The origins of African slavery in the New World cannot be understood without some knowledge of the millennium of warfare between Christians and Muslims that took place in the Mediterranean and Atlantic and the piracy and kidnapping that went along with it.1 In 1627 pirates from the Barbary Coast of North Africa raided distant Iceland and enslaved nearly four hundred astonished residents. In 1617 Muslim pirates, having long enslaved Christians along the coasts of Spain, France, Italy, and even Ireland, captured 1,200 men and women in Portuguese Madeira. Down to the 1640s, there were many more English slaves in Muslim North Africa than African slaves under English control in the Caribbean. Indeed, a 1624 parliamentary proclamation estimated that the Barbary states held at least 1,500 English slaves, mostly sailors captured in the Mediterranean or Atlantic.2
The historian Robert C. Davis concludes that between 1580 and 1680 some 850,000 Christian slaves were taken in chains to the Maghreb. The number of enslavements would surely exceed a million if we move down a century to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when the question of enslaved white American sailors became a central issue of foreign policy for the administrations of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. Only a tiny percentage of Christian slaves were ransomed or converted to Islam; the few who were fortunate enough to get away complained of being fed “nothing but bread and water,” of being treated “like dogs,” and of being whipped while working as galley slaves or as carriers of heavy rocks in building or repairing public works. Their rate of mortality equaled that of African slaves on the infamous Middle Passage.3
This large-scale enslavement of Europeans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did not lead to movements against slavery as an institution. In fact, some of the ransomed European slaves engaged in their own slaving raids against Muslims as a form of revenge.4 Daniel Defoe’s fictional Robinson Crusoe (published in 1719) is on a mid-seventeenth-century slave-trading vessel bound for Guinea when he himself is captured and enslaved by a “Turkish rover of Sallee [Salé]” off the northwest coast of Africa. After two years of enslavement, Crusoe escapes, shoots and kills one naked black “savage,” and is then rescued by a humane and charitable Portuguese slave-trading captain, who takes Crusoe to Brazil, where for four years he makes a small fortune as a slaveholding planter.
I do not mean to suggest that the Muslim enslavement of Christians evoked no opposition whatever to slavery. Benjamin Franklin was not the first but simply the most famous man to turn the enslavement of whites by Barbary pirates into a strong and clever antislavery argument; he mocked a proslavery speech in Congress by comparing it to a fictional 1687 speech of the Divan of Algiers defending the “plundering and enslaving” of Christians. But that was in 1790, in the last month of Franklin’s life, well after cultural and intellectual changes had already launched antislavery movements in England, America, and France.5 It is most unlikely that Franklin would have dreamed of writing such a piece in his young manhood, when he in fact owned and sold Negro slaves.
In the preceding centuries, before the rise of humanitarian reform, including the antislavery movement, the continuing enslavement of Christians by Muslims and of Muslims by Christians actually conditioned both groups to accept the institution of slavery on a wider scale and thus prepared the way for the vast Atlantic slave system. In the fifteenth century, for example, Portuguese leaders saw the enslavement and baptism of black Africans as a continuation of the centuries-old reconquest of Iberia and crusade against the Moors.
The question at issue—and a question addressed in terms of capitalism and class in The Many-Headed Hydra —is how we are to account for the later shipment of millions of African slaves to Iberia, the Atlantic Islands, and then the New World. Lasting for some 423 years, this was history’s greatest involuntary movement of a people, a coerced transport that had a central place in the creation of the modern world.
The enslavement of foreign and alien peoples was a fundamental part of the remarkable expansion of Islam and the later expansion of Christian Europe. By 869 CE the Arabs had transported enough black slaves from East Africa to the Persian Gulf to ignite an extensive revolt on the tidal flats in the Tigris-Euphrates delta in what is now Iraq. The so-called Zanj slaves had been working in regimented gangs to reclaim this abandoned marshland, remove the mineral deposits, and prepare the subsoil for cultivation. They killed thousands of Arab men, enslaved countless women and children, and even threatened Baghdad before they were finally crushed in 883.6 Despite this traumatic memory, the conquest of much of northwest Africa by the Berber Muslim Almoravid dynasty in the eleventh century brought the Arabs increasing numbers of black slaves, who were forced to do the heaviest and dirtiest work, including labor in underground mines. While some Muslim slaves had remarkable privileges and power, the testimony of redeemed white galley slaves reminds us of the dangers of romanticizing the many forms of bondage under Muslims and sub-Saharan Africans which never received scrutiny from abolitionists, who only began to appear in the late eighteenth century and who concentrated on the evils of slavery in limited parts of the world.
As Europeans began their post-Norse expansion into the Atlantic, the Spaniards in particular had no compunctions about enslaving and exterminating the “olive-skinned” inhabitants of the Canary Islands, the Guanches. Somewhat later but still before Columbus’s voyages, the Portuguese increasingly relied on black African slave labor for their sugar plantations in Madeira and especially Sâo Tomé, in the Gulf of Guinea. As part of their religious warfare against Catholicism, the English slaughtered and dispossessed many thousands of Irish, and in the seventeenth century shipped large numbers of Irish captives to the New World as virtual slaves. Yet contrary to the impression Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker give in The Many-Headed Hydra, the Irish sent to the Caribbean were never chattel slaves. They were sold, the economic historian David Eltis writes, “as indentured servants with a maximum term rarely exceeding ten years,” and after being freed in accordance with a contract or agreement they usually became integrated into white society. By 1729 the Irish had become the leading slave owners in the Caribbean colony of Mont Serrat.7
Eltis has raised the interesting question why Europeans did not enslave fellow Europeans and ship them by the millions to the New World. As an economist, he argues that such a policy would have been far cheaper than purchasing and transporting African slaves. In contrast to the enslavement by pirates in the Mediterranean, moreover, it is easy to forget that virtually all African slaves were first enslaved by fellow Africans. The men, women, and children sold to Europeans in exchange for textiles, metal goods, guns, liquor, cowry shells, and other commodities were, for the most part, slaves under African laws. As Eltis points out, Europeans, for their part, had no qualms about killing, torturing, dismembering, and burning at the stake tens of thousands of other Europeans, or, as Linebaugh and Rediker emphasize, forcibly impressing thousands of sailors whose lives were hardly better off than those of slaves.
Since slavery and Norse slaving raids had been ubiquitous in the early Middle Ages, what accounts for the prohibition, in Western Europe at least, against enslaving prisoners of war, criminals, vagrants, and vagabonds? (The English were unable to enforce a Vagrancy Act of 1547 prescribing slavery for the wandering unemployed, though the Mediterranean nations employed what Linebaugh and Rediker term “a motley crew” as galley slaves.)
Debate continues over the reasons for the surprisingly swift ending of slavery in northwest Europe, the first “free soil” in the world.8 But any full understanding of the origins of New World slavery must begin with the expansion of Islam from Arabia to India and across northern Africa and Spain to the Pyrenees (by 719 CE), and the resulting centuries of warfare as well as trade between Christians and Muslims. The Muslims, like the much smaller domestic populations of Jews, provided European Christians with a sharply defined Other (in this they were analogous to the “barbarians” who were the ideal slaves for ancient Greeks, although in the eyes of the more learned medieval Muslims it was Europeans who were the “barbarians”).
It therefore seems reasonable to argue that, in addition to separate local conditions, it was the Crusades and the reconquest of Iberia that began to give Western Europeans a sense of a common Christian brotherhood, symbolized by the impropriety of enslaving one another even when engaged in bitter wars. Following the Christian reconquest of Toledo from the Moors in 1085, and the launching of the First Crusade in 1096, papal propaganda spread through Western Europe, inciting hatred of both the Muslims and the Jews (who were considered to be collectively enslaved to Christian states). By the Fourth Crusade of 1202–1204 and the victorious Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, slavery within European countries and the traditional dichotomy between slaves and free persons in Western Europe were giving way to more hierarchical but “freer” societies, especially in England and France. Yet as Charles Verlinden has shown in great detail, along with the continuing enslavement of Moors, Venetian and Genoese merchants established a booming slave trade from Black Sea ports, purchasing thousands of Georgians, Armenians, Circassians, Mingrelians, and other Caucasian peoples who were classified as infidels even if they were eventually baptized.9
Italian merchants sold such “Slavs” (the Latin sclavus is the root of slave, esclave, escravo), along with Greeks and Turks, in Muslim markets as well as in Christian Crete, Cyprus, Sicily, and such Spanish regions as early-fifteenth-century Valencia. A few “white slaves” appeared even in late-sixteenth-century Spanish Havana, though the Portuguese sold increasing numbers of black African slaves to Seville and Valencia in the second half of the fifteenth century, especially after the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, redirecting the attention of slave traders from the Caucasus to sub-Saharan Africa.10
It is misleading to think of “racial slavery” as a wholly New World phenomenon. By the mid-1400s, Sicilian notaries were recording the arrival of sclavi negri, or “black Slavs,” transported by desert caravans to the Mediterranean, and in Portugal the word for slave was often mouro, guineu, or negro. Much earlier, the Arabic word for slave, ‘abd, had come to mean a black slave and in some regions the word could refer to any black whether slave or free. Arabs were the first people to make extensive use of black African slaves, with a resulting anti-black racism in some Arab regions. And the Portuguese and Spanish were quick to follow suit in the fifteenth century, when black Africans increasingly dominated the slave markets from Lisbon to Madeira and Valencia. When Columbus on his third voyage in 1498 advocated replacing local Indian labor—which he found unreliable—with African slaves, he referred to the large number of black slaves in parts of Spain (he had lived for ten years in Madeira, where slavery was almost totally racial).
It is thus highly significant that Spain and Portugal, with their long histories of enslavement and Muslim counterenslavement, were the two European nations that ruled the first century and a quarter of New World settlement and development. And the French, the Dutch, and the English were wholly familiar with Mediterranean piracy and enslavement, as well as with the African slave trade conducted by the Portuguese and solicited by the Spaniards, who had been legally cut off from Africa by the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494. Many British and French ships visited Portuguese Madeira and saw black plantation slavery in action.
Though more than a few modern historians, including Linebaugh and Rediker, have tried to link the origins of New World slavery with the rise of capitalism, those origins must be traced within a large historical setting, one that begins with the Arab conquest of northern Africa and Spain, the Christian Crusades and reconquest of Iberia, and the remarkable disappearance of slavery from Northwest Europe—developments that were followed by the Spanish enslavement of the Indians, and by the emergence in the late sixteenth century of a large slave trade from Africa to Brazil, Mexico, and even distant Peru on the Pacific coast. That continuing trade would by 1820 bring far more Africans than Europeans to the Americas. Of course it is true that the centuries in which people were held in captivity on essentially religious grounds prepared the way for the European colonizers to set up “factories in the field” and for the emergence of international consumer markets that were a crucial part of the formation of the industrial capitalist world.
While The Many-Headed Hydra is a book of tremendous promise, combining the plight and resistance of slaves with the aspirations of religious radicals, sailors, and various oppressed groups in a survey of the Atlantic world from the 1500s to the early nineteenth century, it could hardly be a more disappointing work. The title refers to Hercules as the symbol of the rising capitalist state attempting to behead the repeated outbursts of revolt generated by a proletarian Hydra—a supposedly unified Hydra whose interconnections evaporate upon serious scrutiny. Some years ago Keith Thomas observed in these pages that in Peter Linebaugh’s first book, The London Hanged, the argument was presented within an “intellectually archaic frame” that merged all eighteenth-century victims of capital punishment into members of an exploited proletariat (as if rapists, murderers, and highwaymen did not prey upon proletarian victims).11 The same point applies with even greater force to the conceptual frame of The Many-Headed Hydra, which at times reads like a parody of highly romanticized Marxism.
The authors, for example, quote approvingly Léopold Senghor’s view that “Negro African society [singular!]… had already achieved socialism before the coming of the European.” The African scholar Lamin Sanneh completely demolishes this fantasy in Abolitionists Abroad. But Linebaugh and Rediker, who ignore the history of slavery I have sketched above, give many examples of what they take to be precapitalist “communism,” including such utopias as Ireland and Belize, in what became British Honduras. The proletariats’ anticapitalist “Hydrarchy” or “Land of Cockaygne,” according to the authors, is a place without private property or required work, a utopia where the common folk (not puritanical craftsmen and skilled workers), sing, dance, and drink to be merry. As disciples of the far more careful and complex historians Christopher and Bridget Hill, to whom their book is dedicated, and E.P. Thompson, the authors quite rightly recognize both that the mid-seventeenth-century British civil wars gave rise to utopian and millenarian visions and that such religious sects as the Diggers, Levellers, and early Quakers were in some sense the source of many later radical movements, including abolitionism. But today’s secular radicals tend to have little understanding of the subtleties of seventeenth-century theology, and Linebaugh and Rediker confusingly label most of their heroes “antinomian,” without a clear explanation of what they mean.12
The villains of the tale begin with Shakespeare, Sir Francis Bacon, and Cromwell, and extend down to James Madison and the other drafters of the US Constitution—these are all identified as among the greedy creators of capitalism; they include the upwardly mobile, the skilled artisans who tended to be property owners as well as “temperate, prudent, punctual, literate citizen[s],” and counterrevolutionaries. Curiously, even Thomas Paine, though he is said to be open to “alternatives” to capitalism, barely passes muster. In their rigid demarcation of heroes and villains, the authors do not mention that both John Locke and Voltaire personally profited from the slave trade.
Though based on impressive research and written in clear, lively prose, The Many-Headed Hydra exudes a bitter, cynical tone, as if its authors were describing how the Nazis built the infrastructure for the Holocaust. And because the Hydra’s heads include ro- manticized pirates as well as prostitutes, religious zealots, bandits, highwaymen, and criminals of all sorts, one tires of the authors’ perspective of “looking from below” while at the same time constantly raising the possibility of perfectionist “alternatives” to the flow of history. The authors seem blind to the fact that it was precisely such alternative visions, from communism (which they applaud) to the Thousand Year Reich, that were repeatedly used in the twentieth century to justify the most appalling crimes in human history.
Unfortunately, the “carelessness” and serious errors that Keith Thomas documented in Linebaugh’s first book are even more evident in this more ambitious work.13 Thus Lord Dunmore’s famous proclamation of November 1775, offering freedom to any slaves who would flee to the King’s forces and “bear arms” against the rebels, is given the impossible date of 1774 on three separate pages. This slip indicates little understanding of the chronology of the American War of Independence and may well mislead students who use the book, which will very likely be popular in classrooms.
The very source the authors use to describe the revolt led by a slave called Tacky in Jamaica in 1760 as a “new wave of opposition to slavery” points out that Tacky’s real goal was to kill all whites and enslave “all such Negroes as might refuse to join them.”14 The authors seem unaware of this. Linebaugh and Rediker give wrong dates for the British army’s intervention in “Haiti” (really St. Domingue until 1804), and seem to follow Barry Unsworth’s fictional account in his novel Sacred Hunger in describing mutinies based on an alliance between slaves and oppressed white sailors. David Eltis and his associates, who have made an exhaustive study of the African slave trade and slave ship revolts, have not found a single case of European crew members uniting with slaves, much as we might like to find the kind of communal mutiny described in Sacred Hunger.15
The reliability of Olaudah Equiano’s famous The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789) has been questioned for years, though Linebaugh and Rediker show no awareness of this when they make Equiano (who was known in England as Gustavus Vassa) a central figure in their book and take as fact his account of having been brought as a slave from Africa to the Caribbean. They may have finished their research too late to be aware of recent discoveries that suggest Equiano was born in South Carolina and never saw Africa or experienced the Middle Passage, as he claimed.16
Perhaps the most shocking error is the statement that on April 2, 1792, the British Parliament “agreed to abolish slavery, but only ‘gradually.'” Such a victory, which Linebaugh and Rediker clearly regard as too moderate, would have been unthinkable in 1792. In 1792 the House of Commons agreed to terminate the slave trade by 1796, but the House of Lords in effect vetoed the measure. It was not until 1833 that Parliament agreed to a gradual emancipation plan, with generous compensation for slaveholders and an “apprenticeship” system for former slaves, which was finally abolished in 1838. This is elementary British history.
A student of elementary American history would also know that Denmark Vesey did not lead his people “into open insurrection,” since two slaves revealed the plot to their owners and Vesey was quickly arrested and hanged. The authors are guilty of a much more serious distortion when they describe Nathaniel Bacon’s 1676 rebellion in Virginia without stressing that Bacon saw himself as leading a crusade “against all Indians in generall [sic].”17 Indians are not even mentioned in Linebaugh and Rediker’s account, presumably because they want to portray Bacon as an antinomian “abolitionist” and leader of the proletariat, not a fanatic bent on exterminating Indians.
Some parts of The Many-Headed Hydra, however, deserve high praise, beginning with the section on “the Atlantic perspective.” The rise of the Atlantic slave system did not go unchallenged, as “consensus historians” were once inclined to suggest, and the authors provide strong examples of opposition to it. We have, heretofore, given far too little attention to the sailors and “motley crews” who were indispensable in connecting the continents and launching the first stage of globalization, and here again the authors provide useful information. (They end with a reference to recent resistance to wage slavery in Seattle, as well as Africa and the Caribbean, thus reminding readers of the latest of Hydra’s heads. They seem to imply that the modern heroes are isolationists and protectionists, not those citizens of the third world who think that free trade will improve their longevity and living standards.)
Instead of discussing the ending of slavery in the Northern states or dealing with more recent interpretations of the French Revolution, they turn toward the end of their book to some fascinating personal stories, such as the lives of Catherine and Edward Despard, a mixed-race couple who lived in the Caribbean and Central America during the War of Independence and then became involved in a radical plan to capture London. Edward, an Irishman who was finally arrested in 1802, had been accused of holding the “wild and Levelling principle of Universal Equality” and was eventually hanged and beheaded as a traitor. No less interesting is the better-known story of Robert Wedderburn, a mulatto Methodist and Spencean who moved from the Caribbean to England, where he ad-vocated a joint colonial slave revolt with an uprising of the English proletariat.
A crucial point about men like Despard and Wedderburn is that they wanted to extend the concepts of “slavery” and “emancipation” to all forms of oppression. Linebaugh and Rediker fail to note that the British antislavery movement, by attracting conservatives like William Wilberforce, James Ramsay, and James Stephen, to say nothing of Anglican bishops and Parliamentarians, isolated chattel slavery as a unique evil, the single if distant flaw in what they defended as an otherwise fair and moral system. Thus while the French revolutionaries wanted to restructure nearly everything, including the Christian calendar, the British could feel “progressive” by concentrating their energies on the abolition of a seemingly pre-Christian and precapitalist anachronism.18 For Despard, Wedderburn, and Thomas Spence, however, the agitation over Negro slavery revived the ideals of mid-seventeenth-century radicals, such as the Levellers, who demanded emancipation and equality on a more generalized level. Yet Linebaugh and Rediker do not note that the radical Leveller Gerard Winstanley advocated slavery in 1652 as a form of punishment for his fellow Englishmen.19
At one point Linebaugh and Rediker mention “the African Americans in diaspora after 1783 [who] would originate modern pan-Africanism by settling…in Sierra Leone,” an eastward-bound diaspora that would, they argue, ultimately be the “undoing of the slave trade and the plantation system.” While Lamin Sanneh works from quite different premises, this is precisely the theme of his excellent new book, Abolitionists Abroad.
Sanneh begins with the Arab traders and raiders who began acquiring African slaves over six hundred years before the Portuguese voyagers. They sometimes subscribed, he writes, to the belief that “God made Africa a natural source of slaves,” and continued their African slave trading into the second half of the twentieth century.20 Sanneh emphasizes that slave trading within Africa was facilitated by the structures of “chiefly lineage,” through which African rulers maintained power, and a deeply entrenched “predatory morality of feuding and looting.” But he is mainly interested in the Christian black freedmen who saw that the slave trade and New World slavery could never be abolished unless settlements of black abolitionists and missionaries in Africa launched an “antistructural” “restoration program” that would open opportunities for people “at the bottom of the social heap.”
By the 1780s even the white British abolitionists saw the need for undermining the slave trade at its source of supply as well as at its Caribbean place of demand. In April 1792, in what many considered his greatest speech, Prime Minister William Pitt emphasized his country’s “guilt and shame” in contributing to “the greatest practical evil which has ever affected the human race,” a wrong that could only be corrected by ending the slave trade and by “the sublime prospect of civilizing Africa as a means of national redemption.” He, Wilberforce, and other abolitionists were thinking of both converting Africans to Christianity and increasing legitimate exports from Africa.
During the American Revolution the British freed tens of thousands of American slaves, transporting some to Nova Scotia and others to England itself.21 The blacks in Nova Scotia were given the poorest land on the barren Atlantic coast. Faced with increasing racism, they soon became sharecroppers or contract laborers on land owned by whites; by 1791 many were threatened by famine. By 1786 there were more than 1,200 free blacks in London, mostly unemployed and begging on the streets. Sanneh, who repeats a common mistake by attributing to Chief Justice Mansfield words used by sergeant-in-law William Davy in his opening argument for the defense in the famous Somerset antislavery case, writes that the Committee for the Black Poor estimated in 1772 that there were some 14,000 to 15,000 blacks in England.22
An idealistic answer to these problems came in 1787 with the founding of Freetown, in Sierra Leone (“lion mountain”). The long-established ransoming of European slaves from Muslim states provided a precedent for returning freed blacks to Africa; indeed, during the American Revolution some Massachusetts slaves petitioned the legislature for their freedom and transport back to Africa.23 Yet it made no sense to return a black to a place where he or she might well be enslaved again. Sierra Leone was established by the abolitionist Sierra Leone Company, with a supposedly Saxon constitution drafted by Granville Sharp, the initiator of the Somerset case. The colony began with an estimated population of 341 black men, 70 white women prostitutes, and a handful of white Englishmen.
In 1792 John Clarkson, brother of the famous abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, led at government expense an armada of sixteen ships containing one thousand former American slaves from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone. Though King Jimmy, a local chieftain, attacked and destroyed a Sierra Leone town in 1789, some 550 deported, battle-wise Jamaican Maroons helped to crush Sierra Leone’s most dangerous local revolt in 1800. Eight years later Sierra Leone became an English Crown Colony, an event that coincided with acts by Britain and the US outlawing the slave trade.
Since Britain reinforced this attempt to abolish the slave trade with naval squadrons that captured slave ships, around 74,000 freed “recaptives” were eventually taken to Sierra Leone, where many settled in ethnic com-munities such as Congo Town for the Congolese, Leicester for the Bambara of Mali, and other communities for the Igbo, Mende, and so on. One missionary documented over 120 separate languages among the recaptives and other members of this amazing community.
Sanneh tells interesting stories about such repatriated blacks as Thomas Peters, David George, Moses Wilkinson, Lott Cary, and especially Samuel Ajayi Crowther, a recaptive who became the foremost churchman in nineteenth-century Africa. A former slave who had interviews in 1851 with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Crowther prodded a reluctant British government to intervene against the slave trade in his native Nigeria.
Sanneh also gives a detailed contrast between Sierra Leone, backed by an essentially abolitionist British government, and Liberia, which was founded in 1822 as a supposed refuge for free American blacks but was dependent on a US government that strongly supported slavery. According to Sanneh, Liberia received only 5,700 recaptives, and a small, elite group of “Americo-Liberians” who exploited both the recaptives and the indigenous population. By 1912 Liberia was officially bankrupt; the arrival of the Firestone Rubber Company in the 1920s served to revive slavery and the sale of slaves to the Spanish colony, Fernando Po. Despite the optimism and prosperity of some of the early African-American leaders, Liberia has had a depressing history, leading up to the catastrophic reign of Charles Taylor, who was finally elected president in 1997 after years of civil strife in which over 150,000 people died and hundreds of thousands left the country. Taylor now supports the diamond-smuggling rebels in Sierra Leone.
In assessing the long-term damage inflicted on Africa by centuries of slave-trading followed by the exploitation of seventy to eighty years of European colonialism, one should keep in mind not only the corrosive effects of pseudoscientific racism but also the continent’s fragmentation. Like the Balkans and the region between the Caspian and Black Seas, Africa became divided among countless rival and often warring ethnic groups, and this made the continent all the more vulnerable to slave traders and warlords. After the collapse of such medieval African empires as Ghana, there were few kingdoms large enough to protect their subjects.
As an expert on world religions, Lamin Sanneh presents a convincing and illuminating account of the development of antislavery Christianity in nineteenth-century Africa. However, his book would not prepare the Clarksons, Equiano, or Crowther to comprehend the torture, mutilation, mass killings, and economic collapse in today’s Liberia and Sierra Leone.24
July 5, 2001
Although very few works on New World slavery make this point, the late John W. Blassingame, in a brilliant insight, compared the acculturation of American black slaves with the acculturation of Europeans who were enslaved by Arabs and Turks and who became so degraded that they would kiss the feet of their masters and quickly move out of the path of any oncoming Muslim. See The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South, revised and enlarged edition (Oxford University Press, 1979), Chapter 2. ↩
David Eltis, The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas (Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 57–58. ↩
Robert C. Davis, “Counting European Slaves on the Barbary Coast,” paper given in Boston on January 5, 2001, at an American Historical Association session on “The Forgotten Slavery: Christian and Muslim Captivity in the Early Modern Era,” at which I was the commentator. I am much indebted to Professor Davis for sending me a fuller version of his important paper. While his statistics are necessarily tentative and somewhat speculative, they are based on a careful and cautious examination of existing sources. Professor Davis estimates that only 3 to 4 percent of the Christian captives were ransomed, but that their rate of mortality, coupled with a small number of conversions and manumissions, was so high that as many as 25 percent had to be replaced by Muslim raids and captures each year. While the English as well as the Christian Mediterranean states enslaved North African Moors, this practice was carried out on a much smaller scale and over a more limited period of time. ↩
Gillian Weiss described cases of liber-ated French captives who became slave traders in her paper “Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century French Narratives of Barbary Captivity,” given at the “Forgotten Slavery” session described above. Even black slaves in the New World could become very wealthy slaveholding planters if they were fortunate enough to buy or win their freedom. Thus April Ellison, who changed his name to William when he became a free maker and repairer of cotton gins, became one of the largest slaveholders in nineteenth-century South Carolina. See Michael P. Johnson and James L. Roark, Black Masters: A Free Family of Color in the Old South (Norton, 1984). There were many more such cases in Louisiana and especially in French St. Domingue, where former slaves or their descendants owned around 100,000 slaves. ↩
I have tried to illuminate these cultural and intellectual changes in my The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture, revised edition (Oxford University Press, 1988; originally published by Cornell University Press, 1966). ↩
See my account in Slavery and Human Progress (Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 5–8. ↩
Eltis, The Rise of African Slavery, pp. 76, 236–238 (e-mail from Eltis, January 31, 2001). ↩
For an imaginative and mostly non-economic explanation, see Ruth Mazo Karras, Slavery and Society in Medieval Scandinavia (Yale University Press, 1988). ↩
In 1366 the priors of Florence, who had previously given their approval to the import and sale of infidel slaves, explained that by “infidel” they had meant “all slaves of infidel origin, even if at the time of their arrival they belong to the Catholic faith”; and “infidel origin” meant simply “from the land and race of the infidels” (Iris Origo, “The Domestic Enemy: The Eastern Slaves in Tuscany in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries,” in Speculum, Vol. 30 (July 1955), pp. 334–335). ↩
Verlinden, L’Esclavage dans l’Europe médiévale; tome premier: Péninsule Ibérique, France (Bruges, 1955); L’Esclavage dans l’Europe médiévale; tome deux: Italie—Colonies italiennes du Levant, Levant latin—Empire byzantin (Ghent, 1977); Verlinden, “L’Origine de ‘sclavus’—esclave,” Archivum latinitatis medii aevi, Vol. 17 (1943), pp. 97–128; Debra Blumenthal, “Implements of Labor, Instruments of Honor: Muslim, Eastern and Black African Slaves in Fifteenth-Century Valencia,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Toronto, 2000; Origo, “The Domestic Enemy,” pp. 321–351. ↩
Keith Thomas, “How Britain Made It,” The New York Review, November 19, 1992, p. 36. ↩
Lamin Sanneh, the D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity at Yale Divinity School, writes that it was unfair to stigmatize settler or recaptive religion as antinomian, as some authorities in Freetown tended to do, since antinomianism is actually an otherworldly doctrine, closer to gnosticism than to the activist tendencies of the settlers (Abolitionists Abroad, p. 104). ↩
When Linebaugh wrote a bitter attack on “Sir Keith,” pouncing on two of Thomas’s own errors, Thomas replied by citing a long list of Linebaugh’s mistakes which went well beyond any acceptable standard of common carelessness (The New York Review, May 13, 1993). ↩
The authors’ source and the source for the quotation is Michael Craton, Testing the Chains: Resistance to Slavery in the British West Indies (Cornell University Press, 1982), p. 127. Linebaugh and Rediker also discuss the first ruler of independent Haiti, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, without mentioning his genocidal order to exterminate whites or his cruel treatment of black workers. ↩
After studying the records of nearly 30,000 slave ships, Eltis has found one case where in 1773 an English captain hired some African crew members in the Gambia River. When just off the coast, the black crew members passed weapons to the slaves, a revolt erupted, and the ship blew up, killing everyone but the captain and one slave (e-mail from Eltis, January 31, 2001). ↩
See Vincent Carretta, “Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa? New Light on an Eighteenth-Century Question of Identity,” Slavery and Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Societies, Vol. 20, No. 3 (December 1999), pp. 96–105. Carretta is admirably cautious in drawing conclusions, but he shows among other things that in 1792 two London newspapers claimed that Equiano had never been in Africa and that much earlier two unrelated documents, including a parish register recording his baptism, stated that Vassa was born in South Carolina. Lamin Sanneh’s book, which also discusses Equiano, was definitely published too late to include such a citation. ↩
See, for example, Edmund Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom (Norton, 1975), p. 259. ↩
This is a simplified version of an argument I present in The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1775– 1823 (Oxford University Press, 1999; originally published by Cornell University Press, 1975). ↩
Eltis, The Rise of African Slavery, pp. 15–16. ↩
For twentieth-century Arab slave trading, see my Slavery and Human Progress, pp. 306–320. ↩
A few of these blacks were deceitfully sold in the Caribbean. The precise numbers are unknown. Sanneh writes that perhaps 100,000 American slaves went to the British side, but the best source is Sylvia R. Frey, Water from the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age (Princeton University Press, 1991), pp. 173–175, 179, 193. ↩
The Somerset decision of 1772, which was popularly interpreted as banning all slavery in England, was actually handed down on very narrow grounds. ↩
In 1676 a New England ship arrived in Massachusetts with two African slaves who had been violently seized by the captain and mate. After a long and complicated court proceeding, the captain and mate were arrested and the two Africans were returned to their native land. See Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America, edited by Elizabeth Donnan (Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1930–1935), Volume 3, pp. 4–9. ↩
See especially James Traub, “The Worst Place on Earth,” The New York Review, June 29, 2000, pp. 61–66, and Norimitsu Onishi, “In Ruined Liberia, Its Despoiler Sits Pretty,” The New York Times, December 7, 2000, p. A1. ↩