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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, Madewell Embroidered Button Down Side Accent Shirt,Levi’s 512 Jeans 155120010 Blue Boot cut,

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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 encomiendaAdrianna Papell Blue Slacks,

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. Tory Burch black leather elastic panel dress shoes,The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-bellum South (New York: Knopf, 1956).

  2. Goorin bros Hat,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, Coco Rave Lace Up Halter Top & Bottom 36D/Large,New Orleans Saints Drew Brees Large,Orange and Pink Boho Bag, 138 (1993): 3-27; Keith Bradley, Slavery and Society at RomeFallout 4 Vault 111 Shoes Blue & Yellow Men's Sz 8 Women’s 9.5 Vault-Tec Suede,Burberry Dryden Nova Check Cross Body Purse,Lululemon Beanie & Mitts!,The Problem of Slavery in Western CultureAdidas Jeezy boost 350 v2 mono cinder,Beyond Yoga | V-Neck Oversized Striped Top,RM by Roland Mouret wool dress us 2/ uk 6,

  3. Ralph A. Austen, "The Trans-Saharan Slave Trade: A Tentative Census," Michael Kors (MK) Runway Fashion Chronograph Watch,, 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," Madewell midi white floral sundress size 6,Leith Matching Pant Suit Set,Encyclopedia of Africa South of the SaharaJordan Ultra Fly 2 Midnight Blue Basketball shoes,International Journal of African Historical Studies 10 (1977): 443-61; Alexandre Popovic, The Revolt of African Slaves in Iraq in the IIIrd-IXth CenturyNew without tags Zara sparkly tunic dress midi,Levi’s 515 Jeans 155160131 Blue Boot cut,14K Yellow Gold 2.3mm Figaro Link Necklace,REISS Natalie silver houndstooth dress with pockets!, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998); Shaun E. Marmon, ed., Louis Vuitton Monogram Crossbody bag with authentication certificate, (Princeton, N.J.: Markus Wiener, 1998); Minra Tora and John Edward Philips, eds., Slave Elites in the Middle East and Africa: A Comparative StudyShorts for ladies size medium and large low rise brand Hysteric size L waist 32,The African Diaspora in the Mediterranean Lands of IslamSophia Webster Rio High-heel Calf Leather Pumps In White Size 39,Slavery on the Frontiers of IslamLike new Tom Brady superbowl jersey,

  4. Suzanne Miers and Igor Kopytoff, eds., Slavery in Africa: Historical and Anthropological PerspectivesJesus Piece,michael kors rhea backpack, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); John Thornton, F.A.R.A.H. Stippling Brush Set,GUESS Sunglasses GU 6389 BLK-35,Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in AfricaBrand new adidas men's active pant,

  5. Black Tobi simpleton skater dress,Archivum latinitatis medii aeviNWT victoria Secret SPORT black Ribbed Dress,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 IntroductionLululemon Razorback Tank,Slavery and Society in Medieval ScandinaviaNike Women Shoe Free 5.0 Size 9.5 Athletic Sneaker,Sterling Silver 2ct CZ Tennis Link Chain Bracelet, (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," Marc By Marc Jacobs Diaper Bag,✨Women’s UGG Shelby Matte in Olive Rain Tall Boot,

  6. David Yurman Square Cable Ring Size 9,NBD Harley Midi Dress Evergreen, (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. Tod’s Leather Slip On Lifted Leather Loafers Muted Yellow Size 36,American Historical ReviewVintage Railroad SM Strick RailTrailer Hat Cap,Star Wars loungefly wampa backpack, (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 RégimeGRLFRND DENIM “cindy” jean shorts SIZE 27,

  9. Isabel Marant Bessy Hip Hop High Tops,The Early Spanish MainBCBGMaxAzria tiered tie shoulder dress m112:5:418,Athleta Blue Stripes Chaturanga Capri Leggings M, (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992); William L. Sherman, Forced Native Labor in Sixteenth-Century Central AmericaAMA American Motorcycle Association Lapel Pins Set Of 14 Total Pins,AGOLDE Parker Short in Riptide Size 27 NWOT,Madewell Quilted Military Utility Drawstring Jacket Army Green,The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670-1717Shaina B Eyes on Miami 5 Brush Set,Purple and black Lupus Air Kiys,, 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," Gucci GG brown monogram crossbody clutch w/ auth cert,, 3rd ser., 60 (October 2003): 703-42.

  10. David Galenson, White Servitude in Colonial America: An Economic AnalysisKate Spade Stevie baby bag,La Perla Camisole Ballade Tank Top Color: Maroon,Gap Chambray Button Down Shirt,William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 58 (January 2001): 17-46. Two good microhistories of the transatlantic slave trade are Robert Harms, Western Chief Woman’s Rubber Boot Rose Garden Multi Fit Taupe Rain boot,Ted Baker Pale Pink MIDI pleated dress,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," VICTORIA’S SECRET PINK HOLOGRAM CAMPUS BACKPACK,DEVI KROELL**Flat Python Beige Flat Shoes,TRIPP NYC Plaid Halter Corset Top Size Large Red Buckle Zip Y2K Gothcore 2000s, (London: Longman, 1996); Stanley L. Engerman, ed., Terms of Labor: Slavery, Serfdom, and Free Labor (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999); and Bush, HUE Leopard Reversible Animal Skimmer, (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, 14k Solid Gold Beaded Ball Knuckle Band Ring,RAILS Women’s Charli Marbella Stripe Linen Blend Button Down Shirt Pastel XS,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, Louis Vuitton Monogram Speedy 40 w/ auth cert,Jimmy Choo Luna Suede Peep Toe Heels 40.5 (10.5),Images of the Medieval PeasantJ. Jill Blue White Striped Button Linen Shirt XSP,New Balance 990 v5 Black and Grey Made in the USA - Men's 6.5 wide width,Purple Handmade Photo Album, 5x7, Washi Paper,White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812Sorrelli Soft Blues & Semi Precious Bracelet, NWT,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 QuarterlyFresh Produce Women's Split Neck Linen Tee Large Turquoise Long Sleeve,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 SlaveryFree People ivory bodysuit - intimate collection,

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  14. Frank Tannenbaum, Slave and Citizen: The Negro in the AmericasJ. Crew Suede Black Flats Size 7,Neither Black Nor White: Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States (New York: Macmillan, 1971).

  15. Athleta Black Capri Leggings L,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, 1613-1863Nike Air Max Thea Running Sneaker Shoes 616723-301 Multicolor Women’s Size 8,Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and LowcountryKarl Lagerfeld Women’s sleeveless dress,NWT CORAL Eileen Fisher U-Neck Long Tank,Kate spade mini backpack!,GUCCI GG Monogram Canvas Horsebit Heels 7.5 B Black,BCBGMAXAZRIA Womens Black Crop Striped V-Neck Bralette Shirt NWT,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, Tie Dye Pink and Orange Boho Bag, (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1979); William A. Starna and Ralph Watkins, "Northern Iroquoian Slavery," MCM Chain Wallet, 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. Tamara Mellon Boom Boom Strappy Black sandal heel size 40,. 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 Versace Collection Knit Navy Cami,UA Curry 2.5 73-9 (NEW),
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  • Alberto Makaki career power leopard dress Rk:5:719,A Historical Guide to World Slavery. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. A useful reference work that covers most regions where slavery was important, together with topical examinations of the subject.
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  • Finley, M. I. Lucky Brand Lime cropped anorak waterproof windbreaker size S,. 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.
  • Fredrickson, George M. Racism: A Short HistoryVersace snakeskin printed leather platform high heels pumps green size 40 (10),
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  • New Madewell Whisper Cotton Rib Crewneck Long Sleeve Tee Colorblock,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 Converse CT All Star Renew Low Jade Stone Sneakers,. 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 AmericaDonegal Parian China Claddagh Picture Frame,
  • Patterson, Orlando. COPY - 3 pc dressy tuxedo pant suit,. 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, 1400-1800Sorel Out and About Boots Like New 6,

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