Modern history

10

The Black Slave Is the Basis of the Hacienda

THE REVERSES in Brazil and Angola were not the only ones suffered by the joint Spanish-Portuguese Crown in these years. In 1640, both Catalonia and Portugal rebelled. After many battles, the Catalans were reabsorbed by Spain, leaving behind a train of resentment which has never disappeared. The Portuguese, on the other hand, escaped into self-assertive independence under the rule of the Braganza kings. These events brought an end to the imperial Spanish Crown’s collaboration with the Portuguese merchants in the slave trade to their empire. Had it not been for the revolution, the old asentista Cristóbal Méndez de Sosa would probably have gained anew the rights which had expired. Instead, he and others like him removed to Lisbon. There was for the time being no new asiento.The Spanish slave trade remained suppressed for ten years.

These events seemed to promise catastrophe. José de los Ríos, procurator-general of Lima, wrote in 1646: “The shortage of blacks threatens the total ruin of the entire kingdom, for the black slave is the basis of the hacienda and the source of all wealth which this realm produces.”1 Without African labor, he went on mournfully, all economic activity would collapse: market gardens, cornfields, vineyards, sugar mills, mines. For the agriculture of the region of Lima was then heavily dependent on African workers; the vineyards of the valleys of Pizco and Ica employed thirty thousand slaves, and the owners constantly needed them replenished. Similar complaints were made by owners of silver mines in New Granada and in New Spain. Everyone in the Americas remembered how the great protective fortresses of the Spanish empire had been largely the work of black African labor: San Juan de Ulloa, Havana, Cartagena—a hundred or two hundred slaves had made all the difference to the defense of the empire.

An illegal trade in slaves did flourish, so much so that some less important parts of the Spanish empire, such as Buenos Aires, remembered that “it was when the metropolis ceased to send them that the colonies were best supplied with slaves.”2 But old hands, in rose-colored haciendas, in Lima or Mexico, in Cartagena de Indias or in Jamaica (still Spanish for a few more years), or pearl merchants in Margarita, looked back with nostalgia to the old days, when the empire was regularly served by the great Portugueseconverso merchants.I The last few years had been unsatisfactory in many ways. There had never been enough slaves, but what was to come would surely be worse. For, in these years, the interlopers were mostly heretic Dutch.

The Dutch presence was the paramount one in both Africa and the Caribbean in the 1640s. They were in these heady years the dominant world power, Portugal’s successor on both sides of the Atlantic, with innumerable possessions in the East too. Their painters at home, such as Rembrandt and Vermeer, were at the summit of their powers; and distinguished artists also traveled to Brazil to depict the Dutch triumph there.

In Africa, Elmina, once the magnet of Portuguese power in the Gulf of Guinea, remained with the Dutch at the temporary peace of 1640. They reinforced the place, building nearby Fort Conradsburg, and they soon had a chain of such castles on the Gold Coast. Their sale of slaves increased by leaps and bounds. Whereas, between 1636 and 1640, the average number of slaves sold in Pernambuco varied between 1,000 and 1,800, the five years 1641 to 1645 saw the figures change thus: 1,188, 14,337, 2,312, 3,948, 5,565, and then back to 2,589. “Without Negroes and oxen nothing can be expected from Pernambuco,” the Heeren XIX, the supreme authority of the West India Company, were told in 1640;3 and, in 1648, Frei Antônio Vieira, himself grandson of a black woman, and the greatest defender and friend of the indigenous Indians, would write: “Without blacks there is no Pernambuco and, without Angola, there are no blacks.” Vieira also pointed to the uncomfortable fact that the Portuguese had been fighting a people whiter than they, the Dutch, and embarrassingly asked whether “we are not as dark compared with them, as the Indians to us”4

The Dutch, having established themselves in Luanda, took care to maintain their older relations with the Vili, on the Loango coast. The trade from there was now put to better use than ever, in that the fine cloths of the place, the redwood, and the nzimbu shells could be exchanged in Luanda for slaves almost as easily as Dutch cloth and Swedish iron bars. The local kings all rejoiced at the thought of a new European master. The king of Congo even sent an ambassador to Maurits of Nassau, in Brazil, in order to ensure that the slave trade to that country would be just as the Portuguese had had it. He sent presents, including two other slaves for the governor, and a few more for his council. Other African ambassadors went to Amsterdam to seek Dutch help against Portugal. The king of Congo placed images deriving from the Dutch Reformed Church on the altar of his Catholic cathedral. The invincible Queen Nzinga (in retreat, her kingdom was known as Matamba) also became a Dutch ally, and undertook several small wars locally in order to provide the Dutch with more slaves than she could otherwise supply.

Yet the Portuguese were resilient. After the Dutch capture of Luanda, the governor, Pedro Cesar de Menzes, led the old colonists a few miles north to the Bengo River, where the Jesuits had established plantations, and where they sought to prevent their old African friends (and enemies) from collaborating with the conquerors. Failing to do this, the governor and his friends moved much farther into the interior, to the fort of Massangano, on the river Cuanza. There, Cesar de Menzes was able to count on the backing of the puppet ngola, Ari, of Ndongo.

Given the interruption of the Portuguese slave trade to Brazil, certain noblemen of Lisbon (Gaspar Pacheco, Francisco Fernandes de Furna, Antonio Lopes Figueroa, and Ruy da Silva Pereira) had, in the meantime, presented a new plan to their king. It was adopted in 1643. The idea was to arm Flemish boats, crew them with Portuguese, and send them round the Cape of Good Hope to Mozambique, to fetch both slaves and valuable woods: the same dues would be payable in Rio on the slaves as if they had come from Angola. So four to six thousand slaves were soon being exported every year in this way to the Americas, mostly to Rio, but also to other markets. Mozambique, so remote, so exotic, became the last resort of the European slave traders, and the tiny island of that name soon became much used, and not just by the Portuguese.

After a while, the Dutch and Portuguese in Angola came to a working agreement: the former, in Luanda, would tolerate the settlement at Massangano and sell it food, provided that the Portuguese supplied them with slaves. The Dutch conquerors were, in fact, disappointed: they had expected to find in Portuguese Africa a self-sustaining export trade of sixteen thousand slaves a year, and their failure to achieve that without much greater efforts than they had expected forced them into all kinds of bargaining. They demanded high prices (in slaves) for their food, while the Portuguese colonists waged war to gain slaves, for all the world as if they were local Africans.

Portugal, newly independent again, was a more formidable power than a nation tied to the coattails of the king of Spain. The Portuguese-Brazilian settlers still living in New Holland—the moradores, those who had stayed on under Dutch rule—staged a rebellion. In a short and effective campaign, they expelled the Dutch from all their old territory, except for Recife-Pernambuco. Then, in 1648, they sent fifteen ships, under a brilliant general, Salvador Correa de Sá, across the South Atlantic to reconquer Luanda and São Tomé. This expedition was immediately successful, for the Dutch were as ill-prepared in 1648 as the Portuguese had been in 1641. So the latter’s enclave at Massangano (which had been besieged by Holland’s African allies) was relieved. Correa de Sá, now the new governor of Angola, destroyed the Dutch outposts (to the north of the Congo, at Pinda, and even at Loango), while García, king of Congo, as a punishment for his welcome to the Dutch, was obliged, among other things, to accept Portuguese sovereignty south of the river Dande (fifty miles north of Luanda), to deliver annually nine hundred basketfuls of palm cloth, worth a thousand slaves, and to give up all those Angolan slaves who had recently taken refuge in his kingdom.

Given these wars and other reversals of fortune, some of them explicitly inspired by disputes over the source of labor for the Americas, it is scarcely surprising that much the same number of slaves were exported from Africa in the second quarter of the seventeenth century as in the first: about 200,000, of whom 100,000 probably went to Brazil, 50,000 to Spanish America. For the first time (in the 1620s and 1630s), the English and French Caribbean appeared as major consumers: nearly 20,000 and 2,000 respectively to the English in Barbados and the Leeward Islands, and 2,500 to the French in Martinique and Guadeloupe. The average number of slaves exported per year from all parts of West Africa might have been about 8,000, many of whom, in the last part of this era, were brought in Dutch boats, including those taken to the Spanish empire. Probably Angola was the most frequent source, if by that word one understands the whole region south of Saint Catherine’s Bay.5

Despite their military failures, Dutch merchants in the 1650s, however, still dominated the market of slaves for the West Indies. Their superior position there reflected their global standing. Holland remained the world’s dominant economic power, in Central Europe as in the Baltic. The Dutch East India Company was still prospering, and much of world trade was in its hands; like Antwerp a century earlier, and London a century later, Amsterdam was a market for everything under the sun. She held her position by keeping her costs low. It was cheaper, for example, for French merchants to buy Baltic goods in Amsterdam for exchange with Africans than to obtain them direct from where they were made.

As for slaves, the Dutch were soon back in the region of the Congo, if not at Luanda. They had, after all, an old association with Loango, principally concerned with ivory and copper, and that was now revived, though, in the 1650s and 1660s, transformed to concentrate on slaving. By 1670, the Overseas Council at Lisbon was talking of the Dutch activity at Loango as if it were still a real threat to the Portuguese slave traffic, since many slaves exchanged at Loango Bay were taken from what had previously been Angolan sources of supply. Other captives were taken from Allada (Ardra), in the commercially promising territory of the so-called Slave Coast.

Though the Dutch had lost all their possessions in Brazil, they retained settlements in the north of South America, in the Guyanas, on the rivers Demerara, Essequibo, Berbice and, after 1667, Surinam, as well as islands in the Caribbean: Curaçao, off Venezuela, to which had been added nearby Aruba and Bonaire. They also held islands in the more northerly Leeward group: Saint Eustatius, Saint Thomas (taken by the English in 1667), and also Saba and half of San Martin.

Of these Caribbean colonies, Curaçao was every year richer and more important. It had no gold, and now no native population. It was too dry to be a plantation colony. It was tiny. But there was a fine harbor, at Willemstad. The Spaniards had used the place primarily to obtain dye-wood. They took some cattle there, too. The Dutch first used Curaçao as a naval station. They planted oranges, from whose juice they distilled the famous liqueur. Then, in 1641, their West India Company began to use the island as a collecting point for slaves captured from foreign ships. A large prison warehouse was built, capable of housing over three thousand captives. In the 1650s, the bleak spot was an important slaving center, with five or six hundred slaves being taken there every year direct from Africa, ready for illicit sale to the Spaniards above all but, also illegally, to the English and French. In 1659, the governor of Curaçao, Matthias Beck, wrote to his superior in New Amsterdam, Peter Stuyvesant, that the trade with “our nearest neighbors,” the Spaniards, was looking promising, despite differences of religion.6 During the last quarter of the seventeenth century, the Dutch West India Company, reconstituted in 1674 primarily as a slave-trading organization, was sending three or four ships a year to the Caribbean from West Africa, without counting its shipments to the Guyanas.

There were also Dutch settlements in North America until 1664. These seemed to require at least some African slaves as a labor force. On July 26, 1646, for instance, instructions to the director-general and Council of New Netherlands (that is, the Dutch colony in North America) provided that “for the promotion of agriculture . . . it is deemed proper to permit . . . the conveyance thither of as many blacks as they are willing to purchase at a fair price. . . .”7 Two years later, the colonists of North America were authorized to send food to their fellow Dutch colonists in the Guyanas, and carry away slaves in return. New Amsterdam, on Manhattan Island, was to be allowed to trade with Angola; and there was talk of converting that city into a slave mart to serve the English mainland colonies, just as Curaçao and Saint Eustatius were beginning to serve the Caribbean islands. Still, only two substantial shipments of slaves from the Guyanas to Dutch North America seem to have been made: one was of an unspecified number of slaves in 1654, in the West India Company’s Witte Paert; the other, of 290 in the Gideon, in 1664. For the rest, the Dutch in North America bought slaves in small numbers from Curaçao, of whom some were probably sold down the coast to the English in Maryland or Virginia.

Among the Dutch merchants concerned in this new trade, the de Wolffs were outstanding. The most prominent of these men was Abel de Wolff, born in Amsterdam in 1636, whose interests embraced Baltic grain, wine from Bordeaux, whaling, gold and ivory, and salt in New York, as well as slaves. His father, Dirck de Wolff, had been a baker in Haarlem before rising to the board of the Brokers’ Guild in Amsterdam. Most Dutch merchants in North America were ruined when New Amsterdam fell to England in 1664, but Abel de Wolff survived—partly because of his interest in whaling in Greenland, but partly thanks to his investment in the slave trade. In 1670, de Wolff’s profits from the Africa trade exceeded fifty thousand florins. Some of his partners and friends (for example, Gerrit Zuyuck and Tobias van Hoornbeeck) also survived, moving into the trade in slaves to Surinam, to the east of the main Guyana settlements, a colony founded by the English in 1651 but captured in 1667 by the Dutch, who retained it. The British had made the place prosper; the Dutch failed to do so to begin with until, however, a Society of Surinam was founded in 1682, and a more substantial slave trade began; some twenty-two thousand African captives had been taken there by 1700.

When, in 1654, the quarter-century of Holland’s control of northeastern Brazil came to an end with the expulsion of the last Dutch troops from Recife-Pernambuco, certain Dutch colonists, including some members of the Jewish community, moved to Barbados. A paper entitled “Touching Barbados,” written in England in the 1660s, stated: “The Dutch losing Brazil, many Dutch and Jews repairing to Barbados began then planting and making of sugar. . . . Likewise, the Dutch, being engaged on the coast of Guinea . . . for negro slaves, having lost Brasille, not knowing where to vent them, they trusted them to Barbados.”8 To a lesser extent, the same was true of the larger (French) island of Guadeloupe. Brazil had been the major zone of large-scale cultivation of sugar cane in the Americas. Now the Caribbean began to perform that function, and did so in a way which seemed, from an economic point of view, more efficient than Brazil.

There had been sugar in Barbados before the coming of the Dutch; and sugar survived in Brazil. Jean Aubert, of Rouen, originally a surgeon, introduced the cultivation of sugar cane into the French Antilles in 1640, at Saint-Christophe. All the same, the small number of Dutch colonists in Barbados did have an effect out of all proportion to their number. For the result was the transformation of most of the only recently colonized Caribbean islands. The best indication of what occurred can be seen in Barbados itself. There, in 1645, rather more than 11,000 impoverished white farmers of English stock were established, owning about 6,000 slaves, and mostly growing third-rate tobacco. By 1667, there were 745 owners of plantations growing sugar, and over 80,000 slaves. The island was held to be nearly twenty times richer in 1667 than it had been before the coming of sugar. The changes in the price of land were even more remarkable, for 500 acres which had been sold at £400 in 1640 fetched £7,000 for only a half-share as early as 1648. The white small farmers, who either did not wish to, or could not, turn over to sugar, lost almost everything. They emigrated where they could—many to the North American mainland, particularly Carolina, which retained its air of being a kind of Barbados-over-the-sea for a long time. Some whites survived on the island to become the ancestors of the twentieth century’s “red-legs.” Meantime, the planters who carried out this sugar revolution, such as James Drax, eventually went home to England as rich men, and their families began to think of their Caribbean sugar properties as if they were gold mines. Most of the smaller British islands in the Caribbean went through the same kind of experience as Barbados, though a little later.

The slaves who made these transformations possible were, in the first instance, mostly brought by English planters from the Dutch, but then they began to be carried in ever-greater numbers by English traders themselves, in circumstances to be discussed in the next chapter.

The conversion of the Caribbean into the archipelago of sugar which it remained for two hundred and more years was largely a French and English enterprise; but, in the beginning, it was inspired by Dutch ideas deriving from Brazil, and it was powered by slaves made available by Dutch merchants.

The investment in slaves and sugar equipment was so great, the strategic risks seemed so considerable, and the need for a regular supply of slave labor was so compelling that all the main colonizing nations organized privileged national companies of the kind which seemed such a success in the case of Holland. Private traders, it was thought, would build no forts in Africa, much less keep them up; would pay no taxes, make impolitic agreements with African rulers, and then perhaps betray them, to the home country’s disadvantage. So not only the French and the English developed these enterprises, in emulation of the Dutch, but even small polities, such as those of the king of Denmark, and the duke of Courland, in the Baltic States, established companies which combined African with West Indian interests. These companies soon developed bureaucracies of a kind not seen again till the advent of the great nationalized businesses of the early twentieth century.

Thus the Caribbean and the slave trade came to be a treasure house of three monopolies. First, sugar was the dominant crop. Second, the colonies were formally supposed to trade exclusively with their own home countries: “to be immediately dependent on their original parent,” as an English pamphleteer of the eighteenth century, Malachy Postle-thwayt, put the matter. And third, the trade of the countries concerned with its colonies was supposed to depend on a national monopoly company. To protect these “mercantilist” colonies, every country had its version of the British Navigation Laws, which aimed to ensure that nothing in the colonies could be bought which was not made in England: neither a hat nor a hammer. Governments, anxious for popularity among the business community, also supported the Atlantic trade: for example, from 1651 to 1847, British West Indian producers were protected by duties against “foreign sugar” coming into England.II

Colbert’s “colonial system” in France was the most elaborate of these schemes. It was based on the notion that colonies were to be economic children whose interests were to be entirely subordinate to the fatherland. The dependencies would produce sugar or, later on, coffee, or perhaps indigo, for the home market. That production would require black slave labor. Nothing else would suffice. The colonies were not to produce anything other than things specifically agreed with the government at home and, in general, the colonists would depend on goods produced at home for their survival. Nobody in the colonies could make anything for sale. Nor could currency be imported into the colonies. Instead, a theoretical Caribbean currency was devised: a recipe for both inflation and the surreptitious use of foreign coin, such as Spanish pieces of eight. The principle was “l’exclusif”: French colonies could “exclusively” trade only with France, and in French ships.

Planters protested. Naturally, and in all the empires there were numerous acts of defiance by private or independent merchants. Dutch and British captains, as adept in those years at breaking other nations’ laws as their own, became specialists above all in smuggling slaves, but also other goods, into the Spanish colonies, whose masters in Madrid had still no African possessions.

The reason for the sudden interest in sugar in Europe requires an explanation. The usual one is that in Britain, Holland, and France, every day richer, the rise in demand derived from the cult in the 1650s of drinking coffee, tea, and chocolate, and that that itself led to a growth in the processing of sugar.III Yet tea, coffee, and chocolate were taken in their original habitats without sweetening.

The truth seems to be that, in the seventeenth as in the twentieth century, the desire for sugar, in milk as in tea, is strong among poor people in the first step of their rise from primary indigence. A report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 1961 declared: “The large increase in consumption that takes place in low income countries as soon as personal income rises can be related apparently to the double function which sugar performs . . . first, a source of calories . . . [and second] as an appetising element, in a generally drab and almost always monotonous diet. . . . Sugar is craved because it adds taste, variety and attractiveness. . . .”9 Western Europe and, to a lesser extent, North America were in the seventeenth century for the first time experiencing the charms of this product on a grand scale. It was not only the classic beverages which gave sugar its frame: rum had a wonderful history of success in Britain; so did jam.

Conditions on the plantations growing sugar were harsh. The condemnation can be made equally of Portuguese, English, Dutch, French, and later, Spanish sugar plantations. As early as 1664, a French priest, Antoine Biet, expressed his horror at the beatings in Barbados given by English overseers to slaves for the slightest offense.10 But the French acted similarly: it is childish to suppose that any nation conducted itself much “better” than its rivals. During the long eight-month sugar harvests, slaves were everywhere sometimes forced to work continuously for almost twenty-four hours. The length of the working “day” also increased the risk of accidents deriving from the primitive machinery. Sometimes, to begin with, slaves on these new plantations (in Cayenne, Guadeloupe, Barbados, and Jamaica, say) were allowed to build houses for themselves and live with their wives and even to form families. But as plantations became bigger, these possibilities diminished. The captives began to live as if they were soldiers in a barracks; women were few, for the planters considered that they were too weak to be effective in the canefields, and too expensive to maintain if they had children.

The Dutch inspired, and served, this confederation of sugar in its first days. They still had, in their West India Company, the oldest, apparently the best-managed, and the richest of the monopoly companies. They had a fine line of forts in both Northwest Africa (Gorée, Arguin) and in the Gulf of Guinea, above all at the old Portuguese master-castle of Elmina, and, although gold was still the main export from the last-named, more and more slaves every year derived from there or from the next-door Slave Coast to the East. In the pursuit of gold from the Gold Coast, Dutch traders continued to import slaves as porters for African mines, as the Portuguese had done, both from the Slave Coast, and from Angola. In 1679, the Dutch West India Company was discussing ways of increasing shipments of slaves, with the Loango coast designated as the most important area for development. With that in mind, they planned new trading posts at the two small ports of Malemba and Cabinda, each with a factor and a small staff. Perhaps, they hoped, four thousand slaves could be shipped from there every year. A warship would be sent to the coast to seize interlopers, foreign or Dutch. In fact, though, the idea of a permanent establishment at Loango was abandoned as soon as it was conceived. By the turn of the century, Dutch traders were still trading for slaves in that region from boats anchored offshore.IV

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France was also beginning to see an ever-greater need for slaves in the West Indies and even in Canada. Thus, in 1643, a new Company of the Isles of America had been formed to manage the French possessions in the Caribbean, and it contracted with a Rouen merchant, Jean Rozer, for sixty Africans to be delivered at the harbor of Guadeloupe at two hundred livres each. The first governor-general of the French islands on behalf of this company, Charles Houel, later said that he had paid for these slaves out of his own pocket, and unsuccessfully demanded the entire island of Marie-Galante as compensation, since the company seemed unwilling to recompense him.

Meantime, French smugglers, with the support of the Crown, had begun to make temporary settlements in Western Hispaniola. Finding the land fertile, they established plantations there. Thus what became the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) began its brilliant but ultimately tragic history. (The French position was recognized formally by Spain when, at the end of the century, the influence of France was at its most potent in Madrid.) Years of great prosperity lay ahead.

Yet, in the 1660s, the French West Indies hardly seemed promising. The Company of the Isles went bankrupt, and most of its possessions were sold off to private people, who ran them as little duchies under the French Crown. The first Caribbean island to be colonized by France, Saint-Christophe, was even bought by the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem. There were other eccentricities.

Still, in 1664, a more effective Company of the Western Islands was founded by the protectionist statesman Colbert. This enterprise was intended to manage all French activities both in the Caribbean and in Africa. It bought out the dangerously independent private owners: France could scarcely have allowed a new feudal regime to establish itself in her empire just when she was busy reducing the power of nobles at home. To cover the initial investments, the company raised three million livres from private investors; another three million were promised from the king personally; the state contributed another two. One essential task was to deliver slaves to the colonies.

Despite the egoistic nationalism symbolized by the expression “l’exclusif,” already mentioned, the new company immediately arranged that the first slaves would be delivered to the French Antilles by that Danish adventurer, Henrick Carloff, who had so successfully chased out the British from Cabo Corso.V He agreed to deliver slaves for six years from his private forts in Guinea: he would give the company 7 percent of them as a tax; and he would sell the rest, in French possessions, just as he liked.

The scheme proved inadequate to the demand. Carloff was a man of vast schemes, never fulfilled. Once again, the Dutch West India Company, and Dutch interlopers, too, were asked to sell slaves to the French colonists without impediment. (Interlopers from the Netherlands made fourteen thousand sales between 1688 and 1725.) In 1669, Colbert decided to try again to exclude the Dutch from the French islands. So several French slaving expeditions were sent to the river Sénégal, with government backing: there was, for example, that of Jean Clodoré, himself the governor of Martinique, sieur d’Elbée, commissaire de la marine, who left a vivid account of his experiences.11 In 1670-72, the carrying capacity of the French slave trade was officially a thousand a year. That figure suggests how many illegal slaves were being carried, for the real number of imports from all sources, including from French interlopers, approached five thousand. The merchants responsible for the increase were principally from La Rochelle, still the leading French Atlantic port in these early years of the traffic; it began to dispatch vessels to Africa for slaves in 1643 and, between 1670 and 1692, sent forty-five such ships. But other ports were also involved: André l’Espagnol, for instance, sent the Pont d’Orfrom Saint-Malo in Brittany in 1688; and Bordeaux dispatched her first slave ship, the Saint-Etienne, to Africa in 1672, with a captain from Honfleur on board, with some of the king’s counselors in Paris being among the investors. The Hamel brothers were similarly active in Dieppe.

In 1672, partly as a result of this lively illegal trade, Colbert lost patience with the company and it in turn lost its right, and its obligation, to sell slaves. Next year, a new company was formed, the first of many companies to be named “de Sénégal,” being headed by a group of Parisian entrepreneurs (Maurice Egrot, François François, Claude d’Apougny, and François Raguenet). This body bought the ownership of French facilities in northwest Africa, mainly the fledgling forts or trading posts on the river Sénégal. The change marked the end for the moment of the French government’s efforts to organize trade with all Africa and the Caribbean through one large company.

The new arrangements worked better. Between 1675 and 1700, Martinique may have taken forty thousand slaves, Guadeloupe eight thousand, and the new (still formally illegal) settlement of Saint-Domingue over seven thousand. France’s equally new mainland colony of Cayenne (French Guiana) perhaps took two thousand.

To ensure that these colonies received their slaves, Jean, count of Estrées (nephew of Gabrielle, the beautiful mistress of Henri IV), seized the strategically well-placed island of Gorée, just south of Cape Verde, from the Dutch in 1677. The brilliant young Captain Jean Ducasse captured the old Portuguese fort of Arguin in 1678. Two thousand slaves a year was now declared as the goal for carriage in French slave-trade companies these years, but it was a target never met.

The new Sénégal Company, after six successful years, was enlarged and given new responsibilities: a monopoly of the whole African coast. That was its downfall. For, like its predecessors, it failed to cope with these extensions of authority and, overextended, and with too many officials in Paris, went bankrupt.

Colbert sought then to found yet another new company, formed of civil servants, not merchants—he had an extraordinary enthusiasm for bureaucracy—but that, too, was inadequate. Ships sank, pirates captured other vessels, captains remained unpaid, planters failed to pay or paid late, many slaves died. In 1681, the new company also declared itself bankrupt. It handed over its assets to one more monopoly company, “la Nouvelle Compagnie de Sénégal.” This enterprise started its brief life with a capital of six hundred thousand livres. But it soon faced fresh debts, fresh crises. In 1682-84, its captains were carrying annually 1,520 slaves from the region of the river Sénégal, but that was its best performance. Further, its zone of activity was, in 1684, restricted to trade north of the river Gambia, for a “Compagnie de Guinée,” headed by Colbert’s son, Jean-François, the Jesuit-educated marquis of Seignelay, was set up to trade south of that landmark. In selling slaves in the West Indies, the two new companies cooperated. But the new company of Sénégal still seemed incapable. French private investors were unenthusiastic. If they were interested in the slave trade, they preferred to back interlopers. Funds, therefore, for the companies could only be gained by borrowing from the Crown, a stratagem which demonstrated their lack of independence. In 1685, to confuse matters exceedingly, a supplementary Sénégal Company was founded, with instructions to furnish a thousand slaves annually to the West Indies, receiving the right to trade south of the Gambia for twenty years. Five years later, the French Antilles boasted twenty-seven thousand slaves (mostly working in one or other of the four hundred or so sugar mills), alongside fewer than twenty thousand French settlers and a mere fifteen hundred free blacks or mulattoes. One or two thousand slaves were brought into these colonies every year in the late seventeenth century, probably three thousand in the early eighteenth.

The Sun King himself, Louis XIV, had by now entered the debate. He asked his council in Paris in 1685 whether two thousand slaves could really be needed annually in the West Indies. The reply was that two thousand slaves did indeed constitute the minimum needed, particularly since expansion was always occurring. King Louis then suggested that French vessels should simply be sent to the Cape Verde Islands, where they would buy slaves from the Portuguese, as the Spaniards had often done, and go thence to the Indies. But the colonists insisted, in petitions, that the easiest solution to their problems was to be allowed to buy slaves in other islands in the Caribbean. The king was unenthusiastic, but soon that plan was privately if illegally accepted, war with Holland making it in many ways inevitable. Ducasse, the victor of Arguin, now governor of Saint-Domingue, was told that, because of the war, he might find slaves wherever he liked.

The king should have known all about the capacity of slaves, for his own galleys were still powered by them. Thus, in 1685, Michel Misserel, an enterprising merchant of Toulon, engaged himself to supply 150 Turks for those galleys. They had to be between eighteen and forty, and in good health. The French consul in Candia acted as an agent for the king in providing most of these. In 1679, the Company of Sénégal provided 227 African slaves for the same purpose. The racial mixture was looked on as unimportant: at that time, the French royal galleys contained Russians, Poles, and Bulgars, as well as blacks. Some of the Turkish soldiers captured by the Austrians after the siege of Vienna ended their days in these vessels, and there were two thousand helping with the fortifications at Cádiz; earlier in the seventeenth century, the Turks had enslaved hundreds of Christians after their victories in Hungary and the Balkans.

Meantime, the French Crown was begged by its governor in Canada, the viscount of Denonville, to authorize the direct shipment of slaves from Africa to his colony. The attorney-general in Paris, Ruette d’Auteuil, supported him. For Denonville had, he said, failed to carry out his instructions to turn the savage indigenous Indians into Frenchmen; on the contrary, the settlers in Quebec were every day becoming more savage. Ruette thought that only the provision of Africans could reverse the tendency. The governor believed that the survival of slaves in New England and New Netherlands proved that Africans could sustain Canadian winters. They could be kept warm on the Saint Lawrence in coats of beaver skin, which the traders would naturally be delighted to sell to the planters. The king supported these ideas, but the traders never did much: French Canadians could not afford many African slaves, and most of the slaves whom they owned in the early eighteenth century were Indians.

The New Sénégal Company, directed by Parisian interests, soon confessed itself ruined. It sold itself to one of its directors, Claude d’Apougny, who shortly organized yet another company. This was explicitly not to meddle with the Guinea Company, which had been successful in maintaining French commercial interests south of the river Gambia. The new body sent out, first, Jean-Baptiste de Gennes, then the formidable André Brüe to Africa to restore the position. Gennes expelled the English from Fort James on the river Gambia, which France held till the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697, when it was returned to the English. Brüe, however, built a port at Albreda, on the northern bank of that waterway, long a thorn in the side of the English, and established a trading post also at Vitang Creek, a southern tributary. He then began a long period of successful rule, basing himself at Saint-Louis, at the mouth of the Sénégal, establishing further trading counters, talking to kings and chiefs, trading slaves, exploring the country, and even making friends with the English.

This increase in the slave trade from West Africa coincided with some turbulent events in the region which the French were beginning to consider their own. Thus a Muslim reform movement led by a prophet-king, Nasir-al-Din, seized power in what would now be thought of as southern Mauritania. A Muslim army swept south over the river Sénégal and, in support, the local Muslims there, previously living in enclaves outside the societies concerned, captured many capitals, such as Jolof and Futa Toro. Opposition to enslavement of Muslims inspired this movement, though doubtless a desire to convert the inhabitants to Islam and to recapture the rich valley of the Sénégal for its own sake played a part. The French, however, allied with the local monarchs, and drove out those whom they saw as usurpers; and Nasir-al-Din was killed in 1673. But the fear of a possible revival of a Muslim threat continued to hang over those desirable northern rivers.


IIn default of indigenous labor, African slaves, especially boys between fifteen and sixteen years old, had learned to dive for pearls, and also to take them to the mainland in large canoes.

IIThere were in England three such acts: that of 1647, which attempted to ensure that no plantation should allow its products to be shipped save in English ships; that of 1650, which provided that all foreign ships trading with plantations had to be licensed; and that of 1651, the Navigation Act proper, which provided that no goods from Asia, Africa, or America could be imported into any English territory, colonies included, except in English-built ships directed by an English master, and manned by a crew at least three-quarters English in origin. Between 1660 and 1672, further laws provided that most colonial produce had to be sent to England and, on the English ships which carried the goods, three-quarters of the crew had to be English.

IIIThe first coffeehouse in London seems to have been opened in 1652, teahouses existed by 1658, and chocolate soon followed.

IVThe Dutch involvement in the Spanish empire at the end of the seventeenth century is discussed in chapter 12.

VSee page 176.

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