From the s until the last slave ship arrived in Cuba in , the illegal portion of the traffic grew steadily until it encompassed the whole of the slave trade. The precise point at which this happened is unclear, but it was probably in By then, all the major plantation areas of the Americas had prohibited arrivals from Africa, but some countries still allowed their citizens to participate in such activity.
Much slave trading was in contravention of treaties rather than laws, and the sanctions entailed confiscation of property rather than fines, imprisonment, or death. Conventionally, "illegal" slave trading has been taken to cover arrivals in the British Caribbean after May , in the U. By this definition, about 1. In fact, the decade from to was actually one of the busiest, and as this suggests, the slave trade did not decline gradually, nor did slave owners decide they no longer wanted enslaved labor. Rather, some form of prohibition was essential to the trade's disappearance.
The illegal slave trade was driven by rising demand for plantation products, mainly in Europe, and steady improvements in the productivity of the enslaved population, which in turn increased the value and therefore the price of coerced labor. The three major slave economies of the world in the mid-nineteenth century were the U.
The U. By contrast, the people of African descent in Brazil and Cuba experienced either negative or very small positive natural population growth. About , Africans came into Cuba over the same period that the U. The slave trade became illegal midway through this inflow, and one way of seeing its importance is to recognize that the inflow provided for the Cuban and Brazilian planters what natural increase generated for the U.
In the U.
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Behind this pattern lay a dramatic increase in the spread between the prices of captives in Africa and slaves in the Americas. South, Cuba, and Brazil alike. On the African coast, by contrast, prices declined with the volume of the traffic.
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Historians have often compared prices on either side of the Atlantic and called the difference "profits," as though transportation and risk did not exist. In fact, illegal slave trading could be extremely costly. Slave vessels avoided established ports and the facilities they offered. Their owners obtained fraudulent and thus expensive registration papers.
The ships themselves were faster than most other vessels, and often a single venture involved more than one ship, as owners sent out goods and equipment on a different ship as a subterfuge.
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Slave trading in its final stage entailed increased risks of capture, more costly delays on the African coast, higher shipboard mortality for the victims, and, most important in financial terms, considerable bribes to officials of the region into which the Africans were introduced. As with the modern trade in illegal drugs, potential profits were high though they were never simply the price of the enslaved person in the Americas, less the price of the captive in Africa , but so were potential losses.
Some of the largest slave traders went bankrupt, including Pedro Blanco, whose name is associated with nearly fifty voyages to Cuba before ; he assumed the role of captain, owner, and factor on the coast of Africa —mostly Sierra Leone and Liberia—at different times in his long career. In some sense, the voyage itself and the captain became much less the center of the overall operation than was the case in earlier centuries.
In major markets such as Whydah in Benin and Lagos, Nigeria, it was still possible for a transatlantic vessel to seek captives without prior arrangement, but on most of the coast more elaborate and costly organizational structures were required. The captain's role became less important and the key slave trading personnel operated on shore, on both sides of the Atlantic, rather than on the vessel itself. The major decisions on bringing together or "bulking" the required number of captives, assembling provisions and equipment, and timing the departure were now made on land.
In the Americas, knowing which officials to bribe and trying to dispose of captives in open-market conditions to maximize returns became more difficult than in the pre-suppression era and required more manpower and a different set of skills.
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On the voyage itself, captains might find themselves sailing an empty ship out to the African coast, or at least one without the fittings of a slave ship, given that the discovery of such equipment on board increased the risk of conviction in a court of law. Barrels for water which always occupied by far the largest amount of space on a transatlantic slave vessel , planks for slave decks, irons, a large boiler for cooking, and the provisions themselves were frequently loaded in Africa just prior to departure.
In the last few decades of the illegal slave trade, the complete shipment was frequently rushed on board just before leaving for the Americas. On the African coast, pronounced shifts in both regions of provenance and the strategies of slave traders occurred during the illegal era. The slave trade had not evolved in all areas of Africa at the same time, nor, indeed, did it decline uniformly in response to attempts to suppress it. The sheer human and environmental diversity of sub-Saharan African societies made such an outcome unlikely.
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Rather, a series of marked or stepped declines in individual regions contributed to a more gradual trend for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. Although the overall dominance of West-Central Africa in the transatlantic slave trade is well recognized, it is not generally appreciated how important the region was in its last half century. In this period, that area dispatched more people than all other regions combined. Reviewing the patterns of the traffic from north to south, we can see that in Upper Guinea Senegambia, Sierra Leone, and the Windward Coast slave trading gradually declined after before ending rather suddenly in the early s, though it ended first on the Windward Coast.
On the Gold Coast, departures after were occasional and never more than a few hundred a year, but a further forty years passed before the traffic ended completely. In the Bight of Benin, traffic peaked in the first half of the eighteenth century. It was nevertheless the part of West Africa where the slave trade persisted longest. Almost all the captives leaving the region after passed through Lagos and Whydah, with the latter port remaining active into the mids. In the adjacent Bight of Biafra region, by contrast, the traffic ended in the early s, while the relative role of southeast Africa, heavily involved in the Indian Ocean slave trade, increased in the closing half century of the transatlantic traffic.
Overall, in the nineteenth century, the center of the slave trade from sub-Saharan Africa shifted strongly southward. These patterns held considerable implications for the ethnolinguistic composition of the illegal slave trade. The mix of peoples in the Upper Guinea trade continued to be highly diverse in the illegal era.
These six groups made up 80 percent of a sample of one thousand captives taken from Galinhas Guinea-Bissau and Rio Pongo Guinea in the s and s; three-quarters of these captives came from areas less than miles from the coast. In the eighteenth century, peoples from the middle and upper regions of the Gambia and Senegal rivers would have been much more heavily represented.
In the Bight of Benin, Yoruba peoples, scarcely noticeable in an earlier era, dominated those passing through Whydah and Lagos, with some Hausa and Nupe among them. The counterparts to the Yoruba in the Bight of Biafra were Igbo peoples, perhaps accounting for as much as 60 percent of deportees from the region, but in this case the pattern was not new.
Ibibio and the numerous small ethnic groups of the Niger Delta made up the remainder. Further east, the Cameroons Highlands was almost the exclusive source of slaves leaving from what is now the Republic of Cameroon. New research on the huge West-Central Africa region suggests that the old picture of long-distant trade networks and the central importance of the Lunda Empire northeastern Angola and western Congo is in need of revision. Data from slave registers in the Portuguese colonies and from registers of liberated Africans in Havana and Sierra Leone indicate that the majority came from areas much closer to the coast than was previously thought.
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Overall, there seems to have been a shift toward the coast as the source for captives in the nineteenth century. One further pattern to emerge after was an increase in the share of Muslims, almost all of them passing through ports located in the Bight of Benin, such as Lagos and Whydah, and comprising mainly Hausa and Yoruba. A preliminary analysis of a large database of Africans including their names who were taken off slave ships by British naval cruisers between and and liberated in Sierra Leone and Havana suggests that one-fifth of those leaving the Bight of Benin were Muslims, many of them women.
Attempts to suppress the slave trade triggered a marked strategic shift in trading locations toward the end. In the eighteenth century, the trading centers had been islands in Upper Guinea, forts on the Gold Coast, and, further east and south, enclaves of strong African authority in places such as Whydah, Bonny, Old Calabar, and the Vili centers of northern Angola, or centers of European authority in the case of Luanda, Benguela, and Mozambique to the south. Slave traders, like other merchants, sought physical security and a known set of rules to carry on business.
In the era of attempted naval suppression, both the islands and forts proved too susceptible to naval interference, and trafficking shifted to creeks and mangrove swamps in Upper Guinea. In the area of the castles on the Gold Coast there was no obvious alternative, and the slave trade ended quickly in the region. In the Bight of Benin, a lagoon system, and in the Bight of Biafra the myriad waterways of the Niger Delta allowed captives to be moved quickly to points of embarkation beyond the knowledge of patrolling cruisers, and thus a clandestine trade survived longer there.
Further south, the vast Congo River estuary offered better cover for slave traders than the Vili ports of Cabinda and Malembo, and replaced them in the last thirty years of the trade. Beginning in the mids, Portuguese government actions in Angola and Mozambique forced traffickers to conduct their affairs and embark their captives from secluded creeks and beaches removed from these government centers, in Luanda's case often as far away as the Congo. From the perspective of the African captives, conditions under which they were forced to make their journey from the point of enslavement to a plantation in the New World probably worsened.
Once the trade was illegal, they often spent long periods of time awaiting embarkation, as slave ships waited for cruisers to leave the area. Food for hundreds of people could run short, and confinement in a barracoon was no healthier than in a slave ship, at least in terms of the epidemiological environment. If they survived a potentially long wait in the pens, the captives in the illegal era might expect a more rapid transatlantic crossing than their predecessors.
In the end, construction at the federal building site unearthed over skeletons. Historical documents marked the site unmistakably. An extant map known as the Maerschalck Plan showed the site clearly.
It lay at what during the s was New York City's north western edge. Back then the city occupied little more than the southern tip of Manhattan Island, stretching up to where the present city hall sits. Disturbing the dead, understandably offended sensibilities. Anguish and anger appeared particularly in New York City's African-American community, most of whom knew nothing of the city's long African-American heritage that reached back to the early days of European settlement on Manhattan.
Sharing a common misunderstanding that black American slavery was always divided North-South, as it appeared at the time of the U. Civil War , most Americans in had no idea slavery ever existed in Northern areas. Slaves in the North were not merely forgotten, they had been purposefully ignored in keeping with the fiction that the U.
So, few Americans had heard anything of colonial New York City's relatively large black population, which for much of the s ranked second only to Charleston, South Carolina, as an urban centre of slave population. Learning something of New York's black past through notice of the disinterred remains thus provoked particular consternation and concern. New York City's most prominent black official sounded a melancholy note on hearing of the discovery. Dinkins, 'not only could African Americans not hope to govern New York City, they could not even hope to be buried within its boundaries.
The WIC's Board of Accounts in , for example, promoted a plan for Manhattan that called for 'the introduction from Brazil, there, of as many Negroes as [settlers] would be disposed to pay for at a fair price; which Negroes would accomplish more work for their masters and at less expense than free servants, who must be bribed to go thither by a great deal of money and promises. While more intent on supplying slaves to such Caribbean islands as Barbados and Jamaica, the Royal African Company also expressed its interest in 'introducing Black Slaves into New York'.
Manhattan's slave population grew apace until when occurred what New York's Royal Governor Robert Hunter described as a 'bloody conspiracy of some of the Slaves of this place to destroy as many of the inhabitants as they could The slaves slew nine whites on the spot and wounded about a dozen others. They fled, but most were soon captured. Nineteen slaves were executed by burning or hanging and two others in special ways. Governor Hunter explained, 'one [was] broke on the wheele and one hung alive in chains in the town.
In March bloody scenes re-emerged as a series of fires threatened New York City with conflagration. Authorities fixed blame on the rapidly rising male slave population. Seventeen slaves hanged and thirteen burned at the stake in an incident that became known as the New York Conspiracy or the 'Great Negro Plot'. Reaction shifted the slave regime in the city from a focus on male slave labour apprenticed in crafts ranging from carpentry to wainwrighting, to an emphasis on female slave labour in domestic service.
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As the island remained in the hands of the King's forces until withdrawal in , loyal slaveholders fled there with as many slaves as they could muster. At the end of the war, they sailed away with their slaves and with those of others who had fled to freedom. Thus slavery in the city appeared to dip at the war's end. In when the newly independent United States took its first federal census, it numbered 2, slaves in New York City and 21, in the state, a number that ranked it fifth among states, and even ahead of Georgia.
A flood of white immigrants in the s, determined not to compete with slaves for jobs, pressed for a political end to slavery in New York city and state. Finally, in , the New York legislature enacted a programme of gradual emancipation to release from bondage all born in the state to slave mothers after 4 July However, freedom was only granted when the person had served the mother's holder till aged 25 if female or 28 if male.
In the state made provision that 'any Negro, mulatto or mustee within this State born before the fourth day of July, , shall from and after the fourth day of July, , be free. In New York enacted a provision that 'every person born within this state, whether white or colored, is free. It was this long history of slavery in New York City that discovery of the 'Negros Burial Ground' in brought into view - for most New Yorkers for the first time.
And thus it was that many black New Yorkers demanded that the site, renamed the African Burial Ground, be treated with honor and declared a National Historic Landmark and that the disinterred remains be reburied at the site. Since the tragedy of 11th September , the possibility of that event taking place has been postponed indefinitely. Martin's Press, Conniff St. Search term:.
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