A question that has puzzled me for some time: Why did slave traders in the early US go to Africa for their stock in trade when there were many aboriginal Americans who were at that time much like the primitive Africans? Were the Amerinds impossable to enslave? And,did the early settlers in Australia & New Zealand make slaves of the natives there?

det Gamel Mand

From what i know, when the europeans came the amerindians were pretty much spread out(except for the empires to the south of course) even if they weren’t, a huge proportion was killed of by european diseases. This meant that the europeans needed another source of cheap labor- the Africans.

Several attempts were made to enslave the indigenous populations of the New World, originally by the Spanish and, to a lesser extent, by some of the other European countries.

While there ar a number of arguments put forth as to why this did not work (some plausible, some risible), the most notable reason that it failed was that a slave taken from a local population could simply walk away from the slave-holder’s property and blend in with the surrounding peoples. A slave imported from Africa had no one to turn to (although, by the late 18th century in the U.S., a number of them had fled anyway, joining Creek Indians to become the Seminole nation).

One other serious (but contested) theory holds that the Indian nations first encountered by Europeans had no tradition of slavery and simply chose death rather than submit while those Africans who were used as slaves came from cultures where slavery was known to exist.

so correct me if I’m wrong…

Could it have had anything to do with the fact that when Europeans first came to the New World there had already been a thriving slave trade in Africa for hundreds of years? Although, looking from this century, it may seem to make more sense to enslave the locals, perhaps at the time it was just easier to keep up the same old business? After all, the Europeans brought everything else they owned with them. Why not the slaves too?

Sorry…been reading a history of Africa recently, so I think I’m hot shit :slight_smile:

W/ regard to Kyomara’s post (in general):

Was there slavery in Europe proper (I don’t mean serfdom)? Slavery only really paid off in the Southern US due to the local agriculture’s high manpower requirements (cotton, etc.) - Europe has similar latitude to the Northern US, so I’d figure that there wouldn’t be as much of a need for slaves there.

W/ regard to Tomndebb’s post:

I do recall that at some point (and nowadays, also, to some extent) the North African Arabs used black Africans as slaves. My question would be why the black Africans didn’t react the same way as the Native Americans did when first exposed to slavery, but an answer of “they just did” wouldn’t be objectionable.

The Arab use of slaves generally (and I’m sure there were exceptions) involved the same practice of removing the captured people far from their homelands. They were not using them to raise crops in what is now Ghana or Nigeria; they were hauling them back to the Mediterranean coast and the Arabian peninsula.

Why did not the Spaniards use Aztec labor on Hispanolia or Arawak labor in Mexico? I don’t know. That gets into the “Indians would rather die” speculation (or, perhaps it simply did not occur to the Spanish since they were already aware of a slave trade existing in Africa into which they could tap.)

The disease aspect also played some part. There had been enough European/African contact that they were mostly susceptible to and immune to the same diseases while the American natives were dying by the hundreds of thousands every time the Europeans had a minor bout of smallpox or measles (deadly, but not to epidemic proportions among the Europeans and Africans).

Actually…it was principally the North African slave trade that I was speaking of (just not by name). As far as I understand it did most of its business in North Africa, but did reach at least partially into Europe. At any rate, at the time the Europeans got to the New World, I imagine they would have been familiar with that trade.

By the way…I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that the “Arabs” used “black Africans” as slaves. It is my impression that the folks on both sides of the trade were African. In the north, you had mostly Muslim Berbers, but I don’t think the fact that they were Muslim counts them as Arabs. Although the objects of the slave trade may have been darker in color. But to call the North Africans “Arabs” makes them seem like a force from outside of Africa, which they were not. Slaves, salt, and gold were the three major objects of trade in Northwest Africa, and I think the traders themselves were as likely to be dark-skinned as light-skinned.

Why enslaving the locals “worked” in Africa but not in America I don’t know. I think a lot of the African slaves were originally captives from battle, for whom the victors had no other use. Perhaps the difference is due to the fact that in Africa the slaves were originally POW’s sold for profit, but in the Americas it would have been an effort to capture natives specifically for the purposes of slavery?

No, wait, scratch that. Because a lot of the African battles I mention above were conducted for the purpose of capturing people for the slave trade…

So now I’m all confused again.

'cause I know I’m gonna get it if I don’t…I do realize that of course there were actual Arabs invloved in the slave trade in North Africa. I was just trying to say that they weren’t ALL Arabs. And that there were a ton of Muslim non-Arabs involved as well.

“Arabs” got used because the largest and most organized slave-trading group were the Arabs, taking slaves out of Africa, completely, and using them on the Arabian peninsula and throughout the coastal lands of the Indian ocean. This does not mean that they were the only takers or holders of slaves, only that if a European looked to enter into a trading relationship for slaves, there was a good chance that the slaver could be an Arab.

Slaves were held by many groups throughout Africa (just as slavery existed in India, China, and Europe at one point or another). In North America, there were a number of groups who held slaves: the Creek, the Pawnee, the Iroquois, and the Kwakiutl among others. The differences in these groups were that the slavery tended to be an individual action between one individual or village and a slave or a few slaves. The use of large numbers of slaves for the purposes of mass labor can most easily be found among the Arab traders and the Europeans opening plantations in the Americas. (It did occur at other times and places, but that is where the specific practice intersected those societies at the time we are discussing.)

Okay I think that Germs Guns and Steel (or is it the other way around, no matter) is useful here, but let’s try to be a little more rigorous. Especially in dates, since the answer will probably change over time.
(1) Slave taking was used against North American Indian populations, who clearly did have slavery traditions --e.g. Iroquois. Claims otherwise are just without merit. See Orlando Patterson’s Slavery and Social Death for comparative slave systems analysis in Old and New Worlds.

(2) Population densities in North American were low when Europeans seriously began to penetrate. Recent evidence suggests because of a large die-off stemming from earlier disease introduction from Iberian colonization efforts, esp. in Mexico
(a) Spanish colonial possessions did use native slave labor on a large scale in areas where population was dense enough and enough folks survived Old World disease introduction.
(b) the idea that somehow Amerinds were ‘unsuitable’ for slavery in part depends on later racist inventions, in part as Tomndeb stated, on the problems that arose from Amerinds being able to more easily flee in many areas, esp. in North America where European control was shakey at best. This is not the case, relatively speaking, in Iberian territories (alhtough one does have to account for example the Quilombos or runaway slave states of Brazil.)

(3) Slavery did exist in Europe until the 16th century at least, although some legal confusion arose between serfs and slaves. Latter developments cleared this up. But at the start there was indeed slavery. In fact the Islamic World bought Slavic (origin of the word slave folks!) slaves from European --Italian mostly I think-- slave traders! (Putting a lie to the idea that somehow it was only Africans who “sold their own into slavery” where their own is understood as their own race… Race ideas didn’t exist yet.)

(4) RE African slave trade: I have the impression that generalizing about this over 500 years is going to lead to conflicts. My best evaluation would be
(a) early European trade plugged into buying slaves from existing sources. Attempts at capturing slaves themselves seem to have failed miserably, as despite the myth, the West African states were quite strong and on their own turf equal to the Europeans in this time period. Same observation for the North African trade. Ergo, all of the slave trade was coming from African sources, just as the Slavic trade was largely not by Muslims raiding Slavs in the 13th century, but ‘fellow’ Euros/slavs selling war captives.
(b) early trade was probably surplus from whatever wars were already going on.
© As the European appetite for slaves developed and their productivity increases (Europe’s), their demand begins to create a “pull” which begins to create wars for the sake of slaves.
(d) European plantation slavery resurrected a long dead Roman practice, other than some sporadic practice I think in Iraq.
(e) Eventually the idea of Africa as a place devoid of civilization, made of slaves came about…

How’s that.

Answer: No, as far as New Zealand went.

Australia did have a practice (first half of 20th century)of relocating Aboriginal children from their families and putting them with white families, some working for these families – but it wasn’t slavery as such.

The “first contact” people that Columbus met in 1492 were Taino. According to Stephen Jay Gould (in an essay reprinted in Leonardo’s Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms) Columbus immediately noted that given their friendly, trusting and peaceful outlook, they would be ideal for enslavement. They were duly enslaved and eradicated.

The history of North American slavery is FAR from the monolithic, static entity it is often thought to be,for example,there were many whites who were enslaved or indentured, many blacks who were free, and many Indians who
owned African Slaves and many Indians who were enslaved.

I suggest Ira Berlins “Many thousands gone; the first two centuries of slavery in North America” for further info.

as well as Lawrence R. Tenzer’s “The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War: A New Look at the Slavery Issue”

…also take a look at the collected oral histories of ex-slaves collected at the Library of Congress.

…BTW according to historical sources, in the Colonial period, many Native American nations on the eastern seaboard of the United States became biracial ( and triracial) communities, as a result today, many “African” Americans can trace their ancestry in part to an eastern Indian tribe. In fact, many of the eastern seaboard tribes, such as the Chickahominy, Gingaskin, Mattapony, Nansemond, Nanticoke, Nottaway, Pamunkey, Rappahanocks, Saponi, Weanick and Werowocomo were not annihilated so much as they were assimilated into existing populations now identified as “black” that were then identified as “mulatto” or FPC ( free person of color ) or “free, nonwhite”

…just my .02

Personally, I chalk up most of the failure to utilize Amerindian populations as mass slave labor to the profound demographic collapse of native populations. There was considerable mobilization of the Indian populace of Meso-America for instance - In the first generation after conquest ( when the Spanish were virtually parasitic on Aztec culture ). The problem is they all died out.

Pre-European population figures in the Americas is a controversial topic. I’ve seen figures in Meso-America ( by far the most densely populated region ) ranging anywhere from 5 million to 30 million. But it appears the consensus is moving towards the larger figures. Tenochitlan alone may have boasted a population of over 250,000. If we take a high average of perhaps ~20 million as a starting point in 1519 ( the year of Cortes’ conquest ), we see a decline to about ~2.65 million in 1568 ( based on Spanish census data ), then a further decline to ~1.1 million in 1605.

We see similar patterns elsewhere. The Inca State for example is estimated to have contained somewhere in the range of 7 - 11 million subjects. If we start with the low average of 7 million in 1532 ( Probably appropriate since the North had already had been hit by smallpox traveling in advance of the Spanish overland from middle America, down through the isthmus of Panama, and into modern Ecuador. There it prematurely killed the highly successful Inca and recent conquerer of that region, Manca Capac, precipitating the civil struggle for succesion between Atahualpa and Huascar that Pizarro was able to turn to his advantage so effectively ) we see a decline to ~2.5 million by 1560 and then to ~1.4 million in 1590. I understand the collapse on Hispaniola among the Arawak was even more startling. ( Interesting to note that the Andes almost certainly ended up with a larger native population by the opening of the 17th century than Mexico, despite starting from a base that was probably 1/2 to 2/3 smaller at the opening of the 16th. I have an UTTERLY FASCINATING ( :stuck_out_tongue: ) hypothesis as to why this was so and the impact it had on native/Spanish relations in the two regions. But since I’d hate to bore you all to death, I’ll resist the urge to take start digressing :smiley: ).

Similarly Native Americans were co-opted as slaves in North America. After the Tuscarora were defeated ( North Carolina? ), part were exterminated, part were taken as slaves ( I seem to recall a figure of 1,000 ), and a remnant retreated northward to join the Iroquois Confederacy as the ‘Sixth Nation’. But this was early, before the advent of mass plantation slavery ( although there was apparently some use of slave labor from Virginia on South growing tobacco, indigo, and rice ). By the time cotton began making slavery in its American form particularly economical, the easily accessible coastal populations were either completely gone or terribly decimated. No more Powhatan, Catawba, etc. . And population densities were likely never high ( outside of perhaps part of the Mississippi valley ) in NA anyway. Plus there was always the “retreat into the wilderness” option alluded to by other posters.

As to why black Africa were the preferred source - My guess was that it was simply the best and cheapest source by the 18th and 19th century. White Europeans had all been Christianized - eliminating the old East European reservoir that was so important in the Middle Ages. The Near East was dominated by the Ottomans and other decaying ( but still viable ) states that didn’t sell their citizens and weren’t worth the expense of raiding considering the numbers needed. Asia was either scarcely or imperfectly penetrated and the cultures there were not in the habit of selling their citizens either - They were worth more as labor to generate land tax. But in Africa you had multifarious tribes that were perfectly content to raid others en masse to sell as assets to European traders. Africa was the only really good pool for the tremendous numbers required.

Just as an aside - The Arabs did indeed make use of Black African slaves as mass agricultural labor. In the Middle Ages :wink: . Hence the devastating Zanj ( derived from Zanzibar ) Revolt of 869 - 883 that started in Basra and engulfed much of Southern Iraq and Southwestern Iran. One of many events that sapped the resources of the Middle Abbasids and led to the decline of central authority in the Caliphate. Remember that Mesopotamia was for millenia the agricultural heartland of the Middle East, well suited to the use of mass slave labor as an agricultural force. It was in fact the economic linchpin of not only the Abbasid Caliphate, but every state that had preceded them in the region back to the Achaemenids. It’s decline, brought on by centuries of over-irrigation ( with the concomittant rise in water tables and resultant soil salinization ) among other factors, was yet ANOTHER nail in the Abbasid coffin. Both in terms of actual income ( 100 million dirhams in land revenue in 800, 31 million in 919 ), but also in terms of the economic remedy, which was the iqta system of tax-farming. Though efficient in the short-term at raising cash and cutting expenses, this ‘Islamic Feudalism’ further diluted the central authority of the Abbasid state over time.

Oops - There I go digressing again. Sorry :slight_smile: .

  • Tamerlane

writefetus: Very interesting :slight_smile: . I’ve never heard that about native ‘absorption’ on the Eastern Seaboard before. Makes good sense. And we ceratinly have an excellent example of a multi-racial tribe assimilating in the opposite direction in the form of the Seminoles.

But I would imagine the reason tribes such as Chickahominy ( they were part of the Powhatan Confederacy, yes? ) et al, were assimilated, rather than assimilating as the Seminoles did, had a lot to do with them being so severely decimated in the first place.

  • Tamerlane

…yes, this is my understanding.

I don’t think this has been discussed completely, but perhaps getting slaves from Africa was simply easier. Capturing people alive and reasonably healthy, and bringing them somewhere against their will, must have been tough, nasty, dangerous, labor-intensive work, even when it wasn’t war. In the Americas, that’s what the Europeans were faced with, and tried. But they must have realized very early on that all they had to do was pull into some West African port, find the local dealer, hand over the gold or barter goods, and be done with it.

This is getting to the gist of it. The currents of the North Atlantic go in a clockwise spiral. While it’s not impossible to sail against those currents, it’s easier to go with the flow. So ships would go from Europe to Africa with processed goods (cloth, spirits, snuff, etc.) and get slaves, follow the currents to North America trading slaves for raw materials (cotton, tobacco, sugar), then head back to Europe, where they’d trade the raw materials for finished goods and start the whole process over again. (There of course was price mark-up to make the whole process profitable.)

Had the currents not gone so far south, or the New World’s materials weren’t so labor-intensive to produce, slaves might never have been introduced to the Americas.

(Wow! It’s amazing how much 6th grade history I just remembered.)

I just can’t read a bunch of hypotheses like this without making up one of my own.

Plantation slavery in the New World started in the Carribbean islands, where the native population truly had been almost copmpletely eradicated, much more so than on the continental land masses. So there were two options: raid the mainlands, or get slaves from the old world. For the Iberians (and later the British and French), they could easily buy slaves from North Africa or the northwest coast of sub-Saharan Africa. Since the mainland was still largely unexplored, bringing in Africans was easier.

So why did it continue when North and South America were effectively conquered? Well, partly because of the population declines, but also for the same reason our economy is still running on fossil fuels rather than something more sensible, like hydrogen: An industry exists with a large infrastructure that would oppose any changes that could threaten its economic position.

Since the British had a brisk slave trade going to supply Jamaica and hte other British colonies with African slaves, it was a simple process to expand the supply to the North American colonies. This removed any strong incentives (and perhaps provided counter-incentives) to develop a systematic enslavement of Native Americans.

How’s that? A totally new hypothesis, just like that.

Well, also, remember the Indians of Central America were being used as slaves by the Spanish, until Bartolome de las Casas, who was at that point Bishop of Chipas, and appalled at the slaughter of the Indians argued:

  1. This enslavement of the Indians has got to stop. They’re naturally a free people, they’re not used to the heat of the minds or extensive labor, and it’s interfering in our attempts to make them Christian

  2. If we need labor, why don’t we buy African slaves from the tribes and nations of West Africa, as well as the Arabs, who are already established slavers. These people will be used to being slaves, because they already are, and they’re used to a warmer climate, so the heat of the mines won’t bother them as much.

This argument convinced the Spanish throne, so Indian slavery was outlawed, and a trans-Atlantic slave trade established. So then, when other European countries started settling America, there was already an established slave trade going on. They could either buy slaves directly from Africa, or from the Spanish and Portugese. So, I’d say the reason that the slave traders in the US went to Africa was because the English before them did, and they did because the Portugese and Spanish did, and they did because West Africa had an existing tradition of slavery.