Slavery Routes – Part 2 From Sugar to Revolution
Al Jazeera (2018)
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:
*”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.