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Middle and Final Passages in the Atlantic Slave Trade  

Sean M. Kelley

By current estimates, more than 450,000 Africans arrived in North America as captives. While the dreaded “Middle Passage” has justifiably commanded public and scholarly attention, the men, women, and children who arrived in North America aboard slave ships actually experienced multiple passages. Virtually all were born free and subsequently enslaved, enduring intra-African journeys of various lengths before arriving at the coast for sale to Europeans. Then, after an Atlantic crossing averaging two months, American planters and merchants transported them by land and sea to their eventual destinations. Although the fundamentals were similar across time, the particular circumstances and hence the journeys themselves varied greatly. Before 1800, most captives wound up working on plantations near the Atlantic coast. After 1800, as the cotton boom took hold, it was much more common for Africans to journey far into the American continental interior. More than 95 percent of all Africans arrived between 1700 and 1807, the vast majority in the Chesapeake and Charleston. This influx allowed specific African ethnocultural groups to form clusters and speech communities, although these waned when the foreign slave trade became illegal in 1808. An illegal slave trade persisted up to the Civil War, but it was much smaller than the pre-1808 trade. It differed also in its reliance on the Caribbean as a transshipment point for captives, rather than on Africa.

Article

Piracy in Colonial North America  

Mark G. Hanna

Historians of colonial British North America have largely relegated piracy to the marginalia of the broad historical narrative from settlement to revolution. However, piracy and unregulated privateering played a pivotal role in the development of every English community along the eastern seaboard from the Carolinas to New England. Although many pirates originated in the British North American colonies and represented a diverse social spectrum, they were not supported and protected in these port communities by some underclass or proto-proletariat but by the highest echelons of colonial society, especially by colonial governors, merchants, and even ministers. Sea marauding in its multiple forms helped shape the economic, legal, political, religious, and cultural worlds of colonial America. The illicit market that brought longed-for bullion, slaves, and luxury goods integrated British North American communities with the Caribbean, West Africa, and the Pacific and Indian Oceans throughout the 17th century. Attempts to curb the support of sea marauding at the turn of the 18th century exposed sometimes violent divisions between local merchant interests and royal officials currying favor back in England, leading to debates over the protection of English liberties across the Atlantic. When the North American colonies finally closed their ports to English pirates during the years following the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), it sparked a brief yet dramatic turn of events where English marauders preyed upon the shipping belonging to their former “nests.” During the 18th century, colonial communities began to actively support a more regulated form of privateering against agreed upon enemies that would become a hallmark of patriot maritime warfare during the American Revolution.

Article

Smuggling and Illicit Trade in British America  

Andrew Rutledge

Illicit trade was an endemic feature of life in 17th- and 18th-century British America, shaping economies and societies from the Caribbean to Newfoundland. Owing to the illegal nature of smuggling in British America, its scale is impossible to estimate, but surviving records from traders and imperial officials testify to the determination of merchants to exchange goods and enslaved peoples across imperial borders and their success in doing so. The same was true for British Americans’ trading partners in the French, Spanish, and Dutch empires. Contraband trade was carried out in a variety of ways, ranging from open commerce in colonial ports to clandestine landings of cargoes on barren shorelines. The lives of both free and enslaved colonists were affected by it, either directly as sailors or laborers on smuggling voyages or indirectly as consumers of illegally imported goods such as tea, molasses, rum, or cloth. Most interimperial trade was labeled illegal under a series of laws known as the Navigation Acts passed between 1661 and 1696 that sought to exclude foreigners from the trade of the British Empire and ensure its products flowed to the mother country. But hampered by insufficient resources and intransigent colonial attitudes, customs agents could do little to curtail smuggling. Yet despite the arguments of some historians seeking to tie illicit trade to the coming of the American Revolution, smugglers engaged in it, seeking profits, not political or economic independence. In British North America, merchants smuggled to French and Dutch territories because the returns outweighed the risks, and because smuggling offered a means of earning the funds needed to repay their creditors in the British Isles. While in the Caribbean, island merchants enjoyed imperial support for their trade with Spanish America even as they condemned the illicit commerce of their northern cousins.

Article

The Creek Confederacy  

Andrew Frank

The Creek Confederacy was a loose coalition of ethnically and linguistically diverse Native American towns that slowly coalesced as a political entity in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Its towns existed in Georgia, Alabama, and northern Florida, and for most of its preremoval history, these towns operated as autonomous entities. Several Creek leaders tried to consolidate power and create a more centralized polity, but these attempts at nation building largely failed. Instead, a fragile and informal confederacy connected the towns together for various cultural rituals as well as for purposes of diplomacy and trade. Disputes over centralization, as well as a host of other connected issues, ultimately led to the Creek War of 1813–1814. In the 1830s, the United States forced most members of the Creek Confederacy to vacate their eastern lands and relocate their nation to Indian Territory. Today, their western descendants are known as the Muskogee (Creek) Nation. Those who remained in the east include members of the federally recognized Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians who live in Alabama.

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West Africa and US Foreign Relations  

Mark W. Deets

Since the founding of the United States of America, coinciding with the height of the Atlantic slave trade, U.S. officials have based their relations with West Africa primarily on economic interests. Initially, these interests were established on the backs of slaves, as the Southern plantation economy quickly vaulted the United States to prominence in the Atlantic world. After the U.S. abolition of the slave trade in 1808, however, American relations with West Africa focused on the establishment of the American colony of Liberia as a place of “return” for formerly enslaved persons. Following the turn to “legitimate commerce” in the Atlantic and the U.S. Civil War, the United States largely withdrew from large-scale interaction with West Africa. Liberia remained the notable exception, where prominent Pan-African leaders like Edward Blyden, W. E. B. DuBois, and Marcus Garvey helped foster cultural and intellectual ties between West Africa and the Diaspora in the early 1900s. These ties to Liberia were deepened in the 1920s when Firestone Rubber Corporation of Akron, Ohio established a long-term lease to harvest rubber. World War II marked a significant increase in American presence and influence in West Africa. Still focused on Liberia, the war years saw the construction of infrastructure that would prove essential to Allied war efforts and to American security interests during the Cold War. After 1945, the United States competed with the Soviet Union in West Africa for influence and access to important economic and national security resources as African nations ejected colonial regimes across most of the continent. West African independence quickly demonstrated a turn from nationalism to ethnic nationalism, as civil wars engulfed several countries in the postcolonial, and particularly the post-Cold War, era. After a decade of withdrawal, American interest in West Africa revived with the need for alternative sources of petroleum and concerns about transnational terrorism following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Article

The Economy of Colonial British America  

Aaron Slater

Identifying and analyzing a unified system called the “economy of colonial British America” presents a number of challenges. The regions that came to constitute Britain’s North American empire developed according to a variety of factors, including climate and environment, relations with Native peoples, international competition and conflict, internal English/British politics, and the social system and cultural outlook of the various groups that settled each colony. Nevertheless, while there was great diversity in the socioeconomic organization across colonial British America, a few generalizations can be made. First, each region initially focused economic activity on some form of export-oriented production that tied it to the metropole. New England specialized in timber, fish, and shipping services, the Middle Colonies in furs, grains, and foodstuffs, the Chesapeake in tobacco, the South in rice, indigo, and hides, and the West Indies in sugar. Second, the maturation of the export-driven economy in each colony eventually spurred the development of an internal economy directed toward providing the ancillary goods and services necessary to promote the export trade. Third, despite variations within and across colonies, colonial British America underwent more rapid economic expansion over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries than did its European counterparts, to the point that, on the eve of the American Revolution, white settlers in British America enjoyed one of the highest living standards in the world at the time. A final commonality that all the regions shared was that this robust economic growth spurred an almost insatiable demand for land and labor. With the exception of the West Indies, where the Spanish had largely exterminated the Native inhabitants by the time the English arrived, frontier warfare was ubiquitous across British America, as land-hungry settlers invaded Indian territory and expropriated their lands. The labor problem, while also ubiquitous, showed much greater regional variation. The New England and the Middle colonies largely supplied their labor needs through a combination of family immigration, natural increase, and the importation of bound European workers known as indentured servants. The Chesapeake, Carolina, and West Indian colonies, on the other hand, developed “slave societies,” where captive peoples of African descent were imported in huge numbers and forced to serve as enslaved laborers on colonial plantations. Despite these differences, it should be emphasized that, by the outbreak of the American Revolution, the institution of slavery had, to a greater or lesser extent, insinuated itself into the economy of every British American colony. The expropriation of land from Indians and labor from enslaved Africans thus shaped the economic history of all the colonies of British America.

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The Rise and Fall of Mississippian Ancient Towns and Cities, 1000–1700  

Robbie Ethridge

The story of the pre-Columbian Mississippi Period (1000 ce–1600 ce) of the American South and parts of the Midwest is the story of the rise of the ancient Mississippian towns and cities and the world they made, the history of that world, and its collapse with European contact. First, however, readers must become acquainted with the chiefdom concept as it applies to these ancient towns and cities in order to outline some of the basic organizing structures of Mississippian political units. The Mississippi Period began with the rise of the great Indian city of Cahokia and the long reach of its influence over a vast region, resulting in a new social, religious, and political ordering across the land and the formation of numerous polities that archaeologists call “chiefdoms” (the Early Mississippi Period 1000 ce–1300 ce). The fall of Cahokia around 1300 ce cleared the way for the elaboration of these early chiefdoms and the rise of others throughout the Mississippian world (the Middle Mississippi Period 1300–1475 ce). Many of these grand Middle Mississippi chiefdoms, in turn, collapsed around 1450 ce. In the wake of this collapse, people regrouped and built new chiefdoms throughout the American South (the Late Mississippi Period 1475–1600 ce). These are the people that the early Spanish explorers met in the 16th century. Encounters with the Spaniards set in motion a series of colonial disruptions of warfare, disease, and commercial slave raiding that resulted in another collapse of the Mississippian world, only this time never to rise again. However, the survivors of these fallen chiefdoms regrouped and restructured their lives and societies for living in a new world order—this one being a colonial world on the margins of an expanding European empire.