Monday, July 30, 2012

The Economics of The Slave Trade

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The past is what makes the present coherent, said Afro-American writer James Baldwin, and the past will remain horrible for exactly as long as we refuse to assess it honestly.

The African slave trade played an important role in the stabilization of Europes economy, its transition to capitalism, the development of the nation state, and the establishment of their imperial empires. The opening of the Atlantic led to the development of Europes commercial empire and industrial revolution. The demand for African slave labor arose from the development of plantation agriculture, the long-term rise in prices and consumption of sugar, and the demand for miners. Not only did Africans represent skilled laborers, but they were also experts in tropical agriculture. Consequently, they were well-suited for the plantation agriculture that was being used in the new world. Africans then became the final solution to the acute labor problem in the New World.

HISTORY

From the begining, relations between Europe and Africa were economic in nature. Portuguese merchants traded with Africans from trading posts they set up along the coast. They exchanged items like brass and copper bracelets for such products as pepper, cloth, beads and slaves. At the time this was all part of an existing internal African trade market. Domestic slavery was common in Africa and there was trading of humans well before European slave buyers arrived. It started with the capture of black slaves that were bought by Arabs and exported across the Saharan desert to the Mediterranean and Near East.

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In 14, Christopher Columbus discovered the New World or America’s. This find proved disastrous not only for the Native Americans but also for Africans. It marked the beginning of a triangular trade between Africa, Europe and the New World. European slave ships, mainly British and French, began taking people from Africa to the New World.

Rough estimates of the total human loss to Africa over the four centuries of the transatlantic slave trade range from 0 million to 00 million. At first Europeans captured Africans during raids on costal communities. This soon gave way to buying slaves from African rulers and traders. The majority of slaves taken out of Africa were sold by African rulers, traders and a military aristocracy who all grew wealthy from the slave business. This was in the early sixteenth century when the kingdom of Africa was at war with its neighbors. During these wars chiefs would take as many captives as he could. These captives would then be traded for twelve or fifteen brass bracelets each, or for copper bracelets, which they prized more. Olaudah Equiano, an ex-slave, described in his memoirs published in 178 how African rulers carried out raids to capture slaves. When a trader wants slaves, he applies to a chief for them, and tempts him with European goods. It is not extraordinary, if on this occasion he yields to the temptation with as little firmness, and accepts the price of his fellow creatures liberty with as little reluctance, as the enlightened merchant. Accordingly, he falls upon his neighbors, and a desperate battle ensues...if he prevails, and takes prisoners, he gratifies his avarice by selling them. Equiano was born in 1745 in an area under the kingdom of Benin. At the age of ten he was kidnapped by slave hunters who also took his sister. He was more fortunate than most other slaves. After serving in America, the West Indies and England he was able to save and buy his freedom in 1756 at the age of twenty-one.

STATISTICS

The ships that carried enslaved Africans went from ports in Europe to Africa and then on to the America’s. Liverpool and London became major slave trading ports after the middle of the seventeenth century. After loading enslaved Africans at the Atlantic coast of Africa, ships from these ports sailed directly to the Americas, where the African slaves who had survived the rough Atlantic crossing were sold. Most European slave ships ranged in size from 50 to 00 tons and carried between 00-450 enslaved Africans. On average, one in six slaves died during the Middle Passage but in some cases many more died from disease and shipboard rebellion, sometimes more than one in two slaves (Martin). After the surviving enslaved Africans had been sold in the Americas, ships returned to Europe, usually to the same port they had left from. This completed the ‘triangular’ voyage that the Transatlantic Slave Trade is now usually identified with. These voyages normally took between 1 and 18 months, much of the time was spent either in Africa collecting and enslaving Africans or in the Americas selling and recovering payment for them. The goods that slave ships brought back to Europe were sugar, tobacco, precious metals from the America’s, and ivory, dyewoods, and gum from Africa.

The numbers of Africans who died during the trans-Atlantic crossings was horrendous. The slave traders in their desire to carry as many Africans as possible on each voyage packed as many prisoners as they could into the holds of the slave ships often with fatal consequences. In 165 the ship Constant Ruth lost 0 of the 07 slaves it carried. The Fortune lost 1 out of 0 in 1678. The Hannibal, sailing from Whydah to Barbados in 16 lost 0 out of 700. The Brownlow in 174 lost 6 out of 18 (Martin). Between 1680 and 1688, out of every 100 Africans taken aboard ships in the service of the Royal African Company died in transit. The high point was in 168 when losses reached percent of the total number of Africans taken aboard. The percentage loss of slaves in transit by slavers shipping out of the French port of Nantes between 1715 and 1741 was approximately percent. Over a period of 46 years statistics show that Nantes slave traders, who bought 4,000 slaves on the coast of Africa, delivered only 0,800 for sale at the end of their journeys (Martin).



Slaving voyages proved immensely profitable to those who invested in them. After raiding African villages and taking his captives to Spanish America for sale, John Hawkins, one well known slave trader, returned to England in the 1560s with substantial quantities of Spanish treasure. Some of the later voyages of English slave traders proved equally rewarding and provided returns of 50-100 per cent or more, on investments. Such profits, in turn, are thought to have financed the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Africa’s loss of people through the slave trade therefore certainly enriched British society. Cities such as Bristol, Liverpool, London and Nantes undoubtedly became wealthier as a result of their involvement in the slave trade and trades in slave-produced goods.

Whether the slave trade was generally as profitable as Hawkins and some other traders discovered, is still a subject for debate. The methods that Hawkins used to obtain slaves in Africa, eventually gave way to trading in slaves, and Africans began driving hard bargains with European and American buyers. Enslaved Africans also resisted their enslavement and many died before they reached their destination. Many other factors added to the costs and uncertainties of slave trading voyages, which meant that profits varied greatly and unpredictably.

It can be misleading to see the high profits of some voyages as being typical of the slave trade as a whole. Nevertheless, it is clear that many Europeans profited from the slave trade, in some cases, very considerably so. While for Africa and Africans it was primarily a source of social disorder, economic exploitation and human misery.

Several well known Authors have tried to explain the economics of slavery. Karl Marx gave this explanation on the economics of managing the labor of slaves

When his place can be supplied from foreign preserves, the duration of his life becomes a matter of less moment than its productiveness while it lasts. It is accordingly a maxim of slave management, in slave importing countries that the most effective economy is that which takes out of the human chattel in the shortest space of time the utmost amount of exertion it is capable of putting forth. It is in tropical culture, where annual profits often equal the whole capital of plantations, that Negro life is most recklessly sacrificed. It is the agriculture of the West Indies ... that has engulfed millions of the African race.

John Newton, the slave trader turned abolitionist, wrote that he had been informed by a consignee to whom he delivered slaves in Antigua in 1751

That calculations had been made, with all possible exactness, to determine which was ...the more saving method of managing slaves whether, to appoint them moderate work, plenty of provision, and such treatment as might enable them to protract their lives to old age? Or, By rigorously straining their strength to the utmost, with little relaxation, hard fare, and hard usage, to wear them out before they became useless and unable to do service, and then, to buy new ones, to fill up their places?

He further said, that these skilful calculations had determined in favor of the latter mode, as much the cheaper, and that he could mention several estates in the island of Antigua, on which it was seldom known that a slave had lived above nine years.

The slave trade was one of the most important business enterprises of the 17th century. The nation states of Europe stabilized themselves and developed their economy mainly at the expense of African people. During the latter half of the century; Colbert, a Frenchman, stated that, no commerce in the world produces as many advantages as that of the slave trade(Williams, From Columbus to Castro, 144). The wealth of the New World in the form of sugar, tobacco, metals, gold, cotton, etc. was extracted by African labor and then exported from the colonies through the capitalistic enterprise of Western Europe. Western Europe drew profits from the trade in slaves, commodities produced, service of shipping, and the development of new industries based on processing raw materials. According to Eric Williams, no other commerce required so large a capital as the slave trade which kept the wheels of metropolitan industry turning. Cities such as Liverpool, Amsterdam, and Bristol were built upon slave labor. The capital and raw materials derived from the African slave trade contributed significantly to the Commercial and Industrial revolution. According to James Rawley, the black slavery was essential to the carrying on of commerce, which in turn was fundamental to the making of the modern world(Rawley, 4). In other words, the modern world was built upon the blood, sweat, and tears of our African ancestors.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bales, Kevin Disposable People New slavery in the global economy. University of California Press. 1.

Martin, S.I.. Breaking the Silence. http//www.antislavery.org/breakingthesilence/about.shtml. Onctober ,00.

Olaudah, Equiano Narrative of the Life of Olaudiah Equiano. Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc. 000.

Rawley, James A.. London, Metropolis of the Slave Trade 1st ed, Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc. October 181.

Williams, Eric. From Columbus to Castro The History of the Caribbean 14-16. Knopf Publishing Group. March 18.

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