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African Slavery and the Slave Trade in the Rio de la Plata Region  

María Verónica Secreto

Historiography has traditionally divided the policy of introducing enslaved people to Spanish America into three periods based on the legal framework in effect at the time. These divisions are: the period of licensing from 1493 to 1595; the period of asientos from 1595 to 1789: and the period of free trade in enslaved people from 1789 to 1812. However, Spanish enslaved traffic did not end in 1812; it remained for decades thereafter, with the main destinations being Cuba and Puerto Rico. Spanish colonial expeditions to the Americas included enslaved Black people from the outset. The Instructions to Comendador Fray Nicolás de Ovando, published in 1501, contain the earliest reference to Black slavery in the West Indies. Supply was seen as an increasingly important problem as demand grew. Systematic mechanisms were needed to ensure a regular supply of enslaved people. The joining of the Portuguese and Spanish crowns under Phillip II, known as the Iberian Union (1580–1640), seemed to solve the problem of supplying enslaved labor to Spanish possessions throughout the world. The Rio de la Plata played an important role in the extensive route linking Angola to Potosí, which, together with its hinterland, constituted a rich market made enormously attractive by the silver mined from the mountain for which the city was named. The lure of Peruvian silver hung over the slave trade and the institution of slavery in the Rio de la Plata region throughout the entire slaveholding period. During the 1789–1812 period, local merchants and traders in leather, tallow, and timber vied for position in this profitable market.

Article

Barcelona Business Interests and the Atlantic World  

Yolanda Blasco-Martel and Jose Miguel Sanjuan Marroquin

Barcelona is an ancient Mediterranean Catalan city. It was inhabited by the Iberians, the Romans, and the Muslims, who turned it into an important port city. In the 10th century it became the capital of an independent county. It merged with the Crown of Aragon two centuries later and thus began a process of intensive commercial expansion that has characterized the city’s history of over the intervening centuries. The merchants from Barcelona were actively involved in trade with America in the 18th century, as were those from some other cities from the Kingdom of Spain. The last decades of that century saw the beginning of a process of population and commercial exchange that continued to develop through the 19th century. This process helped Barcelona become the first city on the Iberian Peninsula to industrialize. It is during this period that we observe the emergence of the indianos—individuals born on the peninsula who went to do business in America. Many indianos returned to the peninsula after the loss of the Spanish Continental Empire, others moved to Cuba and Puerto Rico, the last Spanish colonies in the Antilles. Around these individuals, commerce and business of all kinds were developed, giving Barcelona the appearance of an open and cosmopolitan city that it has maintained ever since.

Article

Charque and Tasajo (Salt-Cured Beef) as an Atlantic Commodity in the 18th and 19th Centuries  

Jonas Vargas

The use of salt for meat preservation and its subsequent consumption was a common practice in several societies on Atlantic Ocean coasts. By the turn of the 18th century, the production of salt-cured beef, or tasajo, began to be developed on a large scale and for business purposes, giving rise to important factory centers. The expansion of the transatlantic slave trade to the Americas was one of the main factors that triggered this growth. Tasajo and salted meat were used to supply the increase in demand for food on plantations in the Caribbean and Portuguese America, as well as for crews of all types of vessels that crossed the Atlantic Ocean. This historical process may be divided into two periods. First, throughout the 18th century, several cities in northern Portuguese America and in the Kingdom of Ireland stood out as important producers of this commodity. However, both declined by the end of that century. Later, at the turn of the 19th century, a more dynamic-producing area rose to prominence in the Atlantic, with ties to the commercial and capitalist expansion triggered by the Industrial Revolution. In the Rio de la Plata basin, the cities of Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Pelotas (in Southern Brazil) emerged as the foremost producers of this Atlantic commodity in the 19th century. By using forced labor for production (mainly in Pelotas), this second wave propelled the creation of thousands of new cattle farms in the Rio de la Plata, transforming the region’s agrarian landscape. Simultaneously, salted-meat production was harnessed to the expansion of the plantation economies in Brazil and in Cuba (coffee and sugar, respectively), and it contributed to the intertwined development of capitalism and slavery as well as to a greater integration of the world market.

Article

Digital Resources: Modern Slavery and the Slave Trade in Latin America  

Jorge Felipe-Gonzalez

The expansion of the Internet and computing technologies has transformed, heuristically, methodologically, and epistemologically, the scholarship on modern Atlantic slavery and the slave trade. An increasing number of primary and secondary sources are now available online. Archives, universities, libraries, research centers, and other institutions have digitized partially or entirely historical collections and archival records and made them public through digital portals in a variety of formats. Users can instantly access, analyze, search, share, transfer, visualize, and interact with a vast amount of historical data on slavery and the slave trade, which, in the late 20th century, was scattered across archives and libraries. The increasing Web presence of digital repositories on Latin American historical slavery and the slave trade is changing previous scholarly perceptions about broader demographic, historical, and social issues, as well as about the everyday life of enslaved Africans. Digital databases on the slave trade, for instance, are answering long-term historiographical concerns regarding the number of captives carried to the Americas, their African embarkation regions, or the nationality of the carriers. Digital repositories and databases help to better understand the African geographical origins of the slaves and their ethnicities, a key component in the formation of the Afro-Latin American culture. Digitized repositories such as baptismal, marriage, and burial archival records and databases on runaway or self-liberated slaves, plantation lists, or court cases are filling gaps in scholars’ understanding of the internal dynamics of the institution of slavery, which characterized most of Latin American history for about three centuries.

Article

Digital Resources: The Study of Brazilian History  

Álvaro Pereira do Nascimento

At least four major periods help to understand Brazilian history from pre-contact until modern times: the era of indigenous societies prior to 1500; the Portuguese colonial period (1500–1808); the experience of the Monarchy (1808–1889); and the Republic (1889–2019). Although the expanding and varied repositories offering digital resources do not necessarily cover these four highlighted periods thoroughly, researchers should still know them before navigating through the documents and images such repositories are making freely available to the public. Historical Brazilian digital holdings can be grouped into nine broad areas: (1) documents produced by national, state, and municipal governments; (2) records relating to specific historical moments; (3) sources for immigrant, indigenous, and African and Afro-Brazilian studies; (4) collections helpful for examining labor, industry, and plantations; (5) sources relevant for sex and gender studies; (6) materials for the history of science; (7) personal and private collections; (8) periodicals (newspapers and magazines); (9) and sources related to artistic, patrimonial, and cultural production. Researchers will find abundant sources about Brazilian society, political changes, the economy, education, commercial relations, wars and revolts, urban reforms, companies, violence, customs, and values, among many other topics and issues. Scholars and students can access interviews, photographs, newspapers, magazines, books, civil and parish records, laws and reports from government institutions, correspondence, music, movies, documentaries, maps, and much more.

Article

Indigenous Slavery in the Atlantic  

Miller Shores Wright

The capture, enslavement, and exchange of Indigenous peoples of the Americas predates contact between Indigenous Americans, Europeans, and Africans. Indigenous Americans incorporated captives into diverse communities in culturally specific ways that varied along a spectrum from chattel slaves to adopted kin. Upon contact with Europeans and Africans, the demand for Indigenous captives increased vertiginously to satisfy Europeans seeking laborers to exploit as workers and as a means to realize profits in Atlantic markets. Alongside European demands for captives, Indigenous peoples pursued captives to sell to Europeans or adopt to replace loved ones lost to disease, warfare, and slavery. The variation and persistence of Indigenous slavery in the Atlantic was shaped by the adaptation of various culturally specific Indigenous forms of captivity in North and South America toward commodified forms of bondage that had been developed on Atlantic islands and the West coast of Africa. In numerous locales in the Americas—such as the Caribbean, Mexico, Brazil, and Carolina—Indigenous slavery came to define labor relations between Europeans and Indigenous peoples after contact only to be replaced by the importation of millions of enslaved Africans. As the importation of enslaved Africans increased, Indigenous slavery became a labor strategy employed in borderlands between colonial and Indigenous communities. Colonists who could not secure the capital or access to merchants necessary to import enslaved Africans often turned to Indigenous slavery for their physical, domestic, and sexual labor needs. Indigenous communities exchanged captives for European commodities. This allowed for further acquisition of captives deep into the interior of the Americas through the exchange of European commodities or the use of European firearms in captive raids. Colonists frequently employed Indigenous slavery as a colonial strategy in competition with the desires of European imperial policies. With the monopolization of African slavery around Asiento contracts that supplied designated annual numbers of enslaved Africans to Spanish America and elsewhere, European imperial policy came to prioritize merchants who signed those contracts and the taxation, importation, and exportation of enslaved Africans. Colonial metropoles specifically outlawed the enslavement and exchange of Indigenous peoples unless captives were taken under specific conditions: frequently defined in Iberian colonies by “just wars,” ransoms, and accusations of real or imagined cannibalism. Colonists also employed Indigenous slavery as a means of displacement and removal of Indigenous populations, as can be seen in the exportation of Indigenous communities from English colonial possessions in New England, Virginia, and Carolina and in French Louisiana. Colonists and Indigenous slavers quickly learned how to exploit colonial stipulations against the enslavement of Indigenous peoples to blur the sources and nature of captives’ bondage as in Brazil, the Guianas, and New Mexico. The clandestine and illicit nature of Indigenous slavery resulted in the development of variable, adaptable, and persistent forms of Indigenous slavery that in certain forms still can be seen through the exploitation of vulnerable populations that exemplifies modern slavery.

Article

Slavery and International Relations in 19th-Century Brazil  

Keila Grinberg

Since the beginning of the colonial period, slavery was an important factor in the constitution of international relations between the Portuguese Empire and the other empires and states in the Atlantic world. In the 15th century, Portuguese merchants sold enslaved Africans from West Africa, initially to Europe and afterwards to the Americas, opening commercial and diplomatic relations that lasted for centuries and would be responsible for the establishment of the largest commercial venture in the Atlantic world in the early modern period. With the independence of Brazil, slavery—and the debate about the prohibition of the Atlantic trade of enslaved Africans—came to be the central element in negotiations of diplomatic relations between the country and other nations, notably Great Britain and the republics of the La Plata River region. Indeed, slavery remained a core issue at least until the end of the Paraguayan War in 1870, when growing international isolation, resulting from the ongoing presence of slavery in Brazil, opened the final crisis of the empire.

Article

Slavery and Its Economic Structures in Colonial Brazil  

Leonardo Marques

Between the arrival of Columbus and the last slave voyage to Cuba in the 1860s, over 12 million enslaved Africans were carried and sold in the Americas. Brazil received almost half of all these captives, most of them during the colonial period. An efficient slave-trading system allowed slavery to become a major force in the development of Portuguese America. The institution became pervasive throughout the colony in the three centuries comprising the colonial era, with important differences across time and space. Some of the major exports produced by African slaves in Brazil, such as sugar, tobacco, and gold, had various global impacts. They also stimulated important domestic developments, such as the creation of internal markets and the growth of cities like Salvador and Rio de Janeiro, with African slaves playing essential roles everywhere. Moreover, the history of African slavery became intertwined with the history of native Brazilians in peculiar ways.

Article

Slavery and the Pursuit of Freedom in 16th-Century Santo Domingo  

Richard Lee Turits

In the past, scholars of Latin America often assumed that Spanish colonists abandoned the Caribbean for the bullion riches of Mexico and Peru almost immediately after their conquest, while many Caribbeanists have imagined that Barbados, colonized by the British in the mid-1600s, was the “first black slave society.” Yet, in fact, more than a century earlier in the colony of Santo Domingo (then officially known as la Isla Española or simply la Española), European colonists built the first major American plantation economy and society made up mostly of enslaved people. Those held in chains on the island reached into the tens of thousands by the mid-1500s, and Santo Domingo became a pivotal crossroads in the early modern Atlantic. At first the enslaved population included thousands of people the Spanish called “Indians,” taken from other parts of the Caribbean and the Americas, and even an occasional enslaved person of European (Orthodox Christian or Muslim) descent. But after the mid-1500s slavery in Santo Domingo became isolated to people of African descent. This contrasted with the preexisting demography of slavery in southern Europe, where the enslaved were of more diverse geographic origins. Santo Domingo thus initiated a trajectory of racial and plantation slavery whose contours would shape the course of history in the Americas overall. Santo Domingo’s slave-based economy would also, though, be the first to collapse, at the end of the 16th century, partly because of sustained resistance by the enslaved—their continual escape and rebellion—that was costly for planters. The enslaved had composed most of society in the prior century. Now the majority were escaped and, to a lesser extent, freed slaves, living with substantial autonomy as independent peasants dispersed across the countryside. These themes are illuminated through an exploration of one of the earliest freedom suits in the Americas. This suit was won on appeal in Santo Domingo in 1531 through remarkable transatlantic collaboration by family members and sailors as well as through the evident power of notarized documents in the Spanish Empire.

Article

The Leclerc Expedition to Saint-Domingue and the Independence of Haiti, 1802–1804  

Philippe Girard

In December 1801, First Consul Napoléon Bonaparte sent a massive expedition to the French colony of Saint-Domingue (today: Haiti). His goal was to restore direct French rule and overthrow Toussaint Louverture, a former slave who, as governor general of Saint-Domingue, had been suspected of plotting independence. Bonaparte’s secondary goal may have been to reinstate slavery, which France had abolished in 1793–1794. Bonaparte’s brother-in-law, General Victoire Leclerc, headed the expedition. After landing in Saint-Domingue in February 1802 with 20,000 troops, he managed, with great difficulty, to defeat Louverture’s army. He then deported Louverture to France, where he died in exile. In August 1802, however, resistance intensified as plantation laborers became convinced that the French intended to restore slavery. Leclerc, who lost much of his army to yellow fever, embraced increasingly murderous tactics against the black population until he died in November 1802. For one year, Leclerc’s successor, General Donatien de Rochambeau, battled Louverture’s successor, General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, in a brutal conflict with genocidal overtones. The bravery of Dessalines’s troops, lack of support from France, epidemic disease, and the renewal of Britain’s war with France eventually doomed the French effort. After the departure of the last remnants of the Leclerc expedition, Dessalines declared the independence of Saint-Domingue, now known as Haiti, on January 1, 1804, and then put to death most of the remaining French planters.