Hidden History: How 13 Million Kidnapped Africans Built Global Capitalism

Slavery Routes – Part 2 From Sugar to Revolution

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

Part 2 of Slavery Routes covers the so-called “Sugar Wars”* and the entry of the rest of Europe (Holland, Prussia, Denmark, England, Spain, France)  into Portugal’s lucrative slave trade. It also explores the role of European banks and insurance companies in making this expansion possible. Slave traders always undertook cross-Atlantic voyages on credit, which meant they had to be insured against losing their “cargo.” Insurance companies (Lloyd’s of London was the most prominent) were happy to ensure an enterprise in which a trader stood to triple his stake.

In this way, the slave trade provided the financial capital for both European and American capitalism.

Too Valuable to Kill

Rebellions by captive slaves were continual on both sides of the Atlantic. Because it took four years of plantation work to pay off the price of a captive, rebellious slaves were too valuable to kill. Instead ship captains and plantation owners became quite ingenious in devising brutal methods to compel submission.

In 1685 Louis XIV of France (funny I majored in French history and they never mentioned this) enacted the Code Noir, which made it legal to beat slaves but not torture them or mutilate their limbs.

The European Abolition Movement

By the late 1780s there was growing awareness and opposition in European society against the brutal conditions of the Middle Passage.** Britain’s abolition movement gained considerable momentum following the 1783 lawsuit in which a slave trader sued his insurance company for refusing to reimburse him after he threw his cargo of 133 living slaves overboard.

The English outlawed the slave trade in 1807. By 1815 there navy was strong enough to prevent other European nations from engaging in slave trading.

In all, 13 million Africans were kidnapped to the New World between 1520 and 1815.

The video can’t be embedded but can be seen free at the following link:

From Sugar to Revolution


*”Sugar Wars” refers to a series of naval conflicts between European nations seeking the upper hand in the slave market.

**The Middle Passage was the stage of the triangular trade (resulting in large exports of sugar to Europe) in which millions of Africans were shipped across the Atlantic as slaves.

Britain’s Struggle to Abolish the Slave Trade

abolition

Abolition: The Struggle to Abolish Slavery in the British Colonies

By Richard S Reddie

Lion Hudson (2007)

Book Review

Reddie devotes most of his book to debunking common myths Europeans perpetuate to justify chattel slavery and the current plight of the African diaspora. First and foremost is the prevailing myth that Africa was a savage and backwards continent prior to the arrival of the first Europeans.

Prior to reading this book, I had never heard of the Nubian, Great Zimbabwe, Ghana, Songhay or Mali civilizations. Archival records suggests that Africa, not the Middle East, was the cradle of civilization. The pioneering Greek scientists Archimedes and Pythagoras both spent their youth studying in Egypt. There’s also fairly strong evidence that East Africans began producing steel before Europeans did.

Of the millions of slaves forcibly transported to the Americas, 40% ended up in Brazil, 40% in the Caribbean, 15% in Spanish territories and 5% in North America. Many Caribbean slaves were subsequently relocated from sugar plantations to North American cotton plantations.

Africans in the New World would outnumber Europeans by five to one until 1820. This population imbalance meant violent slave rebellions were a constant phenomenon.

This is the second myth Reddie debunks: that Europeans were primarily responsible for ending slavery. Citing a wealth of historical sources, he makes an ironclad case that Africans were primarily responsible for liberating themselves.

Even during the horrific Middle Passage, there was a major revolt in approximately one of every ten ships that left Africa. Reddie maintains it was mainly the fear of armed resistance that caused Europeans to terrorize their slaves with beatings, branding and mutilation.

Reddie details the bloody 1791 uprising in St Domingue (now Haiti), in which St Domingue slaves both freed themselves and won independence from France. All the new world colonies experienced frequent slave revolts, with those of Jamaica and Guyana deserving special mention for the number of Europeans killed.

Abolition! also discusses the grassroots organizing led by Quakers, evangelical Methodists and other religious groups leading to the 1807 law banning the British transatlantic slave trade. Although men such as William Wilberforce receive most of the credit, the abolition movement was mostly led by women.

The fight to end slavery altogether in British colonies would take another 27 years. Wilberforce opposed ending slavery itself as he believed slaves needed to be “properly prepared” before being granted their freedom.

How Slaveholders Received the Biggest Bailout in British History

Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners

BBC (2015)

Film Review

Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners is about the $20 million (present equivalent $17 billion) pound bailout the British paid to ex-slaveholders in 1834 when they abolished slavery. The documentary is based on University College London research into the British Slave Compensation Commission archive. The latter lists each of 46,000 British slaveholders who claimed compensation for “loss of property” when they were forced to free their slaves.

The 1834 law banning slavery didn’t apply to US slaves, as the US was no longer a British colony. It only applied to 800,000 slaves in the Caribbean and other British colonies. The archive lists the name of each slaveholder, the number of slaves they freed and the amount of compensation they received. It was the largest government bailout in British history.

Of the 800,000 slaves, approximately half were owned by 6,000 absentee slave owners, who lived in Britain and paid plantations managers to run their plantations. Many were industrial barons who used the wealth they amassed through slavery to establish major banks, railroads and shipping companies. Many were women, widows who inherited slaves from their husbands, or lower middle class merchants who only owned one or two slaves. A few were ex-slaves, the mixed raced descendents of plantation owners who raped female slaves. Thirty-seven were members of the House of Lords; about half that number Members of Parliament. A few were abolitionists who had rejected the pro-slavery claim that slaves were property.

Too Big to Fail

Part 1 describes the formation of British slave colonies in Barbados, Jamaica and other Caribbean islands and the massive wealth creation that enabled the slave industry to run the British economy for two centuries.

Part 2 discusses the abolition movement led by William Wilberforce, which led Britain to ban the slave trade in 1807, and the massive popular campaign leading to total abolition in 1834. The pro-slavery lobby used the same argument as banks used to justify the 2008 bailout: slaveholders were deeply indebted and without the bailout the British credit system would have collapsed.

The University College London has digitalized the Slave Compensation Commission archive to enable people of British heritage to search whether they have ancestors who owned slaves:

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/

A search of my surname Bramhall turned up no hits. This doesn’t surprise me as the Bramhalls in England were persecuted Catholics.

A search of my paternal grandmother’s maiden name (Gallagher) turns up one hit: William Gallagher, who received 46 pounds 15 shillings for one slave in Cape of Good Hope.

A search of her mother’s maiden name (Fitzgibbon) also turns up one hit: Rebecca Fitzgibbon, who received 73 pounds 1 shilling and 2 pence for two slaves in Honduras.