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Africa and the Slave Trade

Arabs and their Muslim allies were the first to make use of large numbers of sub-Saharan black Africans. They developed a long-distance slave trade, which began in the seventh century and lasted into the twentieth. It delivered many millions of Africans across the Sahara Desert, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean to North Africa, the Mediterranean, and Persian Gulf. Although over a much longer period of time and comprising far more females, the number of Africans exported via these trans-Saharan or Indian Ocean slave trades probably equaled, or even outmatched, those of its transatlantic counterpart. The preexistence of these export trades facilitated Atlantic trade: systems of slave marketing were already in place. So numerous were black Africans at certain times and in certain places that they were able to launch massive slave revolts—in 869, for instance, in what is now southern Iraq, where the so-called Zanj (who came from the Swahili Coast and lands further north) worked in large gangs draining marshlands. While the Quran and Islamic law were essentially color-blind and while Muslims enslaved many so-called "white" people, medieval Arabs came to associate the most degrading forms of labor with black slaves. The Arabic word for slave, Free people brand new pink velvet flare pants,classiques entier jacket,

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The Atlantic Slave System

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As slavery underwent a resurgence in southern Europe, it gradually disappeared from the northwestern part of the continent. Economic changes help to explain this development, but perhaps more important were cultural constraints. Over the course of the Middle Ages, Christians always committed awful atrocities on each other, but increasingly they avoided enslaving one another. Apparently, a sense of unity had emerged in Christian Europe that effectively barred the enslavement of those deemed fellow Europeans. Christianity's long struggle with Islam no doubt played a major role in this development. That from 1500 to 1800 Muslims enslaved well over a million Western Europeans, many of whom were subsequently ransomed and celebrated as symbols of freedom, was a major element in the growing sense that Europeans should never be slaves. Nevertheless, these so-called free labor nations would develop some of the harshest slave regimes in the Americas. As David Brion Davis puts it, "it is an astonishing paradox that the first nations in the world to free themselves of chattel slavery—such nations as England, France, Holland, and even the Scandinavian states—became leaders during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in supporting plantation colonies based on African slave labor." He likens this divide to a primitive Mason-Dixon line, "drawn somewhere in the Atlantic, separating free soil master-states from tainted slave soil dependencies" (8).

This paradox illumines the unpredictability of events in the Americas. No European nation embarked on New World ventures with the intention of enslaving anyone. They had no blueprint but rather proceeded haphazardly and pragmatically. Their first resort was to forced Indian labor (the encomiendaUnder Armour Brown Suede Slip-on Flat Shoes Size 7.5,

Consequently, Europeans faced a huge labor shortage. The Ottoman Turkish empire blocked access to Black Sea or Baltic captives. European nations no longer enslaved Christian prisoners of war. Some dreamers talked of enslaving the poor or other marginal groups, but the practical and principled problems of reviving European slavery were considerable. Another expedient was the transportation of convicts, but their numbers were never sufficient. Temporary bondage—indentured servitude—was the most obvious and most widely used other option, particularly in the early years, but servants, if they survived, eventually became free, and in any case most servants would not travel to the areas where most labor was needed. Thus, almost by default, African slaves proved by far the best available labor supply. Consequently, from 1500 to 1820 almost 9 million African slaves left for the New World, compared to less than 3 million whites. In terms of migration, the New World was more black than white (10).


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New World slavery's other most distinctive aspect was its highly commercial character. While it is true that plantations—that is, large agricultural enterprises, managed for profit, producing a crop for export, with a hierarchically stratified labor organization—existed outside the New World, they reached their apogee there. The economies of scale, the expansion in unit size, the almost exclusive use of black slaves, a highly regimented and commodified labor force, and a system of close management all raised profit levels significantly. Such a productive system placed enormous demands on its laborers. As early as the 1630s a visitor to a Jesuit-owned sugar plantation in Brazil vividly described the unbearable horror of what had transpired: "People the color of the very night, working briskly and moaning at the same time without a moment of peace or rest, whoever sees all the confused and noisy machinery and apparatus of this Babylon, even if they have seen Mt. Etna and Vesuvius will say that this indeed is the image of Hell" (13).

Patterns of New World Slavery

Variations over time and space existed within New World slavery. Three stand out. First, although all New World regions imported more African men than women (thereby in part explaining the harshness of New World slavery because of the policing problems associated with large gangs of men), over time the gender ratio among New World slaves became increasingly balanced. In that regard, the North American slave population is most notable, because, as its number of slave women increased the most rapidly, so it became one of the few self-reproducing slave populations in world history. This early and rapid natural increase explains why North America received such a small percentage of the overall transatlantic slave trade—about 5 percent. Second, North America was also distinctive in being much less tolerant of racial intermixture than Latin America or the Caribbean. Once again demography—particularly the ratio of white men to white women (more balanced in North America than in Latin America and the Caribbean) and the availability of black women—was a crucial part of the explanation, but also important were the role of the Church and cultural mores, based as much in Old World patterns of racial coexistence or segregation. The Spanish had mixed with Muslims for centuries; the English had created a Pale in their settlement of Ireland. Only in North America did the extremely arbitrary concept of "Negro"—denoting anyone with allegedly visible African ancestry—assume such a marked stigma. Third, the chances of gaining freedom varied from one society to the next. Except for the period surrounding the American Revolution, the North American colonies, and later the states, imposed the severest restrictions on the chances of a slave becoming free. Again, demography—the proportions of whites and blacks in the population—has some explanatory power as do economic and cultural forces (14).

North American slavery itself was hardly of a piece. The range encompasses New England's intimate "family slavery"; the Mid-Atlantic's mixed forms of slavery and servitude; the Chesapeake's patriarchal, small plantation, mixed farming and tobacco, heavily native-born form of slavery; and the low country's impersonal, large plantation, rice and indigo, more heavily African system of slavery. In addition, various borderland forms existed: from a fluid world of interracial alliances in the Lower Mississippi Valley to a flexible one of fugitives and ex-slaves in Spanish Florida to one in which Indian slaves were transformed from symbols of alliance into commodities of exchange in French Canada (15).

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  1. Horny toad mixologist plaid button down shirt,The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-bellum South (New York: Knopf, 1956).

  2. Madewell Blue & White Stripe Wide Leg Crop Pants,International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, ed. David L. Sills and Robert King Merton (New York: Macmillan, 1968), 14: 307-13; Finley, Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology, reprint (Hammondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1983, 1980), 9, 96, 102, 111, 113-14; Keith Hopkins, Lululemon snap capri dark navy denim color,bcbg tap,LOL Surprise Pearl Surprise Pink, 138 (1993): 3-27; Keith Bradley, Slavery and Society at RomeJBU by JAMBU blue Nicole memory foam leather flats size 11M.,Madewell Blue & White Stripe Wide Leg Crop Pants Size 2 Perfect Condition,Derek Lam Crystal Collar Blazer,The Problem of Slavery in Western CultureCONVERSE PLATFORM,Super fancy prom dress!,Hounds tooth Anne Taylor Loft Capri pants,

  3. Ralph A. Austen, "The Trans-Saharan Slave Trade: A Tentative Census," New Balance 496v3 Cush+ Walking Shoe Women Size 8 B,, ed. Henry A. Gemery and Jan S. Hogendorn (New York: Academic Press, 1979), 23-76; Austen, "The Mediterranean Islamic Slave Trade out of Africa: A Tentative Census," Super stylish Ted Baker jacket!,Clark's Ashland Leopard Ballot Loafers Size 10,Encyclopedia of Africa South of the SaharaSperry 9725516 Womens Desert Loafers Moc Toe Driving Shoe Green Leather 6M,International Journal of African Historical Studies 10 (1977): 443-61; Alexandre Popovic, The Revolt of African Slaves in Iraq in the IIIrd-IXth CenturyAbsolutely Fabulous Flower Child Chic VINTAGE D&G,Free People Plaid Crop Button Down Shirt Size S,Lilysilk V Neck Button Front Silk Shirt Size Small,Miu Miu silk ivory blouse, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998); Shaun E. Marmon, ed., VERA WANG SEQUIN TAFFETA BLOUSE, (Princeton, N.J.: Markus Wiener, 1998); Minra Tora and John Edward Philips, eds., Slave Elites in the Middle East and Africa: A Comparative StudyCrocs Women's Marin Lite Flats,The African Diaspora in the Mediterranean Lands of IslamAritzia Wilfred Paper Bag Cropped Pants Black,Slavery on the Frontiers of IslamMaeve by Anthropologie Lida Linen Blend Top Size Small Crochet Stripes Boho,

  4. Suzanne Miers and Igor Kopytoff, eds., Slavery in Africa: Historical and Anthropological PerspectivesTory Burch Navy/Ivory Lidia Ruffled Polo,Brand new cold stone fox top, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); John Thornton, High Heel Sandles,Fitflop Womens 8.5 Black Patent Leather Superskate,Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in AfricaPatterned formal dress,

  5. LOL Surprise Pearl Surprise Teal,Archivum latinitatis medii aeviAnthropologie Maeve Short Sleeve Button Down Top Size Extra Small,L'Esclavage dans l'Europe médiévale, vol. 1, Pénisule Ibérique—France (Bruges: De Tempel, 1955); vol. 2, Italie, Colonies Italiennes du Levant, Levant Latin, Empire Bysantin (Ghent: 1977); and Verlinden, The Beginnings of Modern Colonization: Eleven Essays with an IntroductionLauren Jeans Co Ralph Lauren Denim Shirt Pearl Buttons 1X,Slavery and Society in Medieval ScandinaviaLucky Brand women's wedge booties,Miss me Capris pants, (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1995); Steven Epstein, Speaking of Slavery: Color, Ethnicity, and Human Bondage in Italy (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2001); and Sally McKee, "Inherited Status and Slavery in Late Medieval Italy and Venetian Crete," EYEGLASSES NEED PRESCRIPTION,Kendall & Kylie women Sneakers,

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  8. Hot pink puma sneakers 6,American Historical ReviewMaeve by Anthropology Button Down,New with tags MODCLOTH sz 14 wide leg black pants, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003), 14; Robert C. Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800 (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003). For more on the development of freedom and slavery, see David Eltis, The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), and Sue Peabody, There Are No Slaves in France: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien RégimeNWT Free People All About The Feel Button Down,

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  10. David Galenson, White Servitude in Colonial America: An Economic Analysis菉‍♀️LuLaRoe Jade noslip, stay put, active Capri,Our Generation Doll Vet Clinic,Black Body Con Formal Dress,William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 58 (January 2001): 17-46. Two good microhistories of the transatlantic slave trade are Robert Harms, Etro Ruffled Blouse size 8/10,Vtg Stirling Cooper shark oversized blazer jacket,The Two Princes of Calabar: An Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004).

  11. David Eltis and William G. Clarence-Smith, "White Servitude," LA FENICE VENEZIA bow suede pink flats round toe,Women’s Helmut Lang flannel shirt,Land's End Coat 42-44 - wool, polyester, cashmere, (London: Longman, 1996); Stanley L. Engerman, ed., Terms of Labor: Slavery, Serfdom, and Free Labor (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999); and Bush, Spot Me Studio Hawaiian Shirt - Red Cranes, (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2000).

  12. Frank M. Snowden Jr., Blacks in Antiquity: Ethiopians in the Greco-Roman Experience (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1970); Snowden, Baby doll triplets,White Mark/Palazzo Pants/Pink/Size: XXXL (451),The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004); Jean Devisse and Michel Mollat, eds., The Image of the Black in Western Art, vol. 2, LAGENCE FASHION TOP,Madewell wide leg cropped pleated corduroy pants; size 00, 24 in waist,Images of the Medieval PeasantMADAME ALEXANDER 01-02 McDonald’s Happy Meal Set,NYDJ Size Medium Peach Button Down Shirt,Cole Haan Halley Crepe Wedges, 7.5,White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812Vans Blue Old Skool Low Top Sneakers Lace Up Casual Shoes Women Size 7,Race: The History of an Idea in the West (Washington, D.C.: The Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1996); the essays in "Constructing Race: Differentiating Peoples in the Early Modern World," William and Mary QuarterlyCole Haan Nike Air Flats Black & White 6B,The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003). The best account is David Brion Davis, "The Origins of Anti-Black Racism in the New World," chap. 3 in Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of New World SlaverySperry Wedge Heels-New!,

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  14. Frank Tannenbaum, Slave and Citizen: The Negro in the AmericasSelf portrait velvet cold shoulder top,Neither Black Nor White: Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States (New York: Macmillan, 1971).

  15. A Frame blouse,Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth-Century New England (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988); Graham Russell Hodges, Root and Branch: African Americans in New York and East Jersey, 1613-1863Iman snow leopard print jumpsuit. 1x Soooo Cute..N,Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and LowcountryWHBM 4 R Wide Leg Black Great Used Condition Pants,New in Box, Madame Alexander Doll, Amy Little Women, #411, 8" Tall,Cloth & Stone Anthro Tencel Chambray Acid Wash Button Down Shirt Sz M,Vintage Dolce & Gabbana Sheer Blouse,Tory Burch Jesse Studded Quilted Slip on Shakers 9,William and Mary Quarterly 3rd ser., 60 (October 2003): 777-808. To this list might be added other forms of aboriginal slavery: see Theda Perdue, lululemon loose capris, (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1979); William A. Starna and Ralph Watkins, "Northern Iroquoian Slavery," Anthropologie Edme & Esyllte Sunlit striped top, 38 (Winter 1991): 34-57; and Leland Donald, Aboriginal Slavery on the Northwest Coast of North America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).

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  • Davis, David Brion. Donald Pliner Sport-I -Que Sneakers Sz 7,. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003. The first short essay in the volume is a superb introduction to the origins of New World slavery, but it should be complemented by a number of other books by this great historian of New World slavery. I particularly recommend his Lol Surprise Doll Toy & Activity 7pc Set,Prom Dress with Slit Burgundy,
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  • Finley, M. I. Vera Bradley eye glasses VB 3016,. Reprint. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1983, 1980. An exploration of the emergence, functioning, and decline of the slave societies of classical Greece and classical Italy, with comparisons to New World slavery, by the greatest historian of ancient slavery.
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  • Miers, Suzanne, and Igor Kopytoff, eds. Slavery in Africa: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977. The long introduction on slavery as an "institution of marginality" is a classic, and many of the individual essays on particular regions and groups are stimulating.
  • Miller, Joseph. C., ed. Slavery and Slaving in World History: A Bibliography, 1900-1996. 2 vols. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1999. The most comprehensive work of its kind. Annual updates are available in the journal Dries Van Noten blouse SZ 38,. The entire bibliography is being prepared for Internet access as a searchable database by the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia.
  • Morgan, Philip D. "African Americans." In A Companion to Colonial AmericaSchutz Olivia Lace Up Nude Suede Flats Tan,
  • Patterson, Orlando. J. Jill Blue Chambray Button Down Shirt,. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982. The best general survey of slave systems in 66 societies, written by a sociologist.
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  • Thornton, John. Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800Abercrombie & Fitch Country Clothes Button Up Silk,

Philip D. Morgan is the Sydney and Ruth Lapidus Professor in the American Revolutionary Era at Princeton University. He is the author of Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998) and coeditor (with Sean Hawkins) of Black Experience and the Empire: The Oxford History of the British Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). He would like to acknowledge in particular the assistance of David Brion Davis, who generously sent him two early chapters from his forthcoming manuscript, "Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of New World Slavery."

Authored by

  • Philip D. Morgan
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    Princeton, New Jersey