SPAIN AND PORTUGAL assumed in the sixteenth century that they could together retain the Atlantic as a private lake. But from the beginning those imperial nations were troubled by pirates or interlopers in their trade in both Africa and the Americas.
The first seizure of a shipment of gold from Elmina by a French “pirate” was as early as 1492. In 1525, a French ship anchored off Mpinda, just to the north of the river Congo, and King Afonso welcomed what he thought were two new friendly Europeans in his capital; the Portuguese complained bitterly, and did all they could to prevent any repetition of the unwelcome incursion. But by the 1530s, French captains, mostly from Dieppe, that grand arsenal, both of shipping and of robbery on the high seas, had become intolerable to the Portuguese. The most feared figure—shipbuilder to the king of France, but pirate to the Spaniards as well as to the Portuguese, Jean Ango, of Dieppe, later viscount of that city (one of his captains seized Cortés’s treasure fleet in 1522)—secured royal approval to plunder Portuguese shipping as early as 1530. In 1533, two French ships attacked two Portuguese vessels off the river Mahin, near Benin and by 1539, French merchants were already buying the pepper though not, so far as is known, the slaves, of that city.
The Portuguese sought to provide naval escorts for their trading ships. By then, however, it was almost too late: France had begun to displace the Portuguese on the rivers Sénégal and Gambia. A Portuguese renegade, João Affonso, sailing under a French flag as Jean Alphonse, was among the first to carry out what is now spoken of as a triangular trade, sailing to the Grain Coast for pepper, and across to “France Antarctique,” then a promising French settlement at Rio de Janeiro, for wood. As well as attacking Portuguese ships, he probably carried slaves on a small scale. Another French adventurer, Balthazar de Moucheron, appreciating the possibilities of African trade, tried to make a permanent settlement on the coast of Guinea. He attacked the Portuguese at Elmina with a small force, but failed to dislodge the paramount power. Other French attempts, to gain possession of Principe and São Tomé, were equally unsuccessful. All the same, France was plainly determined to play a part in the destiny of Africa—as well as in that of Brazil. The records of Le Havre, Dieppe, and Honfleur suggest that nearly two hundred ships from those pretty Norman ports set sail for Sierra Leone between about 1540 and 1578; and at least fourteen vessels left La Rochelle, then France’s main Atlantic-facing port, for Africa between 1534 and 1565. In 1544, Estevan Darrisague, of Bordeaux, hired his ship, the Baptiste de Saint Jean de Luz, to a well-known captain, André Morrison, to make another triangular voyage: Guinea, Brazil, Bordeaux. Morrison made what trade he could: such were the rules in those days. No document survives to show that he carried slaves; but nothing proves that, in the easiest stage of the journey, later so well known, from the Congo to Brazil, he did not.
During the disastrous Huguenot wars of the last half of the century, French commerce was quiescent; but, no sooner had peace returned than trade to Africa revived; and, in 1594, a ship of fifty tons, L’Espérance, from La Rochelle, certainly took slaves from Cape Lopez, near Gabon, to Brazil.1
Long before that, the English, too, had become engaged in the tempting African waters: the first adventurer there was William Hawkins, of Tavistock in Devonshire, who sailed to the Guinea coast in the 1530s. In 1532, he even brought an indigenous chief back to England from a voyage to Brazil. This individual was intended for show; Hawkins left behind one of his seamen in the new continent as a hostage, who returned later, though the chief died on his way home. That was not a slaving journey.
There was a similar voyage to Guinea, precisely to the Gold Coast and to Benin, in 1553, led by two quarrelsome captains—Thomas Wyndham, originally of Norfolk, and Antonio Anes Pintado, a renegade Portuguese, perhaps a converso (he was denounced as a “whoreson Jew” by his English colleague, but that may have been a typical East Anglian insult)—with the intention of breaking into the trade in gold: an aim which they fulfilled, for their ships brought back 150 pounds of it, though both captains died on the journey. This expedition sailed some way up the Nun River entrance to the Niger and later visited Benin where, following in the footsteps of the French, they bought pepper direct from the oba. The captains resisted the temptations of the slave trade. Wyndham, who had previously sailed and swashbuckled with William Hawkins, was not the last member of his family to be associated with the African trade; but he was the first Englishman to sail into the perilous waters of the Bight of Benin.
Another expedition, the next year, of Captain John Lok, who returned from West Africa with gold, ivory, and Guinea pepper (malaguetta), also brought back to England some Africans, from a village between Cape Three Points and Elmina, as showpieces, but these men were sent home eventually. The voyage was financed by sober merchants of the City of London, many of whom had become interested in trade in Morocco as the Portuguese began to withdraw from there: indeed, by the mid-sixteenth century the English controlled much of the country’s external commerce. Even Queen Mary was interested. The success of Lok’s expedition led to several other journeys—for example, two of a similar nature led by Captain William Towerson between 1555 and 1558, though, again, they do not seem to have been concerned with slaves.
These English voyages greatly disturbed the Portuguese and so, in 1555, a special ambassador, Lope da Sousa, was dispatched by a worried and elderly King João III to remind Queen Mary of the papal grants of Portuguese monopoly in Africa, and so prevent any further English interlopers from going to Guinea. The Privy Council in London accordingly forbade such undertakings. But that prohibition did not even last for as long as the loyal Catholic Mary was on the English throne. The Portuguese governor of Elmina is found writing home to Lisbon in April 1557 asking the king of Portugal to be sure to send a fleet every year to help him protect the castle against these intolerable foreign ships, whose captains “glut the whole coast with many goods of all kinds,” even buying half of the available gold from the region of Elmina.2 These successes of the French and the English were due to the low prices for their goods which they could offer in comparison with the Portuguese. The latter built new small forts at San Sebastián da Shama and at Accra, to the west and east respectively of Elmina, in order to prevent further Northern European trading. But they were ineffective.
Under Queen Elizabeth, more English captains set off to Guinea: for example, there was Richard Baker, whose journey is said to have inspired Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner; there was even discussion of founding an English trading post; and then, in 1562, Captain John Hawkins initiated the English slave trade. No doubt his father, by then dead, had passed to him useful information about currents, geography, people, and markets.
John Hawkins decided to go to Africa at a time when the Spanish government seemed to be beginning to crack under the weight of too many commitments: “and being, among other particulars, assured that Negroes were very good merchandise in Hispaniola, and that [a] store of Negroes might easily be had upon the coast of Guinea,” Hawkins resolved “to make trial thereof.”3 That positive assurance derived from a previous visit to the Canary Islands. His backing was at least as distinguished as that available to slave traders of Lisbon; for he gained the support of his father-in-law, Benjamin Gonson (treasurer of the navy), Sir Thomas Lodge (lord mayor of London, governor of the Russia Company, and a trader to both Holland and “Barbary”—that is, Morocco and North Africa), Sir William Winter (master of the ordnance of the navy), and Sir Lionell Duckett (later lord mayor): “all which persons liked so well of his intention that they became liberal contributors and adventurers [that is, investors] in the action.”
The queen, Elizabeth, approving Hawkins’s expedition, expressed the pious hope that the slaves would not be carried off without their free consent, a thing “which would be detestable and call down the vengeance of Heaven upon the undertakers.” In so speaking, she amply demonstrated her ignorance both of Hawkins’s intentions and of conditions in Africa.
Hawkins sailed with three ships from England in 1562. He stopped at the Canary Islands, where he picked up a pilot, then went to the river Cacheu and there or subsequently, in the river Sierra Leone, he captured at least three hundred blacks, partly, as he said, “by the sword, and partly by other means.” In fact, he seized most of his slaves from six boats already packed by Portuguese lançados and ready to be sent to the Cape Verde Islands.
Hawkins then sailed across the North Atlantic to the north side of Hispaniola, specifically to Isabela, Puerto de la Plata, and then Monte Cristi. He pretended that he had to careen his ships and that he could only pay for services rendered by selling slaves. This subterfuge eventually enabled him, in those shabby tropical cities, after some tortuous negotiations, to exchange the slaves for “hides, ginger, sugars, and some quantity of pearls, but he freighted also two other hulks with hides and like commodities,” which he sent for sale to the mainland of Spain. This commerce was illegal by Spanish law, and set the scene for many subsequent acts of smuggling: “and so, with prosperous successe and much gaine to himself, and the aforsayde adventurers,” he returned to London in September 1563. He had been away nine months. He lost the merchandise in the hulks, for they were confiscated in Spain. But all the same, his City friends “made a good profit.”
In 1564, fired by success, Hawkins set out on a second voyage; he was supported by one or two of those who had helped him before (such as Gonson and Winter), but also by three influential noblemen, Lords Pembroke, Leicester (the queen’s favorite), and Clinton, as also by Benedict Spinola, one of those ubiquitous Genoese merchants to be found in every prosperous European city in the sixteenth century. The queen must have approved this ruthless combination of aristocracy and bourgeoisie, for she herself sent a ship with Hawkins, the seven-hundred-ton Jesus of Lübeck, which her father had bought years before from the Hanseatic League. The time seemed specially favorable for another impertinent journey to the Spanish empire, for there had just arrived in England a refugee French Huguenot, Jean Ribault, who had tried unsuccessfully to establish a colony in what is now Port Royal, South Carolina.
The new expedition again made for the river Sierra Leone, probably went also to Ceberro (Sherbro) Island, to the south and, every day, went onshore: “to take the Inhabitants, . . . burning and spoiling their townes.” This was a most unpopular action with the Portuguese, since at that time they were in the habit of negotiating carefully for all their slaves. Hawkins once again seized some blacks from Portuguese ships; he also traded with two monarchs, and set off for the West Indies, this time with four hundred African captives. He sailed to the Venezuelan coast, where he eventually sold his slaves, first on the pearl island of Margarita, then at Borburata—near the modern Puerto Cabello—at Curaçao, an island off the mainland which had recently been occupied, and at both Rio de la Hacha and Santa Marta, on the Guajira peninsula in the modern Colombia, where the Spaniards were duplicitous and the English arrogant. Once again Hawkins tried to excuse himself by saying that the only way that he could pay for anything was to settle his account in slaves. He returned home, after paying the right taxes, via the new temporary French colony in Florida, “with great profit to the venturers of the said voyage, as also to the same realm, in bringing home both gold, silver, pearls and other jewels”: fifty thousand ducats’ worth in gold, according to Guzmán de Silva, the Spanish ambassador in London, to whom Hawkins boasted that he had made a profit of 60 percent. The adventurer was later knighted: he took as his crest a black female African.
There were soon rumors of a third Hawkins voyage. Guzmán de Silva tried to prevent it by complaining personally to Elizabeth. The queen thanked the ambassador, but what Guzmán called “the greed of these people” was great, and several of the queen’s council themselves took shares in the new expedition. In the event, however, Hawkins delayed and Captain John Lovell of Plymouth set off from London (the ships loaded by Hawkins), seized some Portuguese ships stocked with slaves off Cape Verde, in Hawkins’s style, and then sailed to the north coast of South America, where he sought to sell them at Rio de la Hacha. But though Lovell made common cause with a French pirate and slaver, Jean Bontemps, and though they both seized Borburata, after the usual pretense of an accident needing repair, the trade was bungled, and it would seem that Hawkins got nothing.
Yet this failure whetted Hawkins’s appetite for more profits, and soon his third journey was really under way. The preparations were, of course, noticed by the Spanish ambassador, who made his usual complaint. All the same, Hawkins set off with six ships, of which two this time belonged to the queen. The young Francis Drake was on one of the ships (he had sailed with Lovell). The little fleet went down to Africa and, despite setbacks, eventually secured between four and five hundred blacks, partly by kidnapping (“Our general landed certain of our men . . . seeking to take some negroes”), mostly by the customary Portuguese method of negotiation with African rulers. They also seized a Portuguese slave ship which they rebaptized Grace of God. Then they sailed across the Atlantic and, after the usual plea that they had suffered damage in bad weather and needed repairs for which they could only pay in slaves, forced the sale of their captives in several now familiar Spanish ports—Borburata, Rio de la Hacha, and Santa Marta. Hawkins also burned Rio de la Hacha in a pointless act of war. Finally, on their return voyage, they were—genuinely, for once—driven off course by storms, and the expedition put in to Veracruz, the main port of New Spain (Mexico), the only harbor where a ship of the size of the queen’s Jesus of Lübeck could be repaired. Here, in September 1568, they were trapped by a Spanish fleet bringing a new viceroy (Martin Enriquez, later known for having welcomed both the Jesuits and the Inquisition into his dominion). Hawkins conducted himself intemperately, a fight ensued (though England and Spain were not at war), some of the English ships were destroyed, and such money and goods as Hawkins had on board were seized. Two of his ships escaped at night; one of them set down a number of English sailors in Pánuco, in northern New Spain, where they were captured. Several spent years in a Mexican jail, but three were strangled, then burned at the stake. Others were set down in Galicia, in Spain, with similar consequences. Hawkins, with Drake, managed to escape to England, having lost several ships (including the Jesus of Lübeck) and their profits, but not, curiously, their reputations. All the same, the first stage of England’s participation in the Atlantic slave trade had come to a discreditable and bizarre end.
A more tolerant Portuguese attitude towards other Europeans in West Africa soon followed. For example, in 1572, they granted to the English the right to trade peacefully on the coast of Guinea—for gold, not slaves, for the time being. Then, after 1580, the defeated claimant to the throne of Portugal, Father Antônio of Crato, lived in London as an English puppet, and gave his authority to English ships trading in Portuguese-Spanish waters.I But the only consequence in the short term was the issue, in 1588, of a charter to the so-called Sénégal Adventurers in London. They were to have an English monopoly of trade with the Sénégal region for ten years. They did little, seem not to have been engaged in slaving, and sank into obscurity.
In Africa, the Portuguese in these years were complaining less about French and English invasions of their privileges than about the Spaniards, united politically though they may have been. Thus, in 1608, we find the municipality of Santiago in the Cape Verde Islands petitioning the Crown to end the practice of allowing ships proceeding directly from Spain and the Canary Islands to go to the upper Guinea coast; and there were other such demands—to no avail. A modest illegal trade in slaves continued to be carried on by Spanish merchants.
After the French and the English, the Dutch made their appearance in Africa. In 1592, a Dutch captain, Bernard Ericks, bound for Brazil, where his countrymen had begun to trade in the 1570s, was captured by the Portuguese, and held for some time on the island of Principe, to the north of São Tomé. Here he learned of the interesting profits which could be earned from the African trade and, once free, he set about establishing a Dutch company, which sent him back to Guinea. Ericks made the journey successfully, “running along the whole Gold Coast, where he settled a good correspondence with the Blacks, for carrying on the trade with them in future times. . . . These people, finding his goods much cheaper and better than what they used to have from the Portuguese [the Portuguese merchants often used goods which they had bought in Amsterdam but raised the price], and being disgusted at the violence and oppression of their tyrannical government, besides their natural love of novelty, provoked the Portuguese to use them worse than they had done before.” Thus the Netherlands entered the history of Africa.4
This adventure by the Dutch was, to begin with, concerned with gold and ivory; then, after the decline of the elephant in West Africa in the early seventeenth century, with gold; and only thereafter with slaves.
Holland had by 1600 been at war for thirty years with Spain and Portugal. King Philip II had sought to prohibit Dutch shipping from entering both Spanish and Portuguese ports. These exclusions acted as a stimulus to Dutch interference in Spanish-Portuguese trade: the Dutch republic was then creating what soon became the largest merchant marine in the world. Amsterdam, its capital, with its gabled roofs, its crowded harbor, its ten thousand ships (the property of sophisticated partnerships), and its merchants sustained by the rich pasturages of the Rhine delta, was becoming the world’s greatest center of finance and insurance. To some extent this trade was directed by Sephardic Jews who had found refuge from the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, and who knew very well the size, and the nature, of the Spanish and Brazilian markets. Great wealth, too, would soon enable the Dutch to establish the only standing army in Europe comparable to that of Spain.
The fact that Bernard Ericks had been on his way to Brazil explains much. The Dutch entry into the trade there had begun in collaboration with German merchants from the Hansa ports. By 1600, the Dutch had secured half the carrying trade between Brazil and Europe. Dutch capital was also invested in Brazilian sugar plantations, to which they sold good Italian-made sugar equipment (such as large copper cauldrons, which the Venetians had used in the eastern Mediterranean). Dutch ships had, as we have seen, begun to carry raw sugar from Brazil to refineries in Holland, and then to export the finished product throughout the continent, even to countries with whom the country was at war.
The Dutch enterprise in Africa began seriously in 1599, after which their vessels were relieved of duty if they brought back gold from there. Twenty ships were soon sailing there annually. Similar journeys began to be made to the Caribbean, primarily, in the first instance, to look for salt needed by the Dutch fisheries. By 1600, many Dutch captains were sailing annually on their own Carreira da Mina, often financed by the same men who were founding their great Dutch East India Company. In 1602, the year when that enterprise was registered, there was even a publication: Pieter de Marees’s account of the Guinea coast.
These Dutch merchants were by then well equipped to trade with the coast of Guinea: not only did they carry cheaper, and better, cloth than the Portuguese had usually done, they could offer the East Indian cloth (such as muslin) and Swedish iron ingots, which the every year more sophisticated African traders were known to covet.
In 1600, Pieter Brandt, another enterprising Dutch captain, made an even more ambitious journey. He sailed to Mpinda. He and others who followed him became, because of the quality of their wares, immediately popular there with the Sonyo (a cultivated people then theoretically subject to the kings of Congo). The Portuguese managed eventually to persuade the Sonyo to exclude these interlopers. Brandt then made his way north to Loango Bay. The kings of the Vili, the most powerful rulers in that region, had until then maintained their distance from the Portuguese, though the latter had sometimes bought copper and ivory from them (the copper came from a metalliferous region a hundred miles inland, in the valley of the river Niari).
The Dutch, thanks less to Brandt than to another adventurer, Captain Pieter van der Broecke, soon established themselves precariously on the Loango coast. For van der Broecke had good relations with the king of the Vili. He and his friends bought ivory, for which there was much demand in seventeenth-century Amsterdam, especially among merchants in their fine tall houses on the ‘Herrengracht.
The Dutch trade in slaves was slower to get under way, though a few pioneer voyages had been made in the 1590s, when several merchants of Amsterdam brought slaves there, to be told that they could not sell that cargo in that city—apparently for moral reasons. The same occurred in 1596, when a captain from Rotterdam, Pieter van der Haagen, brought 130 African slaves to Middelburg, the capital of Zeeland. The city council considered the matter and decided, again on moral grounds, that slaves could not be sold in that port. Next year, Melchior van Kerkhove took two ships to “Angola”—then a term meaning anywhere south of Cape Saint Catherine—in order to buy slaves and sell them in Brazil or the Caribbean. But his ships were captured by the Portuguese. Then, in 1605, another Dutch merchant, Isaac Duverne, agreed with planters in Trinidad, Cuba, to carry to them five hundred captives from Angola. But it is not clear whether he did make the purchases in the end.
In 1607, a Dutch West India Company was founded on the model of the already successful East India Company, but at first it failed. An older United Company, meanwhile, turned itself into the Guinea Company in 1610 and, two years later, even built a fortress at Mouri, on the Gold Coast, only about fifteen miles east of the colossal Portuguese castle at Elmina. Mouri soon became the headquarters of the Dutch struggle against the Portuguese. It was renamed Fort Nassau.
Negotiation, as well as war, characterized Dutch aggrandizement. Thus, in 1617, they bought from the Portuguese the strategically useful island of Gorée, on which they built two forts; and on the Rio Fresco, nearby but on the mainland, they built a factory, or deposit for goods. So the Dutch now had excellent access to both Senegambia and the Gold Coast. But they still do not seem to have bought slaves on any regular basis.
In 1621, with war beginning again with Spain (and Portugal, still united to Spain as a dual monarchy) after a twelve-year truce, the Dutch West India Company (the “Oude” Company, to historians) was reestablished, and given a monopoly for twenty-four years of Dutch trade to Africa and the West Indies. Influenced by Calvinist zealots from Zeeland and Holland, this body was run by a Council of Nineteen, of whom the chairman was appointed by the States General. Part of the capital came from public funds and, though its soldiers were paid by the company, the government supplied both them and the war matériel. The company was divided into five chambers deriving from different parts of the Netherlands, each being responsible for a different proportion of the capital and enjoying a corresponding control over the enterprise. The Amsterdam chamber was the dominant one, for it owned most of the capital. The successes of this body would be enormous, as much in war as in trade.
The man behind the new foundation was a visionary, originally from Antwerp, Willem Usselinx. Before the Dutch rebellion against Spain, he had been an apprentice to merchants in most of the great ports of Europe. He had seen the return of the Spanish treasure fleet to the Arenal at Seville, the Portuguese casting anchor in the Azores, and Brazilian sugar being unloaded at Oporto. He fled from Antwerp to Amsterdam in the 1570s, and joined the brilliant circle of the geographer Petrus Plancius. To this group, Usselinx often expanded on the need for the Dutch consciously to seek to take over the imperial mission of Portugal, as well as to succeed to Spanish greatness. In numerous letters and speeches, he demanded that the States General persuade or, if need be, force the Spaniards to allow Dutch commerce and settlement, particularly in areas where there were no colonies already established. He was among the first Europeans to see that the Americas could contribute much to the home continent, as the example of Brazil, already penetrated by Dutch capital, seemed to prove. He also thought (with no personal knowledge of the people concerned) that the indigenous Indians could be persuaded to accept the Dutch as their leaders more easily than they could Latins, for he was a Calvinist and an enemy of the pope. Of course, he opposed the idea of encouraging colonial industry, as did everyone else in his day. But he did suggest the emigration of agricultural laborers, including Germans and Balts, who already were contributing much to Dutch maritime power as seamen. He was critical of slave labor, thinking, as Adam Smith would do a century and a half later, that it was both uneconomical and—most unusually for his time—inhuman. Indeed, he believed that free white workers would work better than slaves, even if they might have to be in sugar mills at night.
To begin with, as a result of Usselinx’s insistence, the new West India Company continued to eschew trading in slaves. Some enterprising shareholders proposed the traffic. But the directors decided, after discussion with theologians, that a trade in human beings was not morally justified. That might seem odd for, at that time, Calvinists usually accepted slavery as unthinkingly as Catholics did, agreeing that it derived from the curse of Ham.II But the first work of literature to criticize slavery outright had already been written in 1615 in Amsterdam by the brilliant young poet Gerbrand Bredero who, in his Moortje, The Little Moor (based on a free French translation of Terence’s Eunuch), talked of the traffic in slaves as “Inhumane custom! Godless rascality! That people are being sold to horse-like slavery. In this city there are also those who indulge in that trade.”5 So those directors of the West India Company who were not influenced by their pastors were affected by their visits to the theater.
Despite the playwright and the pastors, however, a few independent merchants of Amsterdam were by 1620 engaged in slaving. The most prominent of these was Diogo Dias Querido, originally a citizen of Oporto in Portugal who had lived for a time in Brazil. He had black servants—or were they slaves?—in his house in Amsterdam, and he trained them there to serve as interpreters on the African journeys which he promoted. Dias Querido, a Sephardic Jew, was important in Dutch foreign trade for many years: as well as carrying slaves on a small scale to Brazil, he imported sugar from both the latter and São Tomé, and sold it in Leghorn and in Venice. Still, only twenty to forty ships sailed annually to Guinea from the Netherlands during the “twelve years truce” between 1610 and 1622, and only two or three of them did so on behalf of Dias or other merchants interested in slaving.
• • •
At first, these doom-laden Dutch initiatives had little effect on Spanish-Portuguese imperial ways. The Portuguese in Luanda were certainly perplexed as to what to do about Dutch activities in Loango, to the north of their own city, but they thought that force was the only answer to such incursions, and the Crown in Madrid was reluctant to act. The Court in those days, if it thought about black Africans at all, was probably more concerned about Yanga’s revolt of 1607-11 in New Spain, a rebellion of slaves born in the Americas, who were less submissive than African-born bozales. The upheaval lasted many years, until a conciliatory viceroy allowed the escaped slaves to survive in their own community, San Lorenzo de los Negros, near Córdoba, in the Sierra de Orizaba, on the assumption that they would not attack white communities and travelers. Another black revolt, supposed to threaten the capital of New Spain in 1612, was only arrested by the execution of thirty-six blacks. In Brazil, the governor-general was preoccupied with the lesser planters’ continuing insistence on using Indian slaves, thousands of whom were captured in the interior, on the ground that they could not afford Africans: a poverty which led to the extraordinary expeditions of the bandeiras, freely organized bands of adventurers, in search of Indian slaves which, between 1600 and 1750, did so much to discover the heartland of central South America, and ruin the Indians at the same time.
Perhaps the Dutch appearance on the international commercial scene seemed in New Spain less remarkable than the fact that there were by now mulatto slaves in Spanish America. The disastrous final expulsion of the Moors from Spain in 1610 did not disturb the domestic slave trade, since Moorish slaves were excepted from the rules, though obliged after 1626 to accept Christianity. In Cádiz, there were, in 1616, three hundred Moors, as well as five hundred black slaves, most of them employed in building fortifications against new attacks by the English. Lisbon in 1620 still numbered over 10,000 slaves—almost all black: Moorish slaves would indeed be prohibited in 1641, while in 1606, and again in 1618, limitations were placed on sending slaves back from the Americas (one could only send males over sixteen years old). Neither religious corporations nor individuals had yet abandoned slaves in Europe.
Further, the Portuguese dominance of the slave trade was causing much bad blood with their nominal friends the Spaniards. Spanish merchants accused the Portuguese of being thieves who stole Spanish silver; of being Jewish heretics, who continued to practice Judaism behind a mask of Christianity, and who were even filling the Americas with Africans educated to follow those heretical beliefs. As a result, the Council of the Indies of Madrid introduced a law in 1608 which made it difficult for foreigners to trade in Spanish America; but it was never applied to slave traders.
Because of all these difficulties, negotiations in the Junta de Negros in Madrid for a new contract (asiento) to carry slaves into the Spanish empire continued very slowly, as if the Dutch fleets and merchants did not exist. Thus, in 1611, the Casa de Contratación in Seville proposed the division of this legendarily valuable private treaty into two: one to apply to ships whose captains would buy slaves in the Cape Verde Islands, with an obligation to register all cargoes in Seville; the other concerning the carriage of slaves from Angola direct to Brazil and the Indies. The scheme was not accepted, since the first obligation would have added a long extra stage to an already formidable journey. The merchants of Seville, however, argued that to allow slave ships to leave direct for the Americas from Lisbon or the Canary Islands, as well as from Seville, would enable many captains to escape paying taxes. Anyway, the sevillanos insisted, officials in Lisbon and the Canaries were less punctilious than those of Seville. They wanted the ships to come to Seville, where the slaves would be listed for purposes of taxes, sold, and placed on Spanish vessels for the transatlantic crossing. The Portuguese argued that the adoption of these new ideas would ruin Portugal.
But, seeing the slave trade primarily as an item in tax revenue, the supreme authority, the Council of the Indies, eventually conceded victory to the sevillanos. All slaving ships destined for the Spanish overseas empire were henceforth to be inspected at Seville. Africans destined for the New World would be taken first to Seville, and then transferred to one or another of the caravels in the annual convoys. Only if there were no Spanish ships available would Portuguese traders be able to carry slaves to the Spanish New World.
But there were no candidates for a new contract on these conditions. The old asentista, Vaz Coutinho, continued, therefore, provisionally to sell licenses for his own profit. Then, finally, in 1616 (after discussion of other candidates, and again against the complaints of sevillano merchants), a new contract was granted to another Portuguese millionaire, and converso, Antônio Fernandes Elvas. He agreed to pay 120,000 ducats a year for the privilege of arranging the annual import—through licenses, of course—of between 3,500 and 5,000 slaves into the Spanish colonies. He already had a similar contract to supply Brazil with slaves from Angola, for which he had paid 24 million reals; while a cousin, Duarte Pinto D’Elvas, had had the same right to trade slaves from the Cape Verde Islands—an assignment which Antônio now took over, too, at a cost of over 15 million reals.
Elvas had been born rich, he was a member of the prosperous Portuguese converso community in Madrid, and he had married a rich woman, Elena Rodrigues de Solís (also of Jewish origin, whose brother was at that time rotting in the Inquisition’s prison in Cartagena de Indias). He had been treasurer to King Philip II’s daughter, the Infanta María, and had numerous properties in Lisbon, where he preferred to live, as well as a luxurious quinta, Mil Fontes, just outside that capital. Elvas agreed, in order to satisfy the Spanish complaints, that in theory he would take his Caribbean-bound ships to Seville for inspection before they set off for the colonies. Further, his blacks would be delivered only in Cartagena and Veracruz, a limitation which made taxes easier to collect.
So Elvas now became responsible for nearly all the legal slave trading from Africa to America. There were spectacular consequences, for, after some bad years (between 1611 and 1615, only nine slave ships had been licensed by Vaz Coutinho, carrying only 1,300 slaves), 139 ships were licensed between 1616 and 1620, most (104) going to Angola—Luanda—carrying nearly 20,000 slaves. Between 1621 and 1625, 125 ships were licensed for America, the West Indies, and West Africa, from the Tropic of Cancer to the Cape of Good Hope, again mostly (82) to start from Angola (carrying more than 17,000 slaves).6
Thus more slaves went annually to the Indies under Elvas’s aegis than ever before: an official named Benito Banha Cardozo wrote, in 1622, “Most people being employed [in Luanda] in the slave trade, they neglect everything else.” In the New World, the colonists found themselves receiving blacks from all parts of Africa. In her will about this time, for example, in Cartagena de Indias, María de Barros left four American-born Africans (one born in São Tomé), three Angolans, three “Ararás” (Dahomeyans), two “Lucumís” (Yorubas), one Congolese, and one from Biafra.
As usually happened with these contracts, Elvas’s asiento led to difficulties. That entrepreneur was probably the first merchant to make a financial success of the contract. But that in itself excited extraordinary jealousy for him, and not only among thesevillanos.Accused of cheating the king, he defended himself inadequately, and went to prison where he died. After war began again with Holland, in 1621 (largely as a result of the Spanish Crown’s determination to reimpose their embargo on Dutch trade, to be sure), theasiento passed to Manuel Rodrigues Lamego, who gained a new contract for eight years in 1623, against the claims of Elena Rodrigues de Solís, Elvas’s widow. Slave ships were henceforth to be permitted to register at Lisbon, not just at Seville, and thereafter most did so: the biggest shippers of slaves were, after all, still the Portuguese.
Rodrigues Lamego was another converso merchant, already enriched by the slave trade in Angola, both a friend and a relation of bankers in Brazil and the North of Europe, including many in Holland. Like his predecessor Elvas, Lamego was the proprietor of several rich farms in Portugal. But, like other New Christian merchants at that time, he lived in constant fear of the Inquisition, whose activities were often venomously promoted by less fortunate, jealous merchants in Seville. Lamego’s brother, Antônio, suffered an auto-da-fé in 1633. His son, Bartolomé Febos, was in constant danger of a similar tragedy, for he was intimately linked with the powerful converso commercial network of Madrid. Like Elvas, Lamego made money from the asiento even though, between 1626 and 1630, only fifty-nine ships were licensed for Africa, mostly for Luanda (they carried a total of about eight thousand slaves). Much of the demand for slaves was in these years beginning to be met by interlopers—many of them Spanish and Portuguese—minor traders who had been kept out of the national arrangements with the powerful Portuguese merchants. But even the official figures picked up in the next quinquennium: between 1631 and 1635, eighty ships were licensed—mostly (sixty-four) for Angola (carrying over 11,000 slaves). There were, again, a few more between 1635 and 1640: eighty-three ships were then licensed, as ever the majority (seventy-six) bound for Angola (carrying in theory over 11,000 slaves).
These increases, both official and illegal, were the consequence of the permission granted by Philip IV in 1627 to Portuguese businessmen to trade wherever they liked in the “Iberian” empire. The fact that so many of them were conversos did not disturb the king, nor his prime minister, the great Olivares for, perhaps because of the little drop of Jewish blood which he himself enjoyed—through his great-grandfather, Ferdinand the Catholic’s secretary, Lope Conchillos—the prime minister had always been well disposed towards that minority.
Of course, illegalities, smuggling, and corruption continued, undisturbed. There were innumerable cases of ships arriving in Cartagena de Indias whose captains, for fiscal purposes, declared that they carried fewer slaves than they really did—say, two hundred slaves instead of five hundred. The chief dealer in Cartagena was in those days a Portuguese, Jorge Fernández Gramaxo, who had begun to trade slaves in 1594 for his uncle, Antônio Gramaxo. By 1610, Jorge was defrauding the Spanish Treasury on so large a scale that he seemed “enough in himself to destroy the Indies.” Once a representative of Gomes Reinel, and later of Vaz Coutinho, he had several properties outside Cartagena, where he stored illicitly introduced slaves on a large scale (much as, in the same country, in much the same region, in the twentieth century, his spiritual successors would keep cocaine), and he maintained an extensive correspondence with Amsterdam, Seville, and Lisbon. He began to be accused by the authorities of illegal, treasonable contact with foreign states (the Netherlands, in particular); but he escaped all charges since, again like some modern drug dealers, he was a local benefactor. He eventually obtained the position of “commander of the fortifications” in Cartagena and, from then on, he could not be challenged. He died in 1626 a very rich man, leaving his fortune to his nephew, Antonio Núñez Gramaxo, who dissipated it.7
Perhaps the most flagrant example of smuggling, though, was that of João Correia de Souza, governor of Angola, who, after a singularly disastrous administration of that province, himself set off on May 3, 1623, to Cartagena, in a vessel with three hundred slaves, as well as a good deal of silver. He sold everything without registering the fact, thanks to the useful connivance of the governor of Cartagena, a friend for many years.
Despite these irregularities, the Crown in Madrid—still for a few more years the united Crown of Portugal and Spain—remained concerned to promote the traffic in slaves. The tone had been set for the new century when, in 1607, the king of Spain told a new governor of Angola, Manuel Pereira Forjaz that, during his proconsulate, the buying of slaves was actually to be encouraged, so as to swell the tax returns to the Royal Treasury. The king coupled this instruction with a reminder that no white man should ever be allowed to go inland to slave markets, for African middlemen could usually buy cheaper than Europeans could. By that time, indeed, most slaves bought in Angola were bought from the half-African, half-Portuguese lançados, traders who could live in two worlds—one pagan, the other Christian—with no difficulty.
Typical of those active in slaving, in those last years of the Portuguese-Spanish control of the Atlantic slave trade, as of the Americas as a whole, was Diego de la Vega, of Madeira (he originated in the Castilian market town of Medina del Campo), who made a fortune by selling contraband slaves for use in the Peruvian silver mines. After working for years with the Angolan slave merchants, he, like Elvas, ended in prison in Lisbon, as a smuggler, and also on a grand scale. (His ruin was caused by the government’s prohibition in 1622 of the overland route from the new colony of Buenos Aires to Chile and Bolivia, insisting that slaves for Peru and Pacific colonies should henceforth be sent by a long roundabout route which they could easily control—and tax—via Panama.)
More disconcerting at first sight to the Portuguese than the growing Dutch challenge to them was new warfare in the kingdom of Ndongo in the hinterland behind Luanda, after 1608. This fighting was caused by a series of brutal attacks on the Mbundu people of Ndongo by the nomadic, palm-wine-drinking, and often cannibalistic Lunda. To enable themselves to retain their mobility, the Lunda never raised children. Even the monarch, with his long hair embroidered with shells, and his daily anointment with the boiled fat of his enemies, would slaughter his own offspring, by all his twenty or thirty highly perfumed wives. To maintain their numbers, the Lunda adopted adolescents from the peoples whom they conquered. These novices were slaves, and wore iron collars as a sign of that status, until they were able to present the severed head of an enemy to the king. An English sailor, Andrew Battel (of Leigh-on-Sea, in Essex)—who was imprisoned for many years by the Portuguese, first in Brazil, then in Luanda—observed the Lunda at this time, precisely when they fell on Benguela, a new coastal settlement 250 miles to the south of Luanda, on the northern bank of the sluggish river Kuvu.III After their victory, the Lunda lived off the cattle and pigs which they had captured—and off the profits of selling the population to Portuguese traders.
Eventually, though in a different territory, the Lunda would settle down, adopt a conventional attitude to families and procreation, and become a formidable empire in Central Africa, trading slaves in traditional style on a large scale.
The Portuguese about 1620 had three ways of obtaining the slaves which they desired. First, there was the usual, most common, method, of trade with chiefs or kings, as happened almost all the way along the African coast. This commerce depended, in the region of Luanda, on the finding of slaves by pombeiros—at first Portuguese but, by the seventeenth century, usually Luso-Africans or Africans who would negotiate with African monarchs, such as the ngola, who seems to have been happy to trade in that way, even when he was at war. Second, there were slaves obtained as a by-product of war, or even in consequence of wars nominally conducted to seek, say, silver mines—a method often resorted to by governors keen to make the most money out of a short appointment in Angola. The third method was tribute.
A new Portuguese governor of Luanda, Luis Mendes de Vasconcelos, embarked on a campaign designed to finish with the threats of the continuously hostile Ndongo, for good or evil. He captured that monarchy’s capital at Kabasa, and the ngola fled. In the event, though, Mendes de Vasconcelos, through his military victory, damaged the slave trade: in defeating the ngola, he had weakened the monarch who, at that time, had been the most effective purveyor of slaves for the Brazilian slave ships.
This governor’s service to the slave trade was, however, far from negligible, as befitted the son-in-law of one of the leaders of the business in the previous century, Manuel Caldeira Pereira. Thus he defeated a native chief named Bandi, on whom he imposed an annual tribute of one hundred slaves. Mendes de Vasconcelos also forbade any Portuguese or mulatto trader to enter the interior for slaves. Only the black pombeiros could do so. These traders would vanish for a year or so, and come back with trains of up to six hundred chained slaves, many carrying ivory or copper on their bowed heads.
The next governors (João Correia de Souza, Pedro de Souza Coelho, and then Bishop Simão de Mascarenhas) sought to patch up relations with the ngola. They had come to realize that, to ensure the slave trade, which seemed every year as necessary as it was profitable, they required some stable African state in the region of Luanda with whom to deal. The king of Congo was now feeble, the Lunda unpredictable; the ngola, for all his faults, seemed to offer the best hope. The Portuguese were in the end successful in making peace, largely thanks to their skillful diplomacy with the ngola’s remarkable sister, Nzinga (baptized Dona Ana de Souza), who was living in Luanda as ambassadress. Then, in 1623, Nzinga succeeded as ngola, though not before poisoning, perhaps eating the heart of, her nephew, the late ngola’s son. Nzinga would have liked to re-establish the old slave trade with the Europeans but, instead, Portugal unwisely went to war with her, since she had begun the practice of harboring captives escaped from the coast. The Portuguese went so far as to establish a puppet ngola (Ari, baptized as Dom Felipe I), who agreed to pay to the settlers a tribute of one hundred slaves a year, as well as to allow the Jesuits to build a church at his capital, now Punga a Ndongo. Fairs for the sale of slaves were reopened. But warfare with Nzinga continued, usually sporadic, sometimes bitter. That princess adopted some of the techniques of the Lunda: cannibalism and infanticide among them. She eventually established herself as the strongest military power in southern Angola, and the Portuguese failed to deal effectively with her. She never became the reliable purveyor of slaves for whom successive governors of Luanda hoped. Nor could the puppet ngola produce slaves in the quantity which the Portuguese required; the latter sometimes even had to make do with old or young slaves, instead of men in the prime of their lives.
In these years, the prize Portuguese colony of São Tomé, in the Gulf of Guinea, almost on the equator, survived as an essential entrepôt, seemingly unchanged, despite the periodic threats of Dutch fleets. In 1617, Fray Alonso de Sandoval, a most enlightened Jesuit from Seville, described how Portuguese or Spanish ships were still bringing cargoes of slaves there from all over the west coast of Africa. Many of these slaves came now from the “Caravalies” (the Kalbarai Ijo, from both New and Old Calabar, centers of the trade from the Bight of Benin until overtaken by Bonny later in the century). The Calabars were cities without kings, addicted to war between themselves, sometimes for the specific purpose of obtaining slaves for the external market.
But in the Americas, Angolan slaves were dominant, so much so that another Jesuit, Fray Diego de Torres, in 1615 ordered a grammar in Angolese for the benefit of those from that territory who were working in the mines of Potosí.
• • •
The Spanish-Portuguese empire in those early days of the seventeenth century was a vast enterprise, such as was scarcely to be seen again in history. But its size, pretensions, power, and apparent prosperity prompted attacks on it. In 1623, the newly reformulated Dutch West India Company planned a remarkably aggressive onslaught. Having temporarily seized Benguela, they planned, first, a naval attack on Bahia, the port of the sugar empire of the Brazilian northeast; then the fleet would turn across the Atlantic to join another one, direct from Holland, and both would strike at Luanda, the largest European settlement in Africa, and the main source of Brazil’s slave labor.
The idea of this venture, breathtakingly audacious but fraught with risk, derived from a property speculator of Utrecht, Moucheron, who may have known how to bribe mayors in Zeeland but knew little of the problems of empire. To begin with, however, all went well. The Dutch were instantly successful in the first part of this strategy, seizing Bahia in 1624. “When we entered Bahia,” wrote Johann Gregor Aldenburg, one of the Dutch commanders, “we only met blacks, for everyone else had fled from the city.”8The Dutch immediately put these slaves into an armed company to fight their old masters.
Though Bahia was soon recaptured, by a large Portuguese-Spanish expedition (the slaves who had fought for the conquerors were hanged “in a peculiarly abominable manner”), the Dutch shortly took Olinda and Pernambuco, to the north, and there further developed the sugar-plantation system which, through investment and commerce, they already knew well. A new empire, New Netherlands, seemed to have been achieved. The “time of the Flemings” in Brazil had begun.
In Africa, however, the Portuguese held on at Luanda. That seemed for the time being of minor significance, since, having conquered one of the largest economies dependent on slaves, the Dutch West India Company was now having to revise its earlier doubts about the morality of the African trade. Their capture of Pernambuco was the turning point in this reconsideration. Those who still opposed the commerce in human beings were unable to suggest how the new possessions could be made to pay other than by the use of slaves. The earliest mention of the traffic in the records of the West India Company occurs in 1626, when that body’s Zeeland Chamber, the most Calvinist of the different colleges within the undertaking, gave permission for the dispatch of a ship to “Angola”—presumably, Loango, where the Dutch already had three trading posts—and the transport of slaves to the region of the Amazonas, a new Dutch settlement on the river of that name. The same Zeeland Chamber soon also allowed Dutch settlers in both Guiana and Tobago, as well as northern Brazil, to import slaves. The first reports from Brazil had, after all, told not only of the serious decline in the Indian population of the place, but of the difficulty of ensuring that those who existed worked effectively.
The transformation in Dutch trade, however, was slow. The West India Company began by obtaining most of their slaves from ships which their captains captured in war—war, of course, with Portugal, for the ships of the two nations constantly fought in these years: for example, between 1623 and 1637, 2,336 slaves were so obtained, and sold in the New World, for an average price of 250 guilders each.
The Dutch by then also had trading posts in North America: the first, on Manhattan Island, was set up in 1613; settlements were also made in the Caribbean by the West India Company before 1630. By the mid-1630s, they had several entrepôts there—in Curaçao, a barren island in a convenient place off Venezuela, as well as Saint Eustatius and Saint Thomas, both previously uninhabited, in the Leeward Islands.
Black slaves began to be carried by the company to the colony of New Netherlands in North America in 1625-26: in 1628, the Reverend Jonas Michaëlius, of New Amsterdam, the first minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in North America, was already complaining that Angolan slaves were “thievish, lazy, and useless trash.” The following year, the Dutch West India Company baldly declared that it would “endeavour to supply the colonists with as many blacks as it possibly can.”9
As for Brazil, though the majority of the colonists continued to be Portuguese, numerous new settlers flooded in from Holland, including some Sephardic Jews whose families had had commercial connections with the territory for some generations. Slaves seemed to everybody to be the key to prosperity there; a governor of New Holland would remark, in 1638, “It is not possible to establish anything in Brazil without slaves.” Those Portuguese sugar planters who fled before the Dutch invasion had made the same point in a different way when they carried (in the words of an eyewitness) “their pretty mulata mistresses riding pillion behind them, while they left their white wives to struggle on foot through the swamp.”10
Still, most slaves taken to New Holland—they averaged fifteen hundred a year in the late 1630s—continued to be captured at sea from Portuguese ships.
The new masters of Brazil could not leave their labor force so ill provided for. In 1636, a cousin of the stadtholder of the Netherlands, Johan Maurits of Nassau, was appointed governor-general of Brazil (he was later known in his homeland for the Mauritshuis, which houses the greatest collection of paintings in the country). An enlightened and farsighted ruler, he was determined to make a financial success of New Holland. Olinda under his aegis became the finest city of the colony, possibly on the continent: royal palaces and four-story town houses soon looked out across broad avenues to botanical and zoological gardens, synagogues and Calvinist churches.
Prince Johan Maurits first set about trying to improve the lamentable relations of the Europeans with the Indians; and, at the same time, tried, in the spirit of Las Casas and the first Spanish colonists in the Caribbean, to increase the supply of slaves from Africa. In 1637, to ensure the latter, he sent a naval force across the Atlantic to Elmina. Taken completely by surprise, it fell easily. This was the end of an era, for the Portuguese had been there 160 years. So the daily masses for the soul of Prince Henry the Navigator ended, the Portuguese church was converted into a warehouse (though a new chapel was soon built, as demanded by the Dutch Reformed Church), the rules for the pay and conduct of governor and officers drawn up in 1529 were abandoned, and the daily issue of four loaves of bread to each member of the garrison was forgotten. Salaries, to the local Africans, were thenceforth paid in florins, not reals, and a lay preacher replaced the royal chaplain. The Portuguese had, however, been singularly unsuccessful in converting the local natives, and African Catholics were scarcely to be found outside the region of the castle. So the Dutch conquest meant less to the people of Elmina than might at first have seemed likely.
The victors thereafter made a determined effort to exclude the Portuguese altogether from the Guinea coast: the other Portuguese fort on the Gold Coast, at Axim, which had been developed recently to produce gold as well as to sell slaves, was surrendered to them in 1642. The pioneers of Western European endeavor in Africa thus retained, in the whole vast region north of the equator, only one recently fortified place on the river Cacheu, a little to the south of the river Gambia.
Johan Maurits wanted another Dutch fleet to complete the grand designs of the 1620s and capture Luanda. The West India Company was at first reluctant and, instead, Hendrickx Eyckhout was sent out to the Dutch settlements at Loango Bay to increase the supply of slaves from that territory for Brazil. Cornelius Hendrickx Ouwman, who took his place in 1640, found it hard work to do this: only 205 slaves were sent to Pernambuco/Olinda in 1641, though there was no shortage of ivory, redwood, and copper. Dutch naval ships could also still lay their hands on some slaves by seizing Portuguese shipping in the waters of São Tomé or Luanda. But Ouwman, having been in Loango for a year, insisted that only the capture of Luanda could remedy the position. In May 1641, the Brazilian directors of the West India Company at last agreed with the adventurous plan, and a fleet was sent under Admiral Jol. He seized Luanda in August, São Tomé in October, Benguela in December. Now the Dutch in New Holland could surely have access to all Luanda’s sources of captives, including those available from the monarchy of Queen Nzinga which, a director of the new Angolan administration in Luanda, Pieter Mortamer, wrote, was now “overflowing with slaves for sale.” King García II of Congo also aligned himself completely with the new masters, and promised to revive trade with them, though not in slaves, since he had apparently had enough of the practice, as he remarked in unusually modern terms: “Instead of gold and silver and other goods which function elsewhere as money, the trade and the money are persons, who are not in gold or in cloth, but who are creatures.”11
The man who from the first had opposed this new policy of trading Africans by the Dutch West India Company, Usselinx, now left his home country, determined to found a rival enterprise. He went first to the king of Denmark, Christian IV, and, when rejected in Copenhagen, went to King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. That ambitious monarch authorized Usselinx to found “a South Company,” to trade with Africa, which, after Usselinx’s death, also did its best to enter the slave trade.
The Danes soon became keen to found an Africa company of their own, and, in 1625, a Dutch merchant settled in Copenhagen, Johann de Willum, received a license to operate in the West Indies, Brazil, Virginia, and Guinea, a vast chain of territories which, however, in the seventeenth century, seemed to be one. The partners of the company were only allowed to load their ships at Copenhagen, where all cargoes had to be unloaded on their return. But little happened for the time being.
• • •
The Spanish and Portuguese officials in these difficult years of their countries’ defeat, withdrawal, and decay must have realized that the Dutch invaders were merely the precursors of other countries. For example, France had long before these events in Africa put down roots in America—in Canada in 1603 and, in the next generation, in several islands in the Caribbean, beginning in 1625, with Saint-Christophe and Tortuga—the latter in collaboration with some English pirates. In 1627, Bélain d’Esnambuc, acting in the name of Cardinal Richelieu, disembarked on the first island a contingent of 300 Norman emigrants. In 1635, a Company of the Isles of America was established in Paris by François Fouquet, a merchant interested since his youth in North American trade, father of Louis XIV’s financier, Nicolas, and himself a member of the Conseil de la Marine; and Liénard de l’Olive received permission to occupy Guadeloupe and Martinique. These colonizations were completed quickly, and tobacco began to be grown on Guadeloupe in the first year of settlement. Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, the Grenadines, and Grenada were also declared French, though an attempt to consolidate this little empire by occupying the intermediate island of Dominica was obstructed by the Caribs, who perilously survived there.
The question immediately arose, how were these new colonies to be worked? In 1626, a French company had been formed in Rouen for trade to Sénégal to bring back ivory and gum. Behind this enterprise we detect the influence of Cardinal Richelieu, superintendent-general of commerce and navigation, who was determined to increase the maritime activity of his country. This Compagnie de Saint-Christophe received permission to buy forty slaves. Thereafter, Captain Thomas Lambert of Rouen was to be found frequenting the mouth of the river Sénégal. Soon, two further French companies were formed—one for trade between Cape Blanco and Sierra Leone, the other to operate from Sierra Leone to Cape Lopez. In 1637-38, Lambert’s expedition to the Sénégal reached what became Terrier Rouge, a hundred miles up the river, where the French offered iron bars, Indian cottons, linen, brandy, beads, and silver trinkets, for gum, gold, and pepper, but apparently no slaves. Were there moral scruples, were there religious doubts? Did the captains recall how, in the 1570s, a court in Bordeaux had ruled against the possibility of selling slaves there?IV It is not altogether clear. The greatest historian of the Atlantic slave trade, Elizabeth Donnan (whom no student of the matter can think of without gratitude), once wrote: “Just when the French scruples against trading in slaves were discarded is not clear but, by the time that French planters called for negro labour for their growing sugar plantations [say 1640–45], French merchants were willing . . . to provide such labour.”12
The matter may have been affected by the fact that France still had slaves at home, especially in the navy, and Marseilles still had a slave market. A négrillon of twelve years born in Cartagena de Indias was, for example, buried at Perpignan in 1639.
Like the Dutch and the French, the English were also beginning to work on the periphery of the great Spanish-Portuguese empire. Thus settlers from London, having made several journeys of reconnaissance, settled in Bermuda in 1609. The English were soon in Virginia and Massachusetts and, in the next few years, founded various Caribbean ventures: in 1625, Barbados, for instance; by 1632, Antigua, Nevis, and Montserrat in the Leeward Islands were considered English possessions.
Some of these colonies needed slaves, or so it seemed, especially in the islands. The indigenous inhabitants, the Caribs, had almost all been stolen for that purpose a hundred years before by the first Spanish conquistadors on the bigger places of the Caribbean. The descendants of the cattle and pigs which the Spaniards had inadvertently brought, and which roamed the empty islands and provided food for the new settlers, were not an adequate substitute. Or could workers from England and France be induced to settle in the lands over which their country’s flag now flew?
Actually before the new European settlers entered the African slave market, the business was initiated on the mainland. In 1619, John Rolfe, the Norfolk-born first recorder of Virginia, already a grower of tobacco, who had been recently left a widower by Princess Pocahontas, noted, “About the last of August came a Dutch man of war that sold us twenty negroes.”13 This comment is usually held to be the first reference to the import of black slaves into what became the United States, though Pánfilo de Narváez, Menéndez de Avilés, and Coronado had all taken slaves with them in their expeditions of conquest in Florida and New Mexico the previous century and it is unclear what transpired in 1619. The early history of Anglo-Saxon America lacks the ample written records which distinguish the arrival of the Castilians in Mexico and Peru. Probably, the ship concerned was not a man-of-war but a privateer, whose captain had captured the slaves from a Portuguese ship in the West Indies.
Even before that, King James I in London had granted to an active entrepreneur and favorite of the Court, Robert Rich (shortly to be earl of Warwick), and to thirty-six others, control over British African trade, through the formation of a Company of Adventurers to “Gynny and Bynny” (Guinea and Benin). This was the first incorporated English company to concern itself with Africa. Rich already owned a tobacco plantation in Virginia, and was probably hoping to secure black slaves to work it.V A “list of the living in Virginia” of 1624 included twenty-two blacks, several of them presumably coming to the New World as personal slaves of certain passengers on ships, such as Rich’s own Treasurer (1619), but also the James (1621), the Margaret and John (1622), not to speak of the Swan (1623).
The English attitude to slaving was at that time not quite clear. For example, a merchant named George Thomson went out, on behalf of Rich’s Guinea Company, to explore the river Gambia. He was primarily interested in gold. Thomson lost his vessel to the Portuguese, and a certain Richard Jobson (of whom nothing is recorded except that he despised the Irish) went to relieve him, to find that Thomson had been murdered by one of his own men. Jobson reported that the natives on the Gambia were afraid of him, because their compatriots had “been many times by several nations surprized, taken and carried away.” Jobson was offered slaves by an African merchant, Buckor Sano but, speaking for himself and not for the Guinea Company, he declared proudly that “we were a people who did not deal in such commodities, neither did we buy or sell one another, or any that had our own shapes.” The African merchant seemed to marvel at this, and “told us it was the only merchandise they carried down into the country, where they fetched all their salt, and that they were sold there to white men, who earnestly desired them. . . . We answered, ‘They were another kind of people different from us.’ ”14
Jobson made various explorations in the Gambia region, looking for gold, but this journey and two subsequent voyages of his were financial failures and, after a loss of five thousand pounds, the Guinea Company gave up.
Jobson’s protests were exceptional. The Anglo-Saxons turned out to be as ready to trade slaves as their French neighbors were. John Hawkins had in no way lost his reputation after his slaving expedition, for he had become treasurer of the navy and remained a national hero. Some private slaving had also already been carried out by English ships on the Guinea coast: English ships carried sugar from São Tomé to Lisbon, and there is a record of an English vessel carrying slaves from São Tomé to Elmina under contract in 1607.
The consequence of this commercial failure of Thomson and Jobson was that, in 1624, several independent London traders complained that they had lost business because of the monopoly grant of 1618. Had they not already built European-style houses and factories in the estuary of the river Sierra Leone? This was the first mention of such a thing, but the Crown must have been interested. So some English trading revived on the Guinea coast. Did the ships carry slaves? Surely: in May 1628, there was a new report of black slaves’ arriving in Virginia: John Ellzey, collector of the Admiralty Tenths for Hampshire, wrote to Edward Nicholas, secretary of the Admiralty to the duke of Buckingham, “The Fortune has taken an Angolan man [a vessel] with many negroes, which the captain bartered in Virginia for tobacco. . . .”15 The next year, one of the independent traders, Nicholas Crisp, a Gloucestershire man whose father had been sheriff of London, was found complaining about the French seizure of his ship Benediction, which had been carrying on its “accustomed trade” with 180 slaves on board. In 1630, King Charles I granted a license to transport slaves from Guinea to a syndicate of separate traders (that is, a group which had nothing to do with the company of 1618). This was headed by that same Nicholas Crisp, the other directors being all prominent men about the Court: Sir Richard Young, Sir Kenelm Digby, George Kirke, Humphrey Slaney, and William Clobery.
Of these men, Crisp was original in many ways other than maritime enterprise (“The art of brick-making, as since practised, was his own, conducted through incredible patience by many trials”); Digby, son of a conspirator in the Gunpowder Plot, was a genius; and Slaney was a Bohemian by birth. They received an exclusive right (among English traders) to trade in Guinea, Benin, and Angola for thirty-one years. Crisp had already built a British factory at a place which came to be known as Cormantine (Kormantin), on the Gold Coast: and it would remain the English headquarters, indeed the only English fort, though not the only English settlement, till 1661. He was the foremost member of the company.
This enterprise certainly traded slaves. Thus, in 1637, the ship Talbot was found equipped to “take nigers and to carry them to foreign parts”; and, the same year, Crisp, interloper turned gamekeeper, was himself complaining that new interlopers—English ones, that is—were threatening his monopoly. In 1644, he lost control of his company. As a monarchist (he “gave thousands” to the king during the Civil War) he could scarcely be surprised at being accused by his opponents of owing the state £16,000, to settle which debt his share of the Guinea Company was seized. Other English merchants were now beginning to be interested: for example, Samuel Vassall (a trader of French extraction, much concerned with Massachusetts, of which he, with his brother, John, was one of the first promoters). Crisp’s Guinea Company was denounced by Vassall and other rivals before the Council of State in 1649, for having gained their monopoly by the “procurement of courtiers.”16
The next year, Crisp himself went to Guinea, to Cabo Corso (Cape Coast), with what he understood from the king of Fetu was a permission to build there. He bought the land for £64 worth of goods; “whereupon the people gave several great shouts, throwing the dust in the air and proclaimed that this was Crisp’s land.” Fourteen days later, though, Henrick Carloff, an adventurer in the service of the queen of Sweden, appeared offshore, and the king of Fetu allowed him, too, to build. The English were soon turned out, and so it was the Swedes who built the first castle at Cabo Corso.
When denounced as monarchists in 1649, Crisp and his friends defended themselves by saying that they had brought £10,000 from the Africa trade into England, that they had founded a trading post in 1632, had purchased Winneba in 1633, and had even taught English to the son of the king of Aguna.
• • •
By the late 1630s, a few African slaves were to be seen in most of the European North American colonies. In 1638, for example, there were some recorded in the territory which would become Pennsylvania. Equally, that was when slaves are known to have been first in Maryland: an official, Richard Kemp, wrote to the governor that he had bought, among other things, “ten negroes . . . for your lordship’s use.”17
The Desire, 120 tons, built at Marblehead (Massachusetts) but registered at Salem, was probably the first ship constructed in North America to trade for slaves, though she merely went to the West Indies, not to Africa; she was also the first ship to carry black slaves to Connecticut, in 1637. According to John Winthrop the younger, the Suffolk-born first governor of that colony, William Pierce, its master, “brought some cotton and tobacco and negroes etc., from thence and salt from Tortugas [off Hispaniola]. . . . Dry fish and strong liquors are the only commodities for [exchange in] those parts.”18 Pierce also kidnapped, but then apparently left behind, some Indian captives at Providence Island (the Islas Providenciales, in the Caicos Islands, in the Bahamas).
In these years, it seemed possible that the demand for agricultural labor in both French and English North America and the Caribbean could be satisfied by white indentured servants: men and, to a lesser extent, women who, in return for a free passage and an opportunity for possession of land in future, bound themselves to work for a specific number of years with employers. The English government approved: Francis Bacon, when lord chancellor, had coldly told King James I that, through this kind of emigration, England would doubly gain: “the avoidance of people here, and in making use of them there.”19 These chances of a successful escape from half-feudal Europe, with its wars and obligations, seemed a great chance, not only to the English poor but to the French: the so-called engagés, from France, went to the French Caribbean on similar lines. For a generation, too, “Newlanders” traveled along the Rhine Valley trying to persuade discontented German peasants to seek their fortunes across the ocean, as did similar agents in Bristol and London. Kidnapping for this purpose also became frequent; men and women were given drink, or children sweets, by planters’ “spirits,” to persuade them to agree to work in America. Conditions on these emigrant ships were almost as bad as those on slavers. Long before Australia was discovered, convicts, too, were sent.
But the era of the engagé or indentured servant was short. Within a generation, it came to be realized that the treatment of such men and women was harsh, and that the feudal conditions which many had sought to avoid in Europe were being copied in the New World. Wages in both France and England were also increasing. Indentured servants found it hard to find good land after their ten years of service were over; and slaves began to look cheaper to the planter: a slave could be had at the end of the seventeenth century for twenty pounds, whereas an indentured laborer might cost ten to fifteen pounds as well as the cost of the journey. Africans were anyway tougher than white yokels. They stood up to tropical diseases better than farmers’ boys from Normandy or East Anglia.
• • •
In the new circumstances, meantime, in which all Northern Europe seemed to be seeking entry into a formerly closed Iberian world, the Spanish Crown tried to manage affairs by maintaining all its old techniques (it was still responsible for the affairs of Portugal): thus, in 1631, a new asiento was let to Melchor Gómez Angel, another merchant of Lisbon with converso origins. The contract reduced the number of slaves to two thousand five hundred a year; but, as usual, no one kept to the rules. Asentista boats went to non-asiento ports; the king’s uncle, the Cardinal Infante Enrique, was allowed to send an extra fifteen hundred slaves a year to Buenos Aires, through a license to Nicolás Salvago of Seville. The entry of Spain into the Thirty Years’ War meant that the Caribbean became—for the first time—a war zone: Portuguese slave merchants lost twenty ships, mostly to the Dutch, who were ever more active against all Portuguese possessions, especially in Africa. Nevertheless, the slave traffic could still be described by the “visitor to New Spain,” Medina Rosales, a kind of official inspector-general, as “the most considerable and important [cuantioso] commerce that there is in the Indies”; and, in 1638, the viceroy of that dominion, the marquis of Cadereyta, wrote that the slave traffic “is the biggest income and most secure of all which His Majesty has in his realms.”20
The asiento continued in the hands of Portuguese conversos: passing in 1637 from Gómez Angel (he seems to have lived in Andalusia, on the Guadalquivir, perhaps at Lebrija) to a relation, Cristóbal Méndez de Sosa.
But the Inquisition was still concerning itself with the alleged Judaizing activities of all Portuguese merchants, whether or not they were involved in the slave traffic. The traders of Seville were thereby enabled to have their revenge on the traders in Lisbon, whose economic dominance they had so long resented. Thus 1636 saw the trial of Francisco Rodrigues de Solis of Lisbon, brother-in-law of the monopolist of the 1620s, Antônio Fernandes Elvas. Sent to Cartagena de Indias to liquidate his affairs there, he fell into the hands of the Inquisition and was, accordingly, submitted to an auto-da-fé. There was in 1638 a big auto-da-fé in Cartagena, of João Rodrigues Mesa of Extremós, Portugal, who had sold a great number of Angolans since he arrived in the city in 1630. A large crowd of slaves, free blacks, mulattoes, and some Spaniards threw oranges at him and other condemned men before they were burned.
Subsequent autos-da-fé would ruin the Portuguese slave-selling network in the New World. For example, in 1646, Antonio Váez de Acevedo, buyer and provider of slaves at Veracruz, and, in 1649, his brothers, Simón and Sebastián Váez Sevilla, were humiliated (though not burned), in the terrible auto-general of that year. Sons of a butcher from Castellobranco, in northeast Portugal, who had acted as executioner and then become a stevedore in the port of Lisbon, Antonio had provided most of the African slaves who were sold in Mexico; Sebastián had been purveyor-general to the recently founded Spanish Caribbean naval squadron, the Armada de Barlovento; and Simón had become one of the richest men in Mexico thanks to his slave dealings. Friend and protégé of the viceroy, the marquis of Villena, as well as holder of several governmental positions, on excellent terms at one time with bureaucrats of the very Inquisition which condemned him, Simón Váez had also prospered from the trade with China, via Acapulco. He had married Lorena de Esquivel, an old Christian—but philo-Semitic, according to the Holy Office, for had she not, years before, broken a pot in anger when a ham was cooked in it? In consequence of such minor matters were great fortunes lost. No doubt, Simón Váez and his brother Sebastián were secret Jews: as early as 1625, one of Simón’s accountants, Hernando Polanco, had denounced him for never permitting cooking with lard, and for arranging that his wife always arrived too late for mass. On the other hand, hostility towards the Portuguese merchants, Jewish or non-Jewish, was evidently a strong motive in the persecution in Mexico which was pressed ferociously by the temporary viceroy, the brilliant and unbending bishop of Puebla, Juan Palafox.
Simón Váez, betrayed by people who had worked for him, communicated, during his seven years in prison, with his friends and relations through some of the slaves whom he had sold so well; but to little avail. The auto-da-fé of 1649 was watched by, it was said, thirty thousand people, of every rank of society: how agreeable it must have been for the Indians and the African slaves to observe the parading of the great merchant, with his wife, his brother, and other relations, men and women, half naked and shaved, who, a few years before, had “driven through the city in coaches, receiving judges and their wives at their parties, respected as if they had been the grandest nobles of the kingdom.”21
Similar trials of converso slave merchants were also held in Lima, above all that which, beginning in 1635, ended by incriminating the most important slave merchant there, Manuel Bautista Peres. Peres had been active in slaving since 1612, having been at first a captain of slave ships from Africa. He had been in Lima since 1620. In later years, he obtained slaves through his brother-in-law, Sebastián Duarte, who regularly bought Africans in Portobelo or Cartagena for shipment to Peru. Peres was looked upon as the leader of the Portuguese in Lima, and known there as “el capitán grande.” His fortune was estimated at half a million pesos, a large sum for that time. He owned silver mines in Huarochiri, fifty miles inland from Lima, where his house was so luxurious as to be nicknamed Casa de Pilatos. He conducted himself as a serious Christian, and priests educated his children; yet it was said that he held secret theological meetings which showed him to be Jewish. Peres never confessed to Judaism, and he tried unsuccessfully to kill himself with a dagger, but he and Duarte were both burned alive all the same.
The Inquisition of Cartagena de Indias had a similar bout of accusations. Thus Luis Gómez Barreto, also a converso, also a slave trader, who played an important part in the city between 1607 and 1652, was in the end seized and tried. His ceaseless traveling, in pursuit of the best slaves, between São Tomé and Luanda or between Guinea-Bissau and Benin, sometimes returning to Spain, and making four journeys at least to Lima, availed him nothing in the end. Then Manuel Álvarez Prieto, taught to be a practicing Jew in Angola, was also tried for it in Cartagena de Indias.VI
• • •
The slave trade to the Americas in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries—until the 1640s, when sugar took over from tobacco in the Caribbean plantations—was still on a fairly small, and therefore a relatively human, if not humane, scale. It was probably still smaller than the Arab trans-Sahara trade in black slaves in these years. The commerce in slaves still flourished with respect to captured Christians, from all over Europe. William Atkins in 1622 described how he, and some other English Catholic schoolboys bound for Seville, were, despite being encouraged to fight by a draft of aquavit mixed with gunpowder, captured by a Morisco captain, in the service of the king of Morocco (of Marrakesh). Atkins was imprisoned with eight hundred Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Irish, and Flemish slaves in Salé, on the Atlantic coast, near what is now Rabat, where slaves were sold in the streets, with the seller calling out, “Who buys a slave?” and the captives being beaten to walk faster by a peezel, a bull’s penis.VII,22
These slaves were treated with at least as much brutality as the African slaves were by Europeans: Atkins described how a Frenchman, “catched in the creeks of the river, with hopes to have escaped over in the night time,” was “found by his patron, [who] first cut off his ears, then slit his nose, after that beat him with ropes till all his body which was not covered with gore was black with stripes, and lastly drove him naked, thus disfigured, through the streets, for an example and a warning to other slaves not to try and escape. In the end, they threw him into a dungeon with a little straw under him, loaden with irons.” A Breton sailor caught trying to escape not only had his ears cut off, but was forced to eat them. Eight hundred English captives were held as slaves at Salé in 1625, over fifteen hundred in 1626.23 It will be recalled that Defoe caused Robinson Crusoe to be a slave here for two years in the 1650s. He escaped to become, however, a would-be slave trader in Brazil.
IPhilip II became king of Portugal in 1580, since the main line of monarchs in Lisbon had died out. Philip had a good claim to the throne through his mother. The crowns, though not the laws, of the two countries remained united till 1640.
IISee page 23.
IIIA new colony had been founded by the Portuguese at Benguela, with an ex-governor of the first city, Manuel Cerveira Pereira, in command. The venture was not solely concerned with the possibility of trading slaves, but it was probably uppermost in the mind of the new conquistador.
IVSee page 148.
VRich had been one of the performers in Ben Jonson’s Masque of Beauty, and went on to write one of the most sycophantic letters ever penned, to Oliver Cromwell: “Others’ goodness is their own; yours is a whole country’s.”
VIIn Luanda, another converso, Gaspar de Robles, for a long time dominated the trade in the early seventeenth century. He went to New Spain, where the Inquisition seized him, as they had done Manuel Álvarez Prieto in Cartagena.
VIIThey were held in a dungeon, known by the term matamoros, a Hispanicization of the local word matamoura, grain silo (which served as a prison), but also, ironically, the Spanish for “killer of Moors.” They narrowly escaped being made eunuchs to “wait upon the king’s concubines in their chamber.”