UCSB Hist 2c, lecture 5:
Culture, Ideas & Power: Slavery
lecture on Apr. 18, 2006 (prev., next)

by Professor Harold Marcuse (homepage)
created May 1, 2006, updated 8/07 link fixed

1. Briefest History of Slavery
2. Triangle Trade
3. Antislavery Movement
Why did slavery End?

Introduction (back to top)

  • The reading for this week was the Interesting Narrative (1789) of Olaudah Equiano (lived ca. 1745-1797).
    • In addition to the book introduction by Robert Allison, the excellent Equiano website by Brychan Carey will supply just about all the background you might want to know about Equiano and this book.
    • In L3 we also viewed the entire documentary A Son of Africa: The Slave
      Narrative of Olaudah Equiano"
      (BBC, 1996) [UCSB: HT869.E6S66]
  • This lecture had three main goals:
    1. giving some world-historical context to the information on the transatlantic slave trade offered by the textbook (pp. 131-138);
    2. discussing the role that the slave trade and slave production played in the convergence of factors that gave rise to the Industrial Revolution (including in the development of "free market" capitalism);
    3. presenting information about the antislavery movement that first led to the British prohibiting the slave trade in 1807, then additional countries following suit, and finally to the abolition of chattel slavery itself in those countries from the 1820s (in Central America, Mexico and Chile as those countries gained their independence from Spain) to 1886 (Cuba) and 1888 (Brazil). An important goal here was to discuss which was the primary cause of that demise: macroeconomics or humanitarian impulses (ideology).

1. Briefest History of Slavery in the World Historical Context (back to top)

I began with a discussion of the information contained on the map in the textbook (see below):

  • Slavery is ubiquitous throughout all societies in all epochs of world history, but it has taken a wide variety of forms.
    • In some, slavery is a status that can be acquired and removed (like marriage, but not voluntary), with "domestic" slaves fulfilling many of the same duties as non-slaves around them.
    • Chattel slavery, where slaves are property that can be bought and sold, is one of the most pernicious forms. It was the predominant form in the transatlantic trade from Africa. (However, indentured servitude of Europeans, for example, was also common in the earlier settlement period of the northern North American colonies.)

Slave trading routes,

The text of the powerpoints follows as bullets below; some important points I wanted to make with that information are boxed at right.

  • Existed since dawn of recorded history
    • urban tasks in ancient Egypt (pyramids)
  • Types:
    • Domestic/reproductive vs. productive slavery
    • Slavery as status vs. chattel slavery
  • Timeline Europe/Africa:
    • ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome had slaves
    • longstanding Arab slave trade in Africa prior to European contact
    • Portuguese: 1441 Africa to Lisbon
    • Spanish: 1505/19 production in Hispaniola
    • British colonies: 1619 to Jamestown settlement (tobacco; plantation system)

Slavery statistics (see Equiano timeline, pp. 197-200; also textbook pp. 130-136)

I talked at some length about how the aggregate numbers of slaves and casualty rates during the transatlantic "Middle Passage" have been computed, and how until fairly recently they were all traceable back to a figure given by an 19th century anti-slavery advocate. Current figures are based on a huge database comprised of all the shipping records that could be located.
  • 1700-1800: the worst slave trade century
  • 1519-1890s: 9,300,000 total [8.5-12 million]
  • 1700-1800: 6+ mio.=2/3 of total in this one century. That breaks down to:
    • 50,000-90,000 slaves per year
  • 1760s: 63,500 (annual average over the decade)
  • 1770s: 58,000
  • 1780s: 89,000
  • 1790s: 76,000 (why did the number drop?)
    [I argued that it was due to war and revolution, NOT a decline in profitability]
  • In 1780s & 90s: 50% were transported in British ships
  • Why so many slaves? -> Triangle Trade was extremely profitable

  • 2. The Triangle Trade (back to top)

    map of the triangle trade

    Just some made-up numbers

    • English bank provides capital: £200 for guns; £1800 for trading voyage
    • African coast: captain purchases 100 slaves+provisions for 100 guns
    • Caribbean (after 15% death rate): 85 slaves sold for £120 each= £10,000
    • purchase sugar for resale with a 100% mark-up: sell for £20,000
    • England: £18,000 profit (900%)

    3. The Antislavery Movement (back to top)

    • Slave revolts from the beginning
    • 1569 England, Cartwright decision:
      "England was too pure an air for slaves to breathe in"
    • 1701 Boston: "The Selling of Joseph"
    • 1743 John Wesley (1703-1791)(Methodist/dissenter)
      Pamphlet "Thoughts upon Slavery" (1774) excerpt
    • 1769 Granville Sharp (1735-1813):
      "The Injustice and Dangerous Tendency of Tolerating Slavery in England"
      1789 founding of Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade
    • 1772 Somersett case. Slave James Somersett, bought in Virginia, attempted to run away in London. Decision: an escaping slave could not be forcibly removed from England for punishment in a colony.



    Conclusion: Why did Slavery End? (back to top)

    • Resistance of slaves: human agency (EIEIO)
    • 1807Lithography of Wilberforce's model of a slave ship, showing how slaves were packed in the hold: British and US abolish slave trade
    • Moral reasons: put forward by Wesley, Clarkson, etc. (EIEIO)
      • Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846), 1808: History of the Rise, Progress & Accomplishment of the Abolition of the Slave Trade
    • Economic reasons: (EIEIO)
      • Clarkson, 1788: Essay on the Impolicy of the African Slave Trade (excerpt)
      • John E. Cairnes, 1862: The Slave Power: Its Character, Career and Probable Designs; being an attempt to explain the real issues involved in the American contest
      • Eric Williams, 1944: Capitalism and Slavery
      • Adam Smith, 1776: "The experience of all ages and nations demonstrates that the work done by slaves, though it appears to cost only their maintenance, is in the end the dearest of any."
        my argument: this is patently untrue.

    Economic Reasons

    • Clarkson, 1788EIEIO Model: Essay on the Impolicy of the African Slave Trade excerpt
    • John E. Cairnes, 1862: The Slave Power: Its Character, Career and Probable Designs; being an attempt to explain the real issues involved in the American contest
      Read and highly admired by Karl Marx
    • Eric Williams, 1944: Capitalism and Slavery




    prepared for web by Harold Marcuse, May 1, 2006, updated: see header
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