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CHAPTER II

THE MARITIME SLAVE TRADE

T the request of a slaver's captain the government of

Georgia issued in 1772 a certificate to a certain Fenda

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

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

The test of this was made by Sir John Hawkins who at the beginning of his career as a great English sea captain had informed himself in the Canary Islands of the Afro-American opportunity awaiting exploitation. Backed by certain English

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

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

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

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

The revolt of Portugal in 1640 brought a turning point. For a quarter-century thereafter the Spanish government, regarding the Portuguese as rebels, suspended all trade relations with them, the asiento included. But the trade alternatives remaining were all distasteful to Spain. The English were heretics; the Dutch were both heretics and rebels; the French and the Danes were too weak at sea to handle the great slave trading contract with security; and Spain had no means of her own for large scale commerce. The upshot was that the carriage of slaves to the Spanish colonies was wholly interdicted during the two middle decades of the century. But this gave the smugglers their highest opportunity. The Spanish colonial police collapsed under the pressure of the public demand for slaves, and illicit trading became so general and open as to be pseudo legitimate. Such a boom came as was never felt before under Protestant flags in tropical waters. The French, in spite of great exertions, were not yet able to rival the Dutch and English. These in fact had such an ascendency that when in 1663 Spain revived the asiento

by a contract with two Genoese, the contractors must needs procure their slaves by arrangement with Dutch and English who delivered them at Curaçao and Jamaica. Soon after this contract expired the asiento itself was converted from an item of Spanish internal policy into a shuttlecock of international politics. It became in fact the badge of maritime supremacy, possessed now by the Dutch, now by the French in the greatest years of Louis XIV, and finally by the English as a trophy in the treaty of Utrecht,

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

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

"This company

no other commodities, we would return again.” speedily ending its life, was followed by another in 1631 with a similarly short career; and in 1651 the African privilege was granted for a time to the East India Company.

Under Charles II activities were resumed vigorously by a company chartered in 1662; but this promptly fell into such conflict with the Dutch that its capital of £122,000 vanished. In a drastic reorganization its affairs were taken over by a new corporation, the Royal African Company, chartered in 1672 with the Duke of York at its head and vested in its turn with monopoly rights under the English flag from Sallee on the Moroccan coast to the Cape of Good Hope. For two decades this company prospered greatly, selling some two thousand slaves a year in Jamaica alone, and paying large cash dividends on its £100,000 capital and then a stock dividend of 300 per cent. But now came reverses through European war and through the competition of English and Yankee private traders who shipped slaves legitimately from Madagascar and illicitly from Guinea. Now came also a clamor from the colonies, where the company was never popular, and from England also where oppression and abuses were charged against it by would-be free traders. After a parliamentary investigation an act of 1697 restricted the monopoly by empowering separate traders to traffic in Guinea upon paying to the company for the maintenance of its forts ten per cent. on the value of the cargoes they carried thither and a percentage on certain minor exports carried thence.

The company soon fell upon still more evil times, and met them by evil practices. To increase its capital it offered new stock for sale at reduced prices and borrowed money for dividends in order to encourage subscriptions. The separate traders meanwhile were winning nearly all its trade. In 1709-1710, for

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

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

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