaves. [93] [94] [95]

In 1595, a law was passed by Portugal banning the selling and buying of Chinese and Japanese slaves [96] due to hostility from the Chinese and Japanese regarding the trafficking in Japanese and Chinese slaves [97] On 19 February 1624, the King of Portugal forbade the enslavement of Chinese people of either sex. [98] [99]

A Portuguese woman, Dona Ana de Ataíde owned an Indian man named António as a slave in Évora. [100] He served as a cook for her. [101] Ana de Ataíde's Indian slave escaped from her in 1587. [102] A large number of slaves were forcibly brought there since the commercial, artisanal, and service sectors all flourished in a regional capital like Évora. [102]

A fugitive Indian slave from Evora named António went to Badajoz after leaving his master in 1545. [103]

Portuguese domination was accepted by the "docile" Jau slaves. In Évora, Brites Figueira owned a Javanese (Jau) slave named Maria Jau. Antão Azedo took an Indian slave named Heitor to Evora, who along with another slave was from Bengal were among the 34 Indian slaves in total who were owned by Tristão Homem, a nobleman in 1544 in Évora. Manuel Gomes previously owned a slave who escaped in 1558 at age 18 and he was said to be from the "land of Prester John of the Indias" named Diogo. [104]

In Évora, men were owned and used as slaves by female establishments like convents for nuns. Three male slaves and three female slaves were given to the nuns of Montemor by the alcaide-mor's widow. In order to "serve those who serve God" and being told to obey orders "in all things that they ordered them", a boy named Manual along with his slave mother were given to the Nuns of Montemor by father Jorge Fernandes in 1544. [105] A capelão do rei, father João Pinto left an Indian man in Porto, where he was picked up in 1546 by the Évora-based Santa Marta convent's nuns to serve as their slave. However, female slaves did not serve in male establishments, unlike vice versa. [106]

Slavery in Macau and the coast of China Edit

Beginning in the 16th century, the Portuguese tried to establish trading ports and settlements along the coast of China. Early attempts at establishing such bases, such as those in Ningbo and Quanzhou, were however destroyed by the Chinese, following violent raids by the settlers to neighboring ports, which included pillaging and plunder and sometimes enslavement. [107] [108] [109] [110] [111] The resulting complaints made it to the province's governor who commanded the settlement destroyed and the inhabitants wiped out. In 1545, a force of 60,000 Chinese troops descended on the community, and 800 of the 1,200 Portuguese residents were massacred, with 25 vessels and 42 junks destroyed. [112] [113] [114] [115]

Until the mid-17th century, during the early Portuguese mandate of Macau, some 5,000 slaves lived in the territory, in addition to 2,000 Portuguese and an ever-growing number of Chinese, which in 1664 reached 20,000. [116] [117] This number decreased in the following decades to between 1000 and 2000. [118] Most of the slaves were of African origin. [116] [119] Rarely did Chinese women marry Portuguese, initially, mostly Goans, Ceylonese/Sinhalese (from today's Sri Lanka), Indochinese, Malay (from Malacca), and Japanese women were the wives of the Portuguese men in Macau. [120] [121] [122] [123] Slave women of Indian, Indonesian, Malay, and Japanese origin were used as partners by Portuguese men. [124] Japanese girls would be purchased in Japan by Portuguese men. [125] From 1555 onwards Macau received slave women of Timorese origin as well as women of African origin, and from Malacca and India. [126] [127] Macau was permitted by Pombal to receive an influx of Timorese women. [128] Macau received an influx of African slaves, Japanese slaves as well as Christian Korean slaves who were bought by the Portuguese from the Japanese after they were taken prisoner during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–98) in the era of Hideyoshi. [129]

On June 24, 1622, the Dutch attacked Macau in the Battle of Macau, expecting to turn the area into a Dutch possession, with an 800-strong invasion force led by under Captain Kornelis Reyerszoon. The relatively small number of defenders repulsed the Dutch attack, which was not repeated. The majority of the defenders were Africans slaves, with only a few dozen Portuguese soldiers and priests in support, and they accounted for most of the victims in the battle. [130] [131] [132] [133] Following the defeat, the Dutch Governor Jan Coen said of the Macao slaves, that "it was they who defeated and drove away our people there". [134] [135] [136] [137] In the 1800s, during the Qing dynasty, the British consul noted that some Portuguese were still buying children between five and eight years of age. [138] [139] [140]

In 1814, the Jiaqing Emperor added a clause to the section of the fundamental laws of China titled "Wizards, Witches, and all Superstitions, prohibited", later modified in 1821 and published in 1826 by the Daoguang Emperor, which sentenced Europeans, namely Portuguese Christians who would not repent their conversion, to be sent to Muslim cities in Xinjiang as slaves to Muslim leaders. [141]

Treatment Edit

During transport to Portugal, slaves were fastened and chained with manacles, padlocks, and rings around their necks. [142] Portuguese owners could whip, chain, and pour burning hot wax and fat onto the skin of their slaves, and punish their slaves in any way that they wished, as long as the slaves remained alive. [143] The Portuguese also used branding irons to brand their slaves as property. [144]

Banning Edit

Voices condemning the slave trade were raised quite early on during the Atlantic Slave Trade period. Among them was Gaspar da Cruz, a Dominican friar who dismissed any arguments by the slave traffickers that they had "legally" purchased already-enslaved children, among the earliest condemnations of slavery in Europe during this period. [145]

From an early age during the Atlantic Slave Trade period, the crown attempted to stop the trading of non-African slaves. The enslavement and overseas trading of Chinese slaves, who were prized by the Portuguese, [91] was specifically addressed in response to Chinese authorities' requests, who, although not against the enslavement of people in Macau and Chinese territories, which was common practice, [146] at different times attempted to stop the transport of slaves to outside the territory. [147] In 1595, a Portuguese royal decree banned the selling and buying of ethnically Chinese slaves it was reiterated by the Portuguese King on February 19, 1624, [81] [146] [148] and, in 1744, by the Qianlong Emperor, who forbade the practice to Chinese subjects, reiterating his order in 1750. [149] [150] However, these laws were not able to stop the trade completely, a practice which lasted until the 1700s. [81] In the American colonies, Portugal halted the use of Chinese, Japanese, Europeans, and Indians to work as slaves for sugar plantations, [ when? ] which was reserved exclusively for African slaves. [ citation needed ]

The abolition of all forms of slavery occurred in 1761 on mainland Portugal and Portuguese India through a decree by the Marquis of Pombal, followed, in 1777, by Madeira. The transatlantic slave trade was definitively outlawed altogether by Portugal in 1836, at the same time as other European powers, as a result of British pressure. Slavery within the African Portuguese colonies, however, would only be definitively abolished in 1869, following a treaty between United States and Britain for the suppression of the slave trade. In Brazil, which had become independent from Portugal in 1822, slavery was finally abolished in 1888. [1] However, Portuguese involvement in slavery in its colonies continued into the 20th century. So-called contract labourers were effectively slaves as, although they signed a piece of paper, they had no idea what they were signing. In most cases they were not paid and few were returned to their homes when the duration of the contract was over. The use of such slavery in São Tomé led in 1909 to the three leading British chocolate makers, Cadbury's, Fry's and Rowntree's, ceasing to buy cocoa beans from that colony. [151]

The Slave Trade: From Europe to the Americas

Slavery was common in the ancient world, as depicted in this Roman-era marble depiction of two chained slaves. (Image: Ashmolean Museum/CC BY-SA 2.0/Public domain)

Historical Slavery

Most premodern societies had some form of slavery or forced labor. Even the Greeks and Romans divided humanity into two categories: slave and free. The slave trade in these times consisted mainly of prisoners of war.

In medieval Europe, slavery was common in towns. Often these were people from Eastern Europe. Indeed, the word ‘slave’ in English originally comes from the word ‘Slav’, the major family of peoples in Eastern Europe. From 1200 to 1500, the trading empires Venice and Genoa did a brisk trade in slaves from the Caucasus mountain region who were sold in the slave markets of Cairo in Egypt.

Later, in the Middle Ages, slavery mostly disappeared in northwestern Europe, but serfs and peasants were subject to conditions of harsh servitude. In Eastern Europe, serfs were bought and sold for a long time in fact, serfdom was only abolished in Russia in 1861.

The Colonial Slave Trade

Slavery became common again after the European encounter with the American continents after 1492. Columbus seized Native Americans to bring them back to Spain to show off to his royal patrons. Then, when Native Americans were decimated by European diseases, the Spanish began to bring slaves from Africa to Hispaniola around 1500.

This established a new pattern of slavery: slaves from Africa were forcibly taken to the plantations of the Americas. This pattern endured for 350 years: on the vast plantations in the New World, sugar, tobacco, cotton, and coffee were grown, as global commodities, by slaves.

Slaves were brought to work on plantations, such as this one in the British West Indies. (Image: British Library/CC0 1.0/Public domain)

The Numbers of Slaves

The numbers involved in the slave trade are vast. From 1500 to 1820, it is estimated that between 12 and 15 million Africans were torn from their homes and shipped across the Atlantic. Moreover, it is estimated that two to six million slaves did not survive the crossing itself.

In the early 1600s, the Portuguese dominated this trade, but then other competitors such as the Dutch and the British took over. These were big ventures with multiple investors. In the British case, it was the Royal African Company which had received a royal charter for this trade, and the slaves they transported were branded with the letters ‘R.A.C.’.

From 1640 onward, the British carried some 40 percent of the total slaves. The French were next, with some 20 percent. At the peak, British ships were carrying 40,000 slaves every year.

The Slave Trade and Business

European ports grew rich on slavery. A vast economy was built up around the slave trade, including those who made the goods which were traded for human beings, those who built and outfitted the slave ships, and those who resold the colonial commodities that came back from the Americas.

This vast pattern of shipping came to be called the triangle, or triangular trade. Slave ships carried goods from England and Europe to West Africa, loaded up with human cargo there, and then moved across the Atlantic to America. Disgorging those who survived, the ships then loaded up with sugar, tobacco, and coffee, and sailed back to northwestern Europe.

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The Triangular Trade

The slave ships headed to the coasts of West Africa. Slaves were usually brought to the coast by African middlemen. Such prisoners were usually captives of wars or had been reduced to slavery because they were unable to pay their debts.

European traders mostly paid for slaves with items such as cloth, bars of iron, glass beads, manufactured goods like pots and pans, alcohol, and guns and gunpowder.

Slave traders would pay for slaves in guns, rum, and other commodities. (Image: Brantz Mayer/Public Domain)

For weeks, the ships waited at the coast, until, as the terrible expression went, “fully slaved”. Then began the horrors of the Atlantic crossing what was called the Middle Passage. Aboard crowded ships, slaves had only about four square feet of space. Chained together so that it was harder for them to revolt, it was difficult for the Africans to move about. Yet, desperate slaves tried to resist: Over 300 mutinies took place on the slave ships.

The trip typically took about a month from Africa to Brazil, or two months from Africa to the Caribbean or North America. It’s estimated that an average of 15 percent of the slaves died en route. Slave ship crews also experienced very high mortality rates, due to yellow fever and malaria.

The Sugar Industry

Those who survived were put to work in the plantations of the colonies, especially the sugar plantations in the Caribbean Islands. Almost half of all Africans shipped across the Atlantic were sent to the Caribbean to Barbados, Jamaica, or Saint-Domingue, now known as Haiti.

Sugar proved to be a deadly industry. Work conditions were backbreaking and dangerous: the cutting of the cane, the fast turnaround time needed to process the cut cane into sugar, the furious heat of the boiling houses where the sugar was processed. Most slaves were simply worked to death, often in about 10 years, and then replaced.

About 40 percent of the slaves were shipped to Brazil. North America received only some five percent of the total traffic, and actually saw a natural increase in the African population, which was unusual.

All of this reached its peak in the 1790s. Up to this point, there had been isolated criticisms of slavery, but a general condemnation of slavery was only just gathering steam.

Common Questions about the Origins of the Slave Trade

When Native Americans were decimated by European diseases, the Spanish began to bring slaves from Africa to Hispaniola around 1500. From this point, it became common practice to bring Africans as slaves to the Americas.

Initially, the Portuguese dominated this trade, but soon others such as the Dutch and the British took over. These were big ventures with multiple investors. From 1640 onward, British slave ships carried 40 percent of the total slaves. At the peak, British ships were carrying 40,000 slaves every year.

The Triangular Trade was the name given to the sailing pattern of many slave ships. They carried goods from Europe to West Africa, loaded up with human cargo there, and then delivered them across the Atlantic to America. The ships then loaded up with sugar, tobacco, and coffee, and sailed back to northwestern Europe.

Most African slaves, almost half, were taken to the Caribbean islands to work on the sugar plantations to Barbados, Jamaica, or Saint-Domingue, now known as Haiti.

Growing Attention

In recent years, Germans’ involvement in the slave trade has received growing attention, both from academia and the media. In general, however, Germany has largely ignored the country’s involvement in Africa, particularly when compared to the Nazi period and the heinous crimes committed during the period. In fact, like in other countries, for a long time there was a fundamental lack of sensibility to the impact of Germany’s brief colonial past. When I was growing up, I was particularly fond of a confectionary commonly known as Negerkuss — negro’s kiss.

As late as 2016, a German court had to decide whether or not an employee could be fired for racism because he had ordered a Negerkuss (rather than the neutral Schokokuss, or chocolate kiss) in a canteen, ironically enough from a woman originally from Cameroon. The decision: it could not. This was a singular case: The vast majority of Germans have been sensitized to the racist connotations of confectionaries known as Negerkuss or Mohrenkopf (Moor’s head).

A second example: When I was growing up, one of the most popular children’s books was “Der Struwelpeter,” a collection of horrible stories warning German children of what could happen if they behaved badly. Among the stories is the tale of a little girl who refuses to listen to her parents and plays with fire, only to be burnt alive. Or the story of the little boy who loves to suck his thumbs, only to see them cut off by a tailor with gigantic scissors. Or, finally, the story of the little boys who make fun of a “kohlpechrabenschwarzer Mohr” — a really very, very black Moor — going for a walk. As a punishment, St. Nicolas dunks them into a giant ink pot — and then they are as black as the Moor.

Third example: When I was growing up, a favorite card game was schwarzer Peter — black Pete. The goal of the game was to pass on the black Pete. The one holding the card at the end lost.

I suspect that growing up with images that portray Africans in a largely negative and dismissive way has a subtle impact that explains why Germans and other Europeans have had a hard time coming to terms with the legacy of a history of imperialism, racism, exploitation and misery visited upon a part of humanity deemed inferior, without value and not worthy of basic compassion. Those who object to the demolition of the statues dedicated to the agents of human misery might want to confront the horrors of colonialism and the slave trade. Their response says much about their humanity.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.