Ending The Atlantic African Slave Trade

ending the Atlantic slave trade
Figure 1.--Here is a depition of a slave ship being loaded off West Africa. Notice that the men are being shackleled, but some of the women have been separated. We are not sure who the illustraor was or where it was first publised.

The United States banned the importation of slaves (1808). There was, however, only minimal enforcement by the U.S. Navy. It was the Royal Navy that eventually ended the slave trade. The slave trade had been a lynch pin in thr triangular trade that has been a key element of the British economy and helped bring great wealth to Britain. It had in part helped to finance the growth of the Royal Navy. The expansion of the British merchant fleet under the protection of the Royal Navy resulted in Britain dominating the slave trade by the 18th century. British ships beginning about 1650 are believed to have transported as many as 4 million Africans to the New World and slavery. The British Parliament during the Napoleonic Wars banned the slave trade (1807). This was a decession made on moral grounds after a long campaign in Britain against slavery at considerable cost at a time of War. After Trafalgur (1805) the powerful British Royal Navy could intercept suspected slave ships under belligerent rights. After the cesation of hostilities this became more complicated. The only internationally recognized reason for boarding foreign ships was suspected piracy. Thus Britain had to persue a major diplomatic effort to convince other countries to sign anti-slavery treaties which permitted the Royal Navy to board their vessels if suspected of transporting slaves. Nearly 30 countries eventually signed these treaties. The anti-slavery effort required a substantial effort on the part of the Royal Navy. The major effort was carried out by the West Coast of Africa Station which the Admiralty referred to as the ‘preventive squadron’. The Royal Navy from this station for 50 years conducted operations to intercept slavers. At the peak of these operartions abour 25 ships and 2,000 officers and men were deployed. There were about 1,000 Kroomen, African sailors, operating West African Station. The Royal Navy deployed smaller, shallow draft vessels so that slavers could be persued in shallow waters. Britain also targeted African leaders who engaged in the slave trade. A British forced in one operation deposed the King of Lagos (1851). The climate and exposure to filthy diseased laden slave ships made the West African station dangerous. The officers and men were rewarded with Prize money for both freeing slaves and capturing the ships. The Royal Navy's task in East Africa and the Indian Ocean was even more difficult. This was in part because of the support for slavery among Islamic powers (both Arabian and Persian). The slave trade persisted into the 1860s, in part because of the continued existence of slavery in the United states. Eventhough thecslave trade was outlawed in America, the American Navy was not used to aggresively inters=dict the slave trade. This did not change until President Lincoln signed the Right of Search Treaty in 1862, a year before the Emancipation Proclamation. Spain abolished slavery in Cuba (1886). Brazil abolished slavery (1888).

African Slave Trade

The African slave trade is generlly viewed as a European undertaking. In fact both African chiefs and Arabs played major roles. The Arabs were the first to enter the African slave trade. Arabs after their emergence from the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century not only moved into Mesopotamia and North Africa, but also dominated the eastern Indin Ocean, Arabs traders gradually established trading posts along the African Indian Ocean ports. Slaves could be sold to the Arab traders operating from Indian Ocean ports. As the powers of the Arabs increased they began raids on villages to seizes blacks that could be sold in Middle Eastern slave markets. A new outlet appeared in the 15th century. Portuguese explorers began voyages south along the Atlantic coast of Africa. The Portuguese were looking for a route to Asia, but as they moved south they began setting up trading posts. First the Portuguese established trading posts along the coast of West Africa, but gradually moved further south along the coast. Other European maritime powers followed suit. This was the beginning of the African slave trade. The Europeans differed from the Arabs in that they did not normally conduct raids themselves, but usually bougth slaves from Arab slave brokers and African chiefs. As the demand for slaves expanded, whole areas of Africa were depopulated.

Economic Importance

It was the British Royal Navy that eventually ended the slave trade. The slave trade had been a lynch pin in the triangular trade that has been a key element of the British economy and brought great wealth to Britain. It had in part helped to finance the growth of the Royal Navy. The expansion of the British merchant fleet under the protection of the Royal Navy resulted in Britain dominating the slave trade by the 18th century. British ships beginning about 1650 are believed to have transported as many as 4 million Africans to the New World and slavery. Britain of course was not the only country that participated and benefitted in the slave trade. The Dutch, French, Portuguese, and Spanish were also involved. And the slave trade not only benefitted these countries directly, but the sugar plantations using slave labor generated even more wealth, especially for Britain, France, and Portugal. The dimensions of the wealth generated are difficult to comprehend by modern readers. Sugar during the 18th century became enormously popular. Earlier sweeteners like honey were used and sugar enormously expensive and not widely available to ordinary people. British consumption skyrocketed. Britain consumed five times as much sugar in 1770 as it had in 1710. Sugar surpassed grain as the most valuable commodity in European commerce (1750). Sugar made up 20 percent of all European imports and by 1790, 80 percent of that sugar came from the British and French Caribbean sugar islands. [Ponting 2000, p. 510.] The value of the Caribbean sugar islands that in the settlement of the French and Indians Wars/Seven Years War (1783), France agreed to cede all of New France (Canada) to Britain rather than lose two tiny Caribbean sugar islands (Guadelouoe and Martinique).

American Revolution (1775-83)

The great majority of slaves transported in the Atlantic slave trade went to Brazil and the Caribbean rather than the North American colonies, but there were slaves inthe American colonies, primarily the southern colonies. After the Revolutionary war began, British Torries began asking why it was that the largest slave owners in the colonies cried the the loudest for liberty. Some colonists including Jefferson tried with little success to blame Britain for slavery. Historians in recent years have begun to address the important role blacks played in the Civil War. Still not adequately described is the roles blacks played in the Revolutionary War. Blacks including slaves fought on both sides. Washington at first was horrified with the idea of arming blacks, but changed his mind as the realties of fighting the British emerged and he observed the contribution of his black soldiers. The British tried to attract blacks to their cause. This probably backfired as many whites, including whites that may have supported the British, were horified with the idea. This was one of the reasons that the British when they launched their southern strategy failed to encounter the support they had anticipated. After the Revolution as the need for a stronger national government emerged so did the issue of slavery. At the time of the Revolution, America was still a minor force in internatiinal affairs, only about 3 million people with no real army, mostly living along the coast of a great continent. The primary importance of America and its policies on slavery would be the great power that Anmerica would grow into during the 19th century.

The French Revolution (1789)

African slavery became well established in European colonies, including French colonies, during the 17th century. African slavery was an important economic institition by the 18th century, especially important for the Caribbean sugar islands which were a major element in Western European economies. France lost most of its empire to the British, but retained imporant Caribbean islands. Liberty was a byword of the French Revolution as it had been in the American Revolution. But like the Americans, the leaders of the French Revolution did not move toward abolition. In America any step toward abolition during the Revolution or the frameing of the Constitution would have meant disunion as it would have been unacceptable to the southern colonies. In France it appears to redlect the bouergoise character of the Revolution and the economic importance of Caribbean slavery to the French economy--especially Haiti. While France did not move toward abolition, the Revolution did have substantial reverberations, both in the Caribbean and in England which affected slavery. Neither the Revolutionaries or Napoleon moved yoward abolition. Neither did the restored French momarchy after the Naoleonic Wars. This in fact posed a problen for Britain which after abolishing slavery gave the Royal Navy the task of ending the Atalantic slave trade.

Haiti (1791-1804)

The first major step toward ending slavery occurred in Haiti, at the time a French colony. Haiti was by far the most valuable Caribbean island because of the sugar plantations. Conditions for slves on this plantations were exctrodinarily brutal. Developments in France helped to spark the slave revolt. It developed into a lengthy and bloody struggle ending in the end of slavery and independence for Haiti. It would prove to be the only successful slave rebellion. Southerners in the new independent United States were horified by the prospect of a slave rebellion. Haiti was ostersized by America depite the fact that the Haitians destroyed a French army that was preparing to restblish aFrench North American Empire in Louisiana. The Europeans and new Latin American republics also ostersized Haiti.

Abolitionist Movement

A key role in ending the African slave trade was the development of an abolition movement in Britain. Here Christians played a cerntral role. The movement might be dated from the publication of John Wesley's Thought upon Slavery (1774). Wilberforce and Clarkson were two other key figures. The movement founded the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1787). Debates in Parliament commenced shortly afterwards (1789). The abolitionists managed to get a bill committing Britain to ending the slave trade (1792). The insertion of the world "gradual" and the lack of a time table meant that little was done. Opponents claimed thst it would put Britain at a disadvantage to other countries. Another bill failed narowly (1796) and Britain's attention turned increasingly to Revolutionary France. Several parlimentarians played an important role. The Whig Party played an important role. Several parlimentarians played important roles. One was Henry Peter Brougham. The abolitionists after several years of work suceeding in passing a bill in ablolishing the slave trade in conquered territories (1805). This was finally followed with the passage of the bill outlawing the slave trade in the British Empire (1807). [Pollock] This was a major step because Britain with its powerful Royal Navy after Trafalgur (1805) dominated the world's oceans. Britain was the only country with the capability of ending the slave trade. The abolitionist movement in America was much weaker than in Britain. And as it developed it was highly sectional. The Abolitionist movement in America was built around Protestant churches in the northern states. At first Quakers were the most prominent voice, but other religious groups in the North also began to question slavery. Southern churches, however, saw no religious problem with slavery. Southern slaves, however, saw considerable paralells with the bondage of the people of Israel in Egypt and their plight. Some authors insist that political and ecomomic factors are nore important than moral issues. Thesecare factors which should not be ignored, but it is interesting to note that many countries did not have abolitionist movements of importance and there was not abolitionist move at all in the Muslim world.


Capitalism was essentially invented by the Dutch and afopted on a larger scale by the British. The slave trade played an important role in generating the capital that financed the Industrial Revolution. And inputs from slave based economies (the cotton from southhern plantations) played a role in the Industrial Revolution. From an early point, however, Scottish economist Adam Smith's demostrated in the The Wealth of Nations slave labour was not cheaper than the work of free men. The central struggle in the abolition of slavery would be the American Civil War and it was the northern economy based on free labor that would defeat the slave-based economy of the Southern Confederacy. Karl Mark and other reformers generated a body of Marxist idelology in an attempt to address the social problem of 19th century capitalist society. Marx and other Marxist missed the capacity for reforn generated by free labor and democraic systems. It is no accident that it has been totalitarian states (mostly Marxist) in the 20th century which prohibited workers from organizing democratic labor unions that would adopt massive systems of slave labor. The Soviet Gulag was the best known, but other Communist countries set up slave labor systems (Cambodia, China, and North Korea). Other totalitariand like the NAZIs also set up slave labor systems.

America Abolishes the Slave Trade (1807)

Slavery was an issue that could not be resonved at the Constitution Convention (1787). There was agreement on a provision to end the slave trade. The new Constitution declared a provision to end the slave trade after a 20-year period. Congress after an extensive debate did 20 years later passed the Slave Importation Act (1807). The Act became effective in 1808 and prohibited the further importation of slaves. I am not entirely sure of the politics involved. Southern Congressmen could have blocked the bill had they chosen to do so. President Jefferson's support was critical. There were several provisions to the bill, each hotly debated. There was, however, only minimal enforcement by the U.S. Navy which in 1808 was very small. At the time the U,S. Navy was miniscule and President Jefferson opposed naval shipbuilding. Thus the Federal government did not have a substabntial naval force to slave trading. But it was not only the Navy's ability, but the continued support for slavery in the southern states that impaired any effective American action. The Act only affected the slave trade, not slavery itself. Slavery itself was a matter that was the esponsibility of each individual state.

Britain Abolishes the Slave Trade (1807)

The British Parliament during the Napoleonic Wars banned the slave trade (1807). The ban was even more restrictive than the American ban. And the British with the poweful Royal Navy had the means to act. At the time tens of thousands of slaves were being transported annually, many on British ships. This was a decession made on moral grounds after a long campaign in Britain against slavery led by religious reformers like Wilbur Wilberforce. It was a action taken at considerable cost and at at a time of War. There was some support for the slave trade by sugar merchants, cotton mill ownwrs, Liverpool slavers, and some politicians, but the British public strongly supported the effort. [Vogel]

Power Politics

Ending the slave trade is normally seen in moral terms. As important if not more important in the struggle over the slave trade is European power politics. British abolition of the slave trade occurred at the heighth of the Napoleonic Wars. British support for Wilberforce was initially because abolition was seen as weakening the French in the Caribbean. And French reluctance to end the slave trade was in part because it was seem as a British attempt to use the power of the Royal Navy. weaken the French evonomy. The failure of America to cooperate effectively with the Royal Navy was American reluctanceto allow any interference with American commerce.

Cooperation with America

Cooperation between Britain and America would have played a major role in ending the slave trade. Both Britain and America passed laws ending the slave trade. And American sent ships into the Gulf of Guinea to intercept slavers. The american effort was on a smaller scale thn the Britisheffort, but it was no unimportant. Thre was, however, no real copperation between America and Britain. Several factors prevented cooperation. The most incediary issues was British impressment of American sailors. And not only did impressment prevent cooperation, it lead to war with Britain.


The Napoleonic Wars resulted in the significant expansion of the Royal Navy. As a result the British badly needed men to man the new ships. One way to find the men as there was no conscription was the notorious press gangs. Another was the impressment of American sailors. This was actually preferable to the Royal Navy because the men impressed were actual sailors with nautical skills. Britain approved the Orders in Council (1806). Thid barred neutral trade with France and countries allied with France. This was the British reaction to Napoleon's Continental System. The Orders in Council required neutral ships desiring to trade with France to enter British ports and pay a tax. This of course significatly increased shipping costs and threatened the U.S. maritime industry. The Royal Navy stopped American-flag merchantment to prevent trade with France. Officers obstensibly looking for Royal Navy deserters indiscriminately seized British and American sailors from those U.S. merchant ships. Nationality somewhat complicated this issue. Some Americans were in fact British born and there wre quite a number of Royal Navy deserters working on merican ships. The British were not overly descriminating about who they seized. The need for men was often a more important matter. This practice despite the complications obviously was a violation of the the sovereignty of the United States. An incident off the U.S. coast brouht these simmering issues to public attention (1807). The HMS Leopard engaged the USS Chesapeake off the Virginia Capes. After forcing the Chesapeake to surrender, the British impressed some of the crew. This was an especially notable incident because the Chesapeak wa a U.S. naval vessel and not a merchant vessel. President Jefferson resisted the cries for war with Britain. Jefferson responded with the Embargo Act (December 1807). The act prohibited U.S. ships from trading with all foreign country. The prohibition had little impact on Britain, but severely affected the U.S. economy. The act crippled the American maritime industry--especially important to the New England economy. [Labaree] While the practice did obtain some sailors for the Royal Navy, there were obvious diplomatic consequences. This impressment of Americans so poisoned relations that cooperation on the slave trade was impossible. The impressment of sailors would eventually lead to the War of 1812. And it would impair the proscepts for cooperation on efforts to end the slave trade for decades after the War. With this background, it was difficult for the United States to accept any form of search or seizure by British forces, even in the effort to halt the slave trade.

War of 1812 (1812-15)

The War of 1812 is the war between America and Britain during 1812-15. The War of 1812 to most Europeans meant the invasion of Russia by Napoleon's Grand Army. To Americans it means the war with Britain, a kind of second revolutionary war. The War was indeed influenced by the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. The War of 1812, however, was primarily the outgrowth of domestic issues. The primary international issue was the impressment of American sailors by the Royal Navy. The Chesapeake Affair result in cries for war with Britain. President Jefferson was opposed to war. War fever gradually grew as the British continued to impress American seamen. The War Hawks in Congress were also still intent on seizing Canada from the British. The Americans had tried to seize Canada during the American Revolutionsry War, but failed. President James Madison finally sent a war message to Congress which was approved (1812). Ironically this occured after the British had agreed to stop impressing American sailors, but word had not yet reached America. President James Madison's stress the free trade issue, claiming "Free Trade and Rights of Sailors". There was, however, more ethusiasm for the War in the West. New England was dubious about the War, perhaps better understanding the power of the Royal Navy. Western frotiersmen were primarily interested in land. While impressment was important, it was probably British actions on the frontier, especially the North west Territory that was the major cause of the War. Americans moving west wanted land. This could only be obtained from the Indians. And the British were suppirting Indian tribes as part of a policy to hold Americans in check. Westerners also saw land in Ontario. Southern proponents looked covetously at Florida, at the time held by Britain's Spanish ally. The resultng war was arguably the most mis-guided in American history. The War Hawks were not the professional military. In fact, America did not rally have a professional military at the time. Most of the fighting since the Revolutinary War had been done by state militias against Native Americans on the western frontier. America entere the War with virtuasly no preparation against one of the gret military powers of the day.

International Law

After Trafalgur (1805) the powerful British Royal Navy had no real rival at sea. In fact Britain would not be challenged at sea again until the Germany Navy in World War I (1914-18). The Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars could thus intercept suspected slave ships under belligerent rights. This was possible until the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815). After the cesation of hostilities this became more complicated because international law did not permit the Royal Navy to stop foreign-flag ships. America and Britain for many years were the only countries to outlaw the slave trade. The only internationally recognized reason for boarding foreign ships was suspected piracy. So in addition to Royal Navy patrols, the British had to begin a complicated diplomatic effort to convince other countriues to ban the slave trade.

Registry Bill (1816)

The British Abolition of Slave Trade Act came into force (1807). This made itbillegal for individuals in British colonies to import more slaves. Wilberforce launched an effort to pass a Registry Bill (1816). The bill would require colonies throughout the Empire to register all slaves. Abolitionists were convinced that plantation operators in several Caribbean colonies were ignoring the ban on the slkave trade and continuing to illegally participate in the African slave trade. Many British Colonies began keeping registers of slaves who had been 'lawfully enslaved'. The British established the Office for the Registry of Colonial Slaves in London (1819). Colonial officialos sent copies of their slave registers to this office. Registration basically a census of slave holdings generally occurred every 3 years. Officials continued to maintain these registers until slavery was officially abolished (1834).

Latin American War of Liberation (1806-26)

Latin America when the French Revolution erupted in Europe was largely controlled by Portugal and Spain. The Portuguese colony was Brazil with a capital at Rio de Janeiro. Brazil included much of eastern South America and the amazonian Basin. Spain controlled the rest of South America, Central America, Mexico, and a few Caribbean islands. Spanish South America was divided into the three Viceroyalties of New Grenada (Bogotá), of Lima and of Rio de la Plata (Buenos Aires). Spain restricted power in its colonies to a small European born elite, not trusting the criollos, people of European ncestry born in the colonies. The growing number of locally born colonists who had acquired wealth as important landowners and merchants resented the inferior status assigned to them as "criollos". They wanted a share in the governing of the colonies. Unlike English North America, there were no colonial legislstures in Latin America. The mother country also severly restricted economic activity. The colonies were only permitted to trade with the mother countries. And both exports and imports were taxed. The Enlightenment provided a challenge to the legitimacy of monarchies. The American Revolution (1775) and French Revolution (1789) showed agrieved Latin American criollos that change was possible. And than the Napoleonic Wars weakend both Portugal and Spain, giving Latin American criollos the oportunity to seize theur independence, especially when French armies crossed the Pyranees to invade Spain and Portugal. Napoleon deposed the Bourbon monarch in Spain and the Portugese court fled to Brazil. The result was a two decade struggle involving many fronts on which opposing armies fought on some of the most difficult terraine imaginable. The diplomatic landscape changed during and after the Napoleonic Wars. One after another, the South American countries became independent republics. The Caribbean islands, except for Haiti, remained in European hands. The most important country here was Brazil with a substanti-slave based economy. This complicated the diplomatic effort creating many new jurisdictions thstv hd to be dealt with, The South American countries did not possess many vessels that prticipted in the slave trade, but they cooperated to vay degrees with the slavers--espeially Brazil. The large market for slaves in Brazil and the short run from Africa to Brazilin ports made interdiction difficult. Cuba was also important, but remained in Spanish hands.

Diplomatic Campaign

Britain after the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815) had to persue a major diplomatic effort to convince other countries to ban the slave trade and sign anti-slavery treaties which permitted the Royal Navy to board their vessels if suspected of transporting slaves. An important early step was getting the Congress of Vienna to condemn the Slave Trade (1815). The Great Powers werevno important maritime ntions or hve important slave holdings, bu along with their status as great pwers came influence and lent porestige to the British effort. Nearly 30 countries eventually signed these treaties. Four countries were especially important if Britain was to end the slace trade. At the time, European countries had not colonized much of sub-Sahara Africa, although they did control several important ports. Several countries has colonies in the Americas (France, Portugal, and Spain) where slavey was important. And of course slavery was important in the souther section of the United States. The British persuaded an unethusiatic Portugal to abolish the slave trade north of the equator (1815). A mixed commission was established at Sierra Leone to adjudicate the slavers arested by the Royal Navy. Spain also agreed (1817). Bribes helped convinced the Portuguese and Spanish authorities. Getting officials to actually cooperate and take action against their nationals involved in slaving, however, proved much more difficult. And ths was only the beginning of the diplomatic program.

U.S. Slave Trade Act (1819)

American policies on the slave trade were confused and often contradictory. The Federal Government had no authority to act on slavery. It did had the right to act on the slave trade. The U.S. Comgress passed the Slave Trade Act (1819). Congress in the Act gave President James Monroe the authority to use the U.S. Navy to end the slave trade. Congress also approved the creation of Liberia as a place where freed slaves could be returned to Africa. Congress next approved an amendment which equated slave trading with piracy, a stiff provision because piracy was punishable by death. The problem with these stiff-sounding measures was that the U.S. Navy was very small and did not have the ability to effectively patrol American waters, let alone African waters. And Ameeicans were strongly oppsed to giving the Royal Navy the right to inspect American vessels. The War of 1812 had been fought in part over the Royal Navy stopping American-flag vessels and impressing American sailors. Senator James DeWolfe of Rhode Island sponsored an amendment prohibiting Royal Navy searches. (Rhode Island was a major maritime state and slaving had been an important maritime activity. Dewolfe was himself a former slasver.) The abolition movement in America was not yet important in the North and slavery was a matter of law throughout the South. Nothing so exempified American attitudes than an exchange between the British Foreign Minister and American Secretary of State (and future president) John Quincy Adams in 1822. The Foreign Minister asked Secretary Adams if he could think of anything more atrocious than the slave trade. Adams, no friend of Adams, shot back, "Yes. Admitting the right of search by foreign officers of our vessels upon the seas in time of peace; for that would be making slaves of ourselves." [Booth, p. 81.]

Continued Slave Trade

The slave trade continued because of the continued demand for slaves in the United States, the Caribbean, and Brazil and the high prices that could be obtained for slaves. One reason there was not more of a fight over slavery at the American Constitutional Convention was that many were convinced that it was inefficent and would gradually die out as it had in the North. It did not, in large measure because of the invention of the cotton gin ad the resulting spread of enormously profitable cotton plantation throughout the South. Sugar production expanded in the Caribbean, especially Cuba. Brazilian agriculture expanded, especially coffee. These and other developments meant that rather than withering away, slavery grew in importance and with it the demand for more slaves. British and American cooperation on ending the slave trade did not occur, even after the War of 1812. Many Americans believed that the British demand of the right of search was nothing more than a disguised effort to disrupt trade with Africa. This impaired cooperative efforts until the Civil War (1861-65). It was not much the cooperation of the fledgeling American Navy that was needed. It was the cooperation of port authorities in the United States, especially the souhern ports, that was needed. And support for slavery in the South was not declining, the profitability of cotton was creating an increased demand for slaves and political support for slavery.

Royal Navy West African Station

The anti-slavery effort required a substantial effort on the part of the Royal Navy. The major effort was carried out by the West Coast of Africa Station which the Admiralty referred to as the ‘preventive squadron’. The British deployed ships to patrol the African coast (1811). The Royal Navy from this station for 50 years conducted operations to intercept slavers. At the peak of these operartions abour 25 ships and 2,000 officers and men were deployed. There were about 1,000 Kroomen, African sailors, operating West African Station. The Royal Navy deployed smaller, shallow draft vessels so that slavers could be persued in shallow waters. Britain also targeted African leaders who engaged in the slave trade. A British forced in one operation deposed the King of Lagos (1851). The climate and exposure to filthy diseased laden slave ships made the West African station dangerous. The officers and men were rewarded with Prize money for both freeing slaves and capturing the ships. The Royal Navy patrols affected the slavers operations. The Slavers picked up slaves along a 3,000-mile length of the Sub-Saharan African Atlantic coast. Slaves were brought to numerous sites from Gorée (Dakar) south to Benguela. Before the Royal Navy effort began slavers collected their cargo gradually in barracoons. With Royal Navy cruisers patroling the coast, slavers speeding up their operations. Lieutenant Forbes on HMS Bonetta reported, "two hours suffice to place four hundred human beings on board". [Forbes, p. 94.] The Royal Navy adapted their strategy as well. The men of the African station wanted to take loade, not empty vessels so they got the bounty for liberating slaves.

African Political Structure

The African political structure is difficult to describe over the very long period in which the Arab slave trade in Africa took place. The rrade was conducted over 12 centuries, roughly from 650-1900. It is important, however, to roughly sketch the political structure to understand the ebvironment in which both Europeans and Arabs conducted the slave trade. The Arabs conquered North Africa from a very early stage of the Islamic expansion. Arab traders penetrated into sub-Saharan Africa through desert caravans, the Nilr River, and by estanlish trading postas along the Indian coast of the continent. The black African kingdoms they encountered as they moved into the interior varied over time. Europeans had little access to Africa, blocked for centuries by Arab control of North Africa. This only began to change in the 15th cenntury with the European voyages of discovery with the Portuguese edgeing their way down the African coast. Like the Arabs along the Indian Ocean coast, European influence along the Atlantic coast was first limited to coastal regions.

Royal Navy Enforcement

Early British enforcement of the anti-slavery treaties with Portugal and Spain were complicated by the lack of details on enforcement in the treaty. The Royal Navy stopping suspected slavers and the British searched for slaves. Slavers with empty holds were not arrested. As a result, slavers persued by Royal Navy cruisrs would throw their slave cargo overboard. The British finally addressed this problem by proposing an equipment clause to the treaties. Theis allowed the Royal Navy to seize vessels that had equipment for fixtures making it clear that it was a slaver. This included: open gratings on hatches, spare planks, shackles, numerous water casks, boilers for cooking, and large quantities of rice and other inexpensive food stuffs. Many countries resisted these new stiffer enforcement provisions. Portugal onjected for years until being forced to accepot them (1842). France objected to granting the Royal Navy the right to search its vessels, in part for nationalistic reasons. France and Britain had for centuries been bitter enemies which made such cooperation difficult. The French finally agreed to permit searches (without the equipment clause) (1833), but withdrew permission (1841). [Ward, p. 121.] The British had difficulty obtaining American acqiesence to the equipment clause, but finally succeeded (1849).

Latin America: Ending the Slave Trade and Abolition (1810s-50s)

The diplomatic landscape changed during and after the Napoleonic Wars. Many new independent nations appeared in Latin America as a result of the Napoleonic Wars and aftermath. The Latin American Wars of Liberation (1806-26) resulted in independence for on country in the region after another. This changied the diplomatic landscape in the Americas. Britain also had the advantage in these countries that it was the Royal Navy which prevented the Congrss of Vienna after the Napoleonic Wars from attempting to restore the old monarchial order in the Ammericas. Britain was also an important trading partner. Thus in country after country, the slave trade was ended and slavery abolished in a complicated series of steps. The Latin Americans signed traties with Britain to end the slave trade. Abolition and emancipated followed. The one hold out of importance was Brazil which did not fight a war of independence and and did not establish a republic. Ending the slave trade necesitated a diplomatic effort with these new strates rather than Portugal and Spain. to obtain the cooperation of these new countries. The Latin American wars of independence combined with British diplomacy resulted in considerable progress toward ending the slave trade. Slavery was fairly limited in most of these countries, except for Brazil and the Caribbean. The South American countries except for Brazil and the Guinas became independent republics. The Caribbean islands, except for Haiti, remained in European hands. The republican orientation of these new governments set the conditions for freeing slaves. The most important country here was Brazil with a substantial-slave based economy and the only country in South America the region to estanlish a monarchy. This complicated the diplomatic effort creating many new jurisdictions that had to be dealt with, The South American countries did not possess many vessels that participted in the slave trade, but they cooperated to various degrees with the slavers--espeially Brazil. The large market for slaves in Brazil and the short run from Africa to Brazilin ports made interdiction difficult. Cuba was also important, but remained in Spanish hands. Many of the Spanish South American countries were on the Pacific coast, making the slave trade a much more complicated operation. There were several reasons that abolition relatively quickly followed aolition. First, except for Brazil and the Caribbean, most of Latin America did not develop tropical plantations using African slaves. This was a relatively easy process. The Spanish colonial system converted Native Americans into peasant serfs. Second, slave owners tended to oppose independence and thus the revolutionaries could recruit slaves. And after the victory of the revolutuonaries there was no longer any one supporting slavery. Third, the revolutionary leaders were embued with the ideals of tge Enlitement and tended to oppose slavery for ethical reasons. [Strk, 220.] As a result abolition and emancipation began even while the Wars for Independence were underwa and were accomplished well before the defeat of the merican Confederacy. Most of the rest of South America qyuickly abolished slavery after indepnndence: Argentina (1813), Colombia (1914), Chile (1823), Mexico (1829), and Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela (1850s).

American Policies (1819-60)

Virginian James Monroe was elected president in 1816 and presided over the short-lived "Era of Good Feeling". The contentious struggle bettween Federalists and Republicans were over and the slavery issue was defused with the Missouri Compromise (1820). Monroe had been the U.S. Ambassador to Britain at the time of Chesapeake-Leopard affair. He had as a result become familiar with naval affairs. After Congress passed the Slave Trade Act (1819), Monroe ordered the small U,S. Navy "to seize all vessels navigated under our flag engaged in that trade." [Hagan, 93-94.] The Navy dispatched five ships to African waters (January 1820-August 1821). , beginning with the frigate Cyane. She was followed by the brig Hornet, frigate John Adams, and schooners Alligator and Shark, both fast 200-ton Baltimore clipper types, 86 feet long, mounting 12 guns, with crews of 70, which were well suited for running down slave ships. The numbers of Africans freed, however, were limited, primarily because of diplomatic reasons. Those freed from the slavers were transported to the American Colonization Society in what was to become Liberia. The Amercan squadron was recalled in 1824 and did not return to West Africa until 1843.

Brown Privilege Act (1831)

The British Parliament passed the Brown Privilege Act (1831). This new law conferred political and social rights on non-whites who had mnaged to obtain their freedom. There were discriminatory qualifications, but the Act allowed elite freed African slaves to vote. The primary impact was in the Caribbean.

Jamaican Great Slave Rebellion (1831)

The greatest slave revolt was the Baptist War. Rainfall was below normal in 1831. Some plantations experenced drought conditions. This reduced the crop yields. Some planters to make up for falling revenue reduced rations. The slaves as axresult of the missions supported by the anti-slavery movement in Britain were aware of efforts to end slavery. It was here that ideas about emancipation and the white preachers at the missions were so different than the planters. Religious meetings also gave slaves the opportunity to plot abd exchange pans with slaves on other plantations. This provided an element that was never available to slaves in the United States. [Reckord, p. 108.] the white missionaries preached a message of patient obedience and resignation. There was also a native Baptist church with led by blacks which preached a more activist message. The revolt began during the Christmas holiday (1831). Samuel Sharp, a domestic slave and Baptist deacon, organized a peaceful general strike to achieve emancipation and a living wage. The signal to begin the strike was a fire on the Kensington Estate in St. James Parish. The strike, however, soon got out of hand. Here the actual course of events are not entirely known. It is clear that from the beginning that the plantrs saw the strike as rebellion pure and simple. Rebellion swept the western parishes. The Revolt becamne known as the Baptist War because of the role of the missions. The slaves destroyed 106 sugar plantations in St. James Parish alone. A militia force organized by the planters and the small British garrison supressed the strike after only 10 days. The authorities reported killing 201 slaves, the actual total was probably about 400. Missionaries were arrested. Hunting down escapee slaves continued for weeks after. Sharpe was hung. An estimated 20,000 slaves participated in the rebellion. They killed planters and ruined crops. The British and planters convinced them to lay down their revolt with promises of abolition. These romises were not met. The Britsh hung 3440 slaves were were identified as leaders. Large numbers were punished in various ways such as whippings. The British Parliament held two inquiries to assess the property damage and loss of life.

Britain Prohibits Slavery in the Empire (1833-34)

Parliament prohibited slavery in her colonies (1833). The act for abolition of slavery passed its third reading in the House of CommonsOn (July 26, 1833). Wilberforce died 3 days later, but by thus time it was clear that it would also be passed by the House of Lords. Wilberforce was buried in Westminster Abbey by request of members of both Houses of Parliament. Slavery was finally abolished throughout the British Empire (1834). [Copeland]

Spain (1835)

Spain lost most of its American Empire in the early 19th century. This reduced, but did not end the Spanish interest in the slave trade. It retained Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. And Cyba was a particularly valuable colony as a result of the slave-based sugar industry. Spain finally signed a treaty with Britain abolishing the slave trade, granting Britain the the right to search Spanish-flag vessels suspected of slaving, established a Mixed Commissions, authorising that vessels equipped for the slave trade be condemned and broken up, and declaring that slaves liberated by the Mixed Commission should be delivered to the government whose cruiser made the capture (1835). I am not sure at this time as to what poltical developments in Spain promted the Spanish Government to make these commitments. It did not end, however, Spanish slavers trying to smuggle slaves to the Caribbean, primarily Cuba.

Royal Navy Enforcement Actions in the Caribbean (1830s-80s)

Britain's decesion to emancipate the slaves in Jamaica and other colonies Emancipation eased the job of the Royal Navy in the Caribbean, but did not end it. The British abloished the slave trade three decaded earlier (1807), but this did not end slavers trying to land slaves illegally at British islands. And slavery was still legal on the Spanish islands (Puerto Rico and Cuba). There was a ready mnarket for slaves on Cuba. And from Cuba, it was a relatively short run to American ports. The foreign slave trade was illegal in the United states, but there was a ready market for slaves that could be sucessfully smuggled into the southern states. And because of the cotton economy, prices were very high because of the demand for slaves. Slavers intercepted by the Royal Navy in the Caribbean were brought into Caribbvea ports like Kingston. Here the freed slaves commonly became edentured workes. They were not reurned to Africa. The Ameriucan Civil War ended the snuggling of slaves to the United States, but slsacers still attempoted to reach Cuba until Spain abolished slavery in Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Released Captives

The Royal Navy intercepted slavers with large numbers of captive Africans. We do not know the number of Africans involved or indeed if any one has calculated the number involved. During the several decaded the Royal Navy worked to end slavery, the number must have been very substantial. The British abolition of slavery did not in actuality immediately end slavery and slave-like working conditions. Some British merchant vessels continued to carry goods useful in the slave trade. The Royal Navy did not return the captive Africans to the point of departure. This would have been costly and would probably have meabnt that they would just be reenslaved. Africans on slavers intercepted off Africa were often landed in Sierra Leone. Other Africans were landed at Britain's Caribbean colonies. Here their tratment and experience varied over time, but in general were treated differently than the existing slave population. [Adderly] And the British documented the experience of these inviduals in much more detail than the slaves. And because of their different treatment were in a positioin to retain more of their African culture. Many of thoe released captives were were treated as "emigrant laborers" to work on sugar plantations. America seamen questioned Britains commitment to ending the slave trade. American seamam Horatio Bridge, the purser of the USS Saratoga wrote in the 1840s, "English philanthropy cuts a very suspicious figure". He thought the British were using the Africans as pawns to strengthen their position in the Indies. [Bridge, 551.] A British naval officer, Lieutenant Forbes on HMS Bonetta argues with some difficulty that the African emigration was "voluntary" and waxed eloquently about a British emigrant ships with a urgeon and brass band. He conseded, howeber, that a salaried agent was rewarded with "a guinea a head for each emigrant!". [Forbes, p. 26.]


Relatively little missionary work was done in Africa until the 19th century. Tere were Christians in northeastern Africa (Egyptian Copts and Ethiopian Chrustians) where the churches dated from the very beginning of Christianity. Other than that Christianity was limited to the remnants of the Kongolese Empire (modern Congo Brazzaville and western Democratic Republic of the Congo). Catholic missionary expeditions were launched after the Napoleonic Wars in West Africa, especially Senegal. There were also efforts in Gabon. French Jesuit missionaries began working along the coast at this time and they gradually began working with the native kingdoms in the interior. Protestant missionaries began working in Sierra Leone (1804). The missionaries came from many different European and American churches. They competed with each other for converts and their were, as a result, conflicts. The abolition movement had a major impact on spreadung Christinity. Britian and America abolished tge slave trase (1807). The Royal Navy and to a lesser extent the U.S. Navy launched a decades long campaign to end the slave trade. The British abolished slavery throughout their Empire (1834). Outlawing first the slave trade and and then slavry itself created large numbers of free slaves thatvhadc been Christianized. It also proved to be an enducemnent to set up European Christian missions. Human compassion in Europe for the plight of slaves led to donations for funding mission work in Africa. This began in northern American states even while slavery continued in the southern states. The Protestants spread the Christian gospel through the slaves who were liberated from slaving ships along the West Coast. American abolitionists promoted the resettlmentbof feeed slaves in Liberia. Christianity was at the center of the abolitionist movenents in America and Britain. Christian missionaries brought not only the Gospel but education and health care. Many of the first schools and hospitals in Africa were the work of missionaries. Many Africans wanted education. And just as Protestantism in Europe played a major role in founding public education, Christian missionaries in Africa founded schools so that converted Africans could read the Bible. Dr. David Livingstone (1813-73) is perhps the best known missionary. The slave trade which continued in East Africa wher Islam had a powerful pressence in Zanzubar. Arab slave traders operatung from Zanzibar and coastal ports. The Royal Navy began anti-slavery operations in the Indian Ocean, but resistance from Arab emirates made supressing the slave trade a difficult indertaking. Dr. Livingston believed that the slave trade could only be suppressed by a combination of Christianity and trade. He travelled extensively from east to west in eastern and southern Africa working to bringing Christianity to Africans. He never stayed long in any single location. He achievd some success among the Tswana people (in modern Botswana). Conversion to Christianity in somecareas caused social upheaval. Livingstone and other missionaries was, howver, were unable to seriously impede the slave trade. Their conversions were mostly Africans who had traditional religious beliefs. Few Muslims converted which affected effirts to end the skave trade. Livingston and othr missionaries advicated for European Governments to formally colonize africa as a way of finally ending the slave trade.

Britain and America (1830s-1840s)

The British when the United States drew its African Squadron began boarding American ships suspected of carrying slaves. Without a treary, the Royal Navy used the pretext of "right of visit", This was a a limited version of "right of search" that Lord Palmerston wanted, but it provide an tenuously legal excuse to board American ships. The incidents were heavily criticised in the American press. The internment issue that led to the War of 1812 had not been forgotten. As the American and Cananadian boundary was still not settled, both Maine and especially the Oregon Territory. The slogan "54º40' or fight" was widely supported. The possibility of a third war with Britain loomed. And by a 1840 American-British relations were approaching a crisis. The most celebrated incident was the action of the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Buzzard which intercepted two suspected American slavers off Africa--the brig Eagle and schooner Clara. As there were no American naval ships to turn the vesseks over to, the British escorted the suspected slavers to New York harbor. The arrival of the three ships created a furor in the American press which was indugniant that the British would seize American ships. The long voyage was for naught. The U.S. attorney general ordered the Eagle and Clara released, accepting spurious Spanish papers produced by the owners. [Howard, p. 25.] The United States ordeeed a suadron back into African waters (1840). Passions were defused by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty (1842). The Treaty is best known for finally settling the United States-Canadian boundary. The Treaty also addressed the slave trade.

Other European Countries

The British effort to end the slave trade was a remendously complicated undertaking, in part because of the large number of countries Britain had to deal with diplomarically. Many of these countries were mot involved significantly in the slave trade. Several countries did, however, did allow slavers to use their flag. This was often accomplished by slavers bribing officials. By the 1830s the British had made considerable diplomatic progress, but began to ousg the issue of vessels equipped for the slave trade. They wanted treaties that would enable them to seize slavers, even if no captive Africans were found onboard. Sweden and Norway added an article to their 1824 Treaty which stipulated that vessels condemned for the slave trade should be broken up before sale (1835). Russia issued a circular withdrawing her protection from slave vessels using her flag (1835). The Dutch add an article to their treary with Britain affirming that vessels condemned for slave trading should be broken up before sale. Tuscany signed a treaty with Britain and France agreeing to the terms of the previous treaties between the two nations in 1831 and 1833 (1837). Italy was a special problem for the British because there was no unified Italian state which meant that treaties had to be negotiated with each of the Italian states like Tuscany and Naples. Naples signed a treaty with Britain and France agreeing to the terms of the previous treaties between the two nations in 1831 and 1833 (1838). Greece issued a decree condeming the slave trade (1840). Austria, France, Prussia and Russia signed treaties with Britain for the more effective suppression of the slave trade, extending the Right of Search, authorising the condemnation of vessels equipped for slave trade. Austria, Prussia and Russia (but not France) declare the slave trade to be an act of piracy (1841).

The Vatican

There were no international organizations in the 19th century giving international backing to the effort that Britain had launched upon with only limited assistance from other countries. Pope Gregory XVI issued a Bull condemning the slave trade (1839). This was an important step in securing more support from Catholic countries.


Portugal was another important country involved in the slave trade. Portugal lost its Brazilian colony when it became indepenent (1822). This meant that Portugal was no longer involved as a destination country. Portugal still controlled African colonies where Africans were seized for slavery. This was espcially true in its southern colonies (Angola and Mozambique). Portugal abolished the slave trade (1836). The Royal decree also limited the number of slaves to be transported by colonists, committing to punish Portuguese slave traders, and authorising the condemnation of vessels equipped for the slave trade. We are unsure just what convinced Portugal to take this major decession. The British Parliament passed an act giving the Royal Navy the authority to stop Portuguese slavers vessels and submit them to British Vice-Admiralty courts (1839). Portugal signed another treaty with Britain giving British Royal Navy ships the Right of Search, authorising the condemnation of vessels equipped for slave trade, establishing Mixed Commissions, declaring the slave trade to be an act of piracy, regulating the number of slaves to be carried by Portuguese subjects, declaring that liberated slaves are to be given over to the government whose vessel seized the slaver (1842).

Royal Navy Progress in West Africa (1840s-50s)

The Royal Navy woirked hard in the 1840s to stop the Atlantic slave trade by shutting down the the entrports from where slaves were shipped in West Africa, Here the Royal Navy persued a range of activities. One method was direct military action. Royal Navy ships landed raiding partes and destroyed several barracoons. Many of these baracoons were not right on the coast, but up river where many large sailing ships could not go. One of these rivers was the Gallinas River in modern Sierra Leone (near Liberia). Actually Galinas was an estuarine area fed by the Kerefe and Moa Rivers. This was the baracoons from which the Amistad captives had been originally shipped (1839). The fact that Sierra Leone was British terrutory mean that the Amistad Africans were illegally taken. This was the fact that won their freedom in the American courts. Lomboko was an infamous slave factory in Sierra Leone. It was a fortress stockade operated the Spanish slave trader Pedro Blanco. It was mde up of several barracoons, enclosures where captive Africans from the interior were held awaiting slave ships. There were also palatial buildings for Blanco and is wives, concubines, and employees. Lomboko was scattered on several small islands at the mouth of the Gallinas River, near Sulima on the Gallinas coast. This made it adifficult target for the British. Spanish slavers like Blanco controlled the area, but it was legally British not Spanish territory. Historians believe that some 2,000 slaves a year were shipped out of the Gallinas River in violation of Bitish law (1830s-40s). , despite the slave trade being illegal. In 1849, a British Royal Navy expedition attacked the slave factory: the Royal The British finally located Lomboko. A military assault conducted by the Royal Marines destroyed Lomboko and freed the slaves found there (1849). [Grayson, p. 7.] Such Royal Navy attacks proved effective, but they also exposed Royal Navy personnel to dangers. Actions at sea were realtiveky easy if the slacers were ebcountered. Moving up tivers and in delta islands was airrenr matter. Not only could small landing forces from attack, but landing and coastal operation exposed the men to tropical diseases. Another effective method was negotiating treaties with native chiefs. Here both force and bribes were used to considerable affect. The result was a significant reduction in the slave trade in West Africa (the bulge of Africa north of the Niger River). This was the area the Royal Navy focused its efforts. The response of the slavers was eventually to shift south to the Congo River where the British were less active. [Thomas, pp. 689-705.] These rivers were important because there were no real roads in Africa. Thus the rivers were the primary artieries of commerce. The Congo was a huge basin dominating much of central Africa.

France (1848)

The Convention abolished slavery (1794), but Napoleon reinstted it. France was one of the great powers of Europe which even after the Napoleonic War retained Caribbean colonies and French Guiana. It also had an important maritime fleet. Thus France's policies toward the slave trade were of considerable importance in any effort to end the slave trade. France for a varuety of reasons did not cooperate with British efforts to end the slave trade. It is npt entirely clear just why, but the value of Caribbean sugar was one factor. Royal officials tended to view British efforts to end the slave trade as a cleverly disguised effort to weaken France. Only gradually did the French begin to support efforts to end the slave trade. There was a French emancipation movement, but it was weaker than the movement in Britain and striongest vin disudent, republican circles. The first efforts were aimed at the slave trade and not slavery itself. France passed a stronly worded law to punish those engaged in the slave trade by fine, imprisonment and banishment (1827). A particularly difficult step for France, as it was for America, was to give British Royal Navy vessels the right to inspect French ships. The Revolution of 1830 placing the more liberal Louis-Phillipe on the throne helped being about a change in French policy (1830). The French after extensive British prodding agreed to a treaty with Britain conceding a limited right of search (1831). France signed another treaty with Britain authorising the condemnation of slave vessels equipped to transport captive Africans as part of the slave trade (1833). Denmark and Sardinia signed a treaty with Great Britain and France, agreeing to the terms of the previous treaties between the two nations signed in 1831 and 1833. Finally it was the Revolution of 1848 and end of the Bourbon monarchy that ended slavery in the French colonies. [Aldrich]

Crimean War (1853–56)

The Crimean War between Russia and a coalition led by Britain and Frace broke out (1853). This impacted the slave trade. The British and French resisted Russian efforts to dismember the declining Ottoman Empire. The War was primarily fought in the Black Sea and Crimea. The Royal Navy was forced to withdraw fleet assetts from the Atlantic to support the Allied war effort in the Black Sea. Transporting military units and supplying them in the Crimea was a mamoth logistical undertaking. The withdrawl of Royal Navy ships from the Atlantic meant that the slavers for several years ran little risk of interception. This lead to a brief increase in the slave trade.

Indian Ocean Slave Trade

The Royal Navy's task in East Africa and the Indian Ocean was even more difficult than in the Atlantic. This was in part because of the support for slavery among Islamic powers (both Arabian and Persian). The Indian Ocean from the early Islamic conquests (8th century) to the European voyages of discovery (15th century) was essentially an Arab lake dominatd by armed Arab traders, contested at times by the Persians. One of the important commodities transported over the Arab-controlled Indian Ocean was enslaved Africans. The principal port of embarcation for Afrians taken by Arab slavers was entrepôt Zanzibar. Not a lot is known about Zanzibar and the slave trade until the 19th century. By the time the Royal Navy moved against the Arab Indian Ocean slave trade, it wasargely in the hands of the Sultanate of Zanzibar. The Sultanate's expanding plantation operations in the early 19th century were worked mostly with slave labor. Theprofits fom the East African plantations induced the Sultan of Oman, Sayyid Said, to relocated his capital from Oman to the east African island of Zanzibar (1840). The Sultan's sovereignty at the time extended from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique. One source estimates that 1850 when the British Royal Navy was just beginning to turn its attention to the Indian Ocean slave trade that Arab traders were shipping about 20,000 Africans to slave markets annually. An even larger number of Africans would have been killed in the attacks taking slaves and on the the sad columns of Africans that winded their way from the interior to the Indian Ocean coast. The mortalities in the Eastern slave trade were especally high because the Arabs were primarily after women and children which meant the men had to be killed. This was not, however, a largely naval problem. The Arab slave trade had once been focused on bringing slaves to Middle Easten markets. Now with the growth of palm oil and spice plantations, there was a need for large number of slaves in East Africa itself.

American Slave Trade (1850s)

The United States abolished the slave trade (1807). That did not mean that the slave trade ended. American Navy and especially the Royal Navy as discussed above did gradually reduce the Trans-Atlabntic Slave Trade. Slave ships we know did continue to arrive in America, both directly from Africa and from the Caribbean, especiallt from Cuba after the British abolished first the slave trade (1807) and then slavery itself (1833-34). Most scholars believe that from the aboliton of the slave trade (1807) that American slavery was primarily continued through an internal slave trade. There were some illegal slaves brought in from overseas. Some slavers eluded the Royal Navy abd American patrols. And authorities in the South often did not enfortce the Federal slave trade laws. (The same officials complained when northern officials did not enforce the Federal fugative slave laws.) We think that the numbers of slaves imported was relatively small, especially by the 1950s. The decline in imports was not because the Federal Government strictly enforced the laws, but because the mere existence of the laws, American and Royal Navy patrols, and the covert sales made Trans-Atlantic operations expensive and thus unprofitable. Another factor was that America's substantial maritime fleet was largely operated by northeasterners and not southeners. The actual numbers are not, however, known with any certainty because of the covert nature of the enterprise. In the 1850s, the seizures of the slavers by the U.S. Navy became increasinhly politicized as the country spiraled toward Civil War. The U.S. Navy seized the slaver Wildfire off Key West (April 1860). The last known Trans-Atlantic slave trip to the United States occurred just before the Civil War--the Clotilda. It brought 110 children and young adults (5-23 years of age) to Alabama (July 1860). [Diouf] The voyage is of special interest because detailed documentation exists on both the voyage and the subsequent lives of the Africans in America.

Brazil Moves Against Slavery (1850s)

Brazil was the last Latin American country where slavery was still permitted. It was also the most important country because it had the world's largest slave population--much larger than the United States slave population. Developments here were thus more important than all of the rest of Latin America combined. It was also the country cloest to Africa and thus most difficult for the Royal Navy to sucessfully interdict slavers. Brazil had agreed to end the slavectrade earlier, but in the 1850s began to move against the institutin of slavery itself. It would, however, take another four decades to finally end slavery. The country closed its slave depots south of Rio de Janeiro (1851). Next the Emperor issued a decree emancipating slaves after 14 years’ of service (1854). It would, however, br another three decaded before slavery was abolished in Brazil.


The Spanish after establishing their American empire launched into a debate as to whether Native Americans were actually human which should put in perspective Native American assessments of Europeans. Natives Ameicans were treated brutally, but there were elements in both the royal government and Church tried to moderate how they were treated. Eventually Native Americans became largely serfs in the Spanish colonial empire. The horrendous death rates as a result of European diseases meant that Afticans were imported as slaves, especially in the Caribbean and Brazil as well as the southern colonies in English North America. Europeans began to apply science to the issue of the humanity of blacks and other races. Isaac La Peyrère, a French polymath attempting to reconcile the limited number of generations between Adam and Eve and modern day by positing the existence of people before Adam. He also poseted the theory of polygenism, the separate creation of the different races. suggesting that they were different species. This became one of the great scientific debates of the early- and mid-19th century. Of course if Africans and Native Americans wre different species, then slavery could more easily be justified. An important mid-19th century "polygenists" was the American physician Samuel George Morton. He attributed the varying cultural achievements atvthe time to the diffeing traits of the various races. He wrote about natural position of servitude. Morton addressed these beliefs in Types of Mankind (1854). He was reluctant to aggressively pursue the polygenism argument because it seemed to contradict the Biblical creation account. One polygenist wrote Intermarriage (1838) which claimed that mixed-race children were sterile like mules. As much as slave owners liked the polygenist agument, they knew better than most people that mixed race children were not sterile. This was one of the books Charles Darwin added to his library after he reurn edfrom his HMS Beagle Voyage and began working on his master piece. One of the great mysteries of Origin of the Species is why Darwin goes into great detail finches and other small animals, but does not write a word about human beings. It is generally believed that he wanted to avoid the theological debate about human creation. The inferences were, however, obvious and the beate over evolution soon focused on human evolution with Christians theologians horrified by the possibility that man evolved from apes. That debte has still not died down. Darwin himself came from a family of abolitionists and had strong anti-slavery sentiments when he describes in his Voyage of the Beagle (1839). Two authors maintain that it was his anti-slavery sentiment that generate the thouhts that eventually led to the Origin of the Species (1859). [Desmond and Moore] Whatever his intentions, Darwin's theory on evolution quashed the polygenist theory and the esistence os separate species. It of course did not prevent the developmentof modern racism, it was, however, a major step in exposing suposedly scientific claims backing racism as pseudo science.

American Civil War (1861-65)

The Royal Navy did not obtain cooperation in its efforts from the United States until the outbreak of the Civil War. The slave trade persisted into the 1860s, in part because of the continued existence of slavery in the United States. Even though the slave trade was outlawed in America (1807), the American Navy did not have the capacity, nor was it used to aggresively interdict the slave trade. Even so the American importation of Africans had declined to very small numbers. The slave plantatuns of the Deep South were primarily supplied by a domestic slave trade. Slaves from border states and the Atlantic seaboard slaves states supplied the slaves needed by the cotton planters. This did not change until President Lincoln signed the Right of Search Treaty (1862), a year before the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) freed large numbers of slaves as Federal armies occuoied increasingly large areas oif the Confederacy. The rapid expansion of the U.S. Navy and the naval embargo of the Confederacy put at end to what remained of the slave trade bringing slaves into the United States. The Emancipation Proiclamation was a war-time measure which skave owners could have been challenged in the the courts. Congress passed the The 13th Amendment which made abolition a part of the Constitution (1865).

Spain: Cuba and Puerto Rico (1886)

The abolition of slavery in Spain's last Western Hemishphere colonies is a complicated matter. Spain signed a treaty with Britain to end the slave trade (1817). There was a grace period involved. Spain while agreeing to end the slave trade, in fact took no real actions to do so. Enforcement was largely left to the limited abilities of the British Royal Navy. After the treaty came into force, slavers continued to deliver slavers to Cuba and to a lesser extent Puerto Rico. One account estimates that between 1821 and 1831 more than 300 slave ships brought an estimated 60,000 slaves to Cuba. Spanish authorities on Cuba made no real effort to stop this. Spain abolished slavery south of the equator (1820). Spain at the time, however, had lost or was losing its South American colonies, leaving it only with Cuba and Puerto Rico which were well north of the Equator. Following the defeat of Spain in a series of wars in South America and Mexico, Cubans began to organize an independence movement (1820s). Spain declared martial law and suppressed Cuban newspapers. Newly indepebndent Mexico and Venezuela began to consider expeditions to support Cuba revolutionaries. The United States began to fear another slave rebellion like the one in Haiti with repercussions for the slave holding South. Secretary of State Henry Clay moveed to block such efforts. The Spanish government issued new regultions designed to stop the slve trade (1826). The Spanish proclaimed that any slave who could prove he was illegally imported would be freed. They also issued new regulations requiring ship masters arriving from Africa to submit their logbooks to port authorities for evidence of slaving. British officials complain that the new regulations wre being ignored by autjorities on Cuba. The Minerva incident soon brought this to light. The master of the scooner Minerva landed six boat loads of Africans in Havana harbot at night to escape notice. Royal Navy officers attempted to use the Spanish courts in Cuba to prosecute the ship's master. General Francisco Dionisio, the captain-general of Cuba, blocked the effort. He refused to let the case be brought before the court of mixed commission set up under te terms of the treaty between Spain and Britain. Dionisio claimed that the incident occurred in Havana Harbor and not on the high seas. A spanish census on Cuva found a slave population of 287,000 (1827). Most of Cuba's slaves worked on 1,000 sugar plantations (ingenios). Sugar planter Carlos Manuel de Céspesdes freed his slaves, issuing the Cry of Yara (Grito de Yara). A wave of slave liberations followed (1868). The wars of liberation against Spain were impaired by the slave question. Planters wee concerned that independence would lead to abolition. The Spanish Government proclaimed the "Free Market Law" which freed slaves over age 60, those born after September 17, 1868, and all slaves who fight under the Spanish flag (1870). The last slaver landed Africans in Cuba (1873). Spain finally aboloishes slavery (1886). This meant the end of slavery on the two remaining Spanish colonies in the Western Hmishere--Cuban and Puerto Rico.

Brazil (1888)

The last major country outsude of the Middle East to abolish slavery was Brazil. It was the last major action taken by the Brazilian royal family. The Brazilian royal dynasty stemmed from the Portugese royal family that was forced by Napoleon to flee from Lisbon. Dom Joao set up his court and temporary capital of the Portuguese Empire in Rio de Janeiro, Napoleon's defeat in Russia (1812) fatally weakened France and the French had to withdraw from Iberia (1814). Napoleon was finally defeated at Waterloo (1815). Dom Joao did not return to Portugal, however, until several years later (1821). Dom Joao left his son Dom Pedro in charge of Brazil when he returned to Portugal (1821). Dom Joao attempted to resume the traditional system of colonial rule. Dom Pedro decided to declare Brazil's independence from Portugal and his independence from his father as Pedro I (1822). Brazil's economy changed significantly in the 19th century as coffee became an increasingly important crop. There was considerable Europeam immigratiin in the 19th century, especially from Italy. Pedro II was a ruler of conservative mindset. He came to see slavery, despite its ecoinomic importance to Brazil as inherently evil. Pedero began a series of measures liberating Brazilian slaves. He was posed to ebntirely abolish slavery. His measures against slavery met oposition from major landowners and the military, the leadership of which was drawn from the landed elite. The Emperor was on a trip to Europe when his daughter, Princess Isabel serving as regent, issued a decree abolishing slavery (May 13, 1888). This essentially did away for the last bastion of slavery, although forced labor cotinued for some time, in the Western Hemishere and ended what remained of the the African slave trade. Princess Isabella's decree is known as the Golden Law. It was widely praised in Europe. Conservative forces in Brazil, however, were horrified. As this was the the monarchy's primary source of support, it mortally wounded the monarchy. The landowners organized to oppose the monarchy. Revolts broke out in the important cities. There was some support for the opposition by republican regimes in Uruguay and Argentina. Insurgents proclaimed a republic (November 16, 1889).


Adderley, Rossanne, Marion. New Negroes from Africa: Slave Trade Abolitionand Free African Settlement in the 19th Century Caribbean. This is an excellent study looking at the experiences of released captives on two Caribbean colonies, the Bahamas and Trinidad.

Aldrich, Robert. "French colonies," Encyclopedia of Revolutions of 1848 (2000).

Booth, Alan R. "The United States African Squadron, 1843-1861," Boston University Papers in African History, vol. 1, Jeffrey Butler, ed. (Boston: Boston University Press, 1964).

Bridge, Horatio. Journal of an African Cruiser, Nathaniel Hawthorne, ed. (New York: G.R Putnam, 1853).

Copeland, Reginald. Wilberforce: A Narrative (1923).

Corwin, Arthur F. Spain and the Abolition of Slavery in Cuba, 1817-1886.

Denman, J. Instructions for the Suppression of the Slave Trade: Chronology of treaties (1865).

Desmond, Adrian and James Moore. Daewin's Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin's Views on Human Evolution (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009), 485p.

Diouf, Sylviane. Dreams of Africa in Alabama: Story of the Last Africans

Forbes, Lieutenant. Six Months Service in the African Blockade (London: Richard Bentley, 1849).

Grayson, Robert. The Amistad (ABDO Pub.: Edina, Minn, 2011).

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Pollock, John. Wilberforce: God’s Statesman (1977, 2001).

____________. William Wilberforce: A Man Who Changed His Times (1996).

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Stark, Rodney. The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (2006).

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Vogel, Robert. Without Consent or Contract (New York: W.W. Norton, 1989).

Ward, W.E.F. The Royal Navy and the Slavers (New York: Schoken Books, 1970).


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Created: 5:05 AM 4/29/2006
Last updated: 4:49 AM 2/2/2016