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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, Oscar De L Renta multicolor tweed pointed flat,Louis Vuitton Flore Chain Leather Crossbody Bag,

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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 encomiendaSusan Graver Print Bonded Liquid Blazer 1X,

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. Paige Dark Wash Skyline Bootcut Jeans Size 25,The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-bellum South (New York: Knopf, 1956).

  2. Alana Knee High Open Toe Gladiator Boot,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, Kirks Folly Cuff Bracelet,BaByliss Pro Nano Titanium Professional Hairsetter (hot rollers),STELLA & DOT “GENEVE LACE” CUFF, 138 (1993): 3-27; Keith Bradley, Slavery and Society at RomeNWT Tory Burch Red Sash Tie Skirt 8,Cloth & Stone Burgundy Tie Back Dress,NOAH hoodie,The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture0.75 Carat Diamond Circle Of Love Gold Pendant,NBD Revolve Black Lace Open Back Dress Short Small,Sam Edelman Aubrey Wedge,

  3. Ralph A. Austen, "The Trans-Saharan Slave Trade: A Tentative Census," J. Crew High Heel Flare Jeans Dark Wash 28x33.5,, 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," 10k yellow gold open heart pendant,Missoni Zigzag Wool Blend Poncho Sweater NEW 0,Encyclopedia of Africa South of the SaharaAdidas holographic superstar ortholite women size 7 sneakers,International Journal of African Historical Studies 10 (1977): 443-61; Alexandre Popovic, The Revolt of African Slaves in Iraq in the IIIrd-IXth CenturyAdidas Originals Leather Stan Smith Iconic White Sneakers,* NEW A.L.C. Amelie Skirt in Black G42,Very sexy aqua and creme color bra size 32DD,ZARA Wool Blend Oversized Large Button Knit Sweater Polo Top Size S Gray, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998); Shaun E. Marmon, ed., TAHARI ARTHUR S. LEVINE. Size 8. Houndstooth Jacket/Blazer. Lined. DB, (Princeton, N.J.: Markus Wiener, 1998); Minra Tora and John Edward Philips, eds., Slave Elites in the Middle East and Africa: A Comparative StudyNike | Blue Sportswear Festival Tank Mens Size XXL,The African Diaspora in the Mediterranean Lands of IslamGambattista Valli Mohair Distressed Sweater,Slavery on the Frontiers of IslamFree People Prairie Days Tee Sz S NWT,

  4. Suzanne Miers and Igor Kopytoff, eds., Slavery in Africa: Historical and Anthropological PerspectivesCurrent Elliot Black Denim Flare Raw Hem Kick Jean Size 28,Michael Kors full zip wallet, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); John Thornton, Melissa sweet wedding dress .,MONAT duo Taffy cream curl cream,Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in AfricaApt. 9 Champagne Bling Bootcut Jeans 20W,

  5. J. Crew NWOT Weekend High-Rise 7/8 Cotton Stretch Leggings Leopard Print Size XS,Archivum latinitatis medii aeviMen’s Gray Orvis Quarter Zip Pullover,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 IntroductionMOTHER The Wilder Jeans Medium Kitty wash, size 25,Slavery and Society in Medieval ScandinaviaAdidas Court Lyte II Backpack NWT,New authentic Louis Vuitton pochette acces…, (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," Men’s NFL Steelers Tank Top (M),TAHARI. ARTHUR S. LEVINE. Size 2 Petite. Blue Lined Professional Blazer. DB,

  6. Trina turk horizon dress size 12,Pastel Ombré, Floral Sweater, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982); Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440-1870 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), 21-24, 48-86.

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  8. NWT Herschel Settlement Backpack 23 L, Neon Pink,American Historical ReviewGold Twisted Hoops,Bill Blass Sylvie embellished green suede flats, (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 RégimeMother of Bride or Groom Dress,

  9. Sleeveless Open Sweater Jacket,The Early Spanish MainGorgeous authentic TODS leather driving loafers- buckle shoes w logo detail,My necklace and ring, (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992); William L. Sherman, Forced Native Labor in Sixteenth-Century Central AmericaBlack Knee High Fry Boots !,Nike Tank top Large,7 FAM Wide Leg Jeans Belted Details 29x34 LIKE NEW,The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670-1717Sperry leopard hide size 8.5.,SALE-Anthropologie Aldomartins Toni sweater dress,, ed. Elizabeth Mancke and Carole Shammas (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 75-121. For a recent discussion of Indian population decline, see David S. Jones, "Virgin Soils Revisited," Women’s Rocket Dog Boots,, 3rd ser., 60 (October 2003): 703-42.

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  11. David Eltis and William G. Clarence-Smith, "White Servitude," Plum 2pc Dress and Jacket by After Dark,Adidas 90s tank top,Diesel, white canvas sneaker, size 10, (London: Longman, 1996); Stanley L. Engerman, ed., Terms of Labor: Slavery, Serfdom, and Free Labor (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999); and Bush, Halston Heritage Black Silk Shantung Full Skirt Sm, (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, Rag & Bone Nina High Rise Ankle Flare Jean In Clndoric Sz 25,Vintage Vitreon Queens Lusterware glasses,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, NEW Cashmere/wool cape with real Fox fur collar,Sam Edelman Poppy Sneaker in Black Leather,Images of the Medieval PeasantVery sexy brand new push up bra size 32DD,Merrell Angelic Slip on Brown Womens Clog,J. Crew Merino Wool Chambray Eyelet Sweater Sz XS,White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812Chloe Wallet Purse Long Wallet Beige Woman Authentic Used Y105,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 QuarterlyDiane Furstenberg blouse,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 SlaveryVintage Henry Bendel by Cythia Rowley Wrap Dress 8,

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  14. Frank Tannenbaum, Slave and Citizen: The Negro in the AmericasCoach Marvel Captain America,Neither Black Nor White: Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States (New York: Macmillan, 1971).

  15. KATE SPADE NY LENOX “Two Of A Kind” Cocktail Shaker Decor,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, 1613-1863The North Face Women's Recon Backpack - Dark Gray / Purple,Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and LowcountryEUC 18W silky peach dusty green shirt,Floral Printed Shirt,Skechers Los Angeles Street Shoes Sz 11 Men’s NWOB,STELLA & DOT “ CHANTILLY LACE” CUFF,Alex Marie Fiesta Del Sol Cocktail Dress,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, Lot 110 Pcs Corona Beer Bottle Opener Tool Keychain Koozies Favors, (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1979); William A. Starna and Ralph Watkins, "Northern Iroquoian Slavery," Levi's High Top Canvas Sneakers 9, 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. Yosi Samar Birch Mezzo Blue Fold Ups,. 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 14K Yellow Gold Pave Heart Diamond Necklace,Bella Canvas Tank Top Heather Dark Grey Medium,
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  • Finley, M. I. BLANKNYC high rise distressed denim shorts,. 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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  • New SSONE denim high rise recycled cotton midi skirt sz 6,Race and Slavery in the Middle East: An Historical Enquiry. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. A good survey of slavery and the evolution of racial prejudice in the Islamic world.
  • 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 Classic Skulbone muscle shirt. Size XL,. 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 AmericaPrincess Wedding Dress, Paid ,900, STUNNING!,
  • Patterson, Orlando. RED VALENTINO A-Line side pockets skirt,. 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, 1400-1800CHANTELLE Black Bra Size 36DD,

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