Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 January 2009
Recent revisions of estimates for the volume of the trans-Atlantic slave trade suggest that approximately 11,863,000 slaves were exported from Africa during the whole period of the Atlantic slave trade, which is a small upward revision of my 1982 synthesis and still well within the range projected by Curtin in 1969. More accurate studies of the French and British sectors indicate that some revision in the temporal and regional distribution of slave exports is required, especially for the eighteenth century. First, the Bight of Biafra was more important and its involvement in the trade began several decades earlier than previously thought. Secondly, the French and British were more active on the Loango coast than earlier statistics revealed. The southward shift of the trade now appears to have been more gradual and to have begun earlier than I argued in 1982. The greater precision in the regional breakdown of slave shipments is confirmed by new data on the ethnic origins of slaves. The analysis also allows a new assessment of the gender and age profile of the exported population. There was a trend toward greater proportions of males and children. In the seventeenth century, slavers purchased relatively balanced proportions of males and females, and children were under-represented. By the eighteenth century, west-central Africa was exporting twice as many males as females, while West Africa was far from attaining such ratios. In the nineteenth century, by contrast, slavers could achieve those ratios almost anywhere slaves were available for export, and in parts of west-central and south-eastern Africa the percentage of males reached unprecedented levels of 70 per cent or more. Furthermore, increasing numbers of slaves were children, and again west-central Africa led the way in this shift while West Africa lagged behind considerably.
This review of the literature on the demography of the slave trade provides a context to assess the revisionist interpretation of David Eltis, who has argued recently that the slave trade and its suppression were of minor importance in African history. It is shown that Eltis' economic arguments, based on an assessment of per capita income and the value of the export trade, are flawed. The demography of the trade involved an absolute loss of population and a large increase in the enslaved population that was retained in Africa. A rough comparison of slave populations in West Africa and the Americas indicates that the scale of slavery in Africa was extremely large.
2 Lovejoy, Paul E., Transformations in Slavery. A History of Slavery in Africa (Cambridge, 1983), 22.Google Scholar
4 Eltis, David, Economic Growth and the Ending of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (New York, 1987), 77.Google Scholar
6 Also see his ‘Fluctuations in the age and sex ratios of slaves in the nineteenth-century transatlantic slave traffic’, Slavery and Abolition, vii, 3 (1986), 257–72Google Scholar; and ‘Nutritional trends in Africa and the Americas: heights of Africans, 1819–1839’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, xii (1982).Google Scholar
7 According to Eltis (Economic Growth, 15), ‘There can…be no doubt that the slave trade was of critical economic importance to the nineteenth-century Atlantic basin as long as it lasted. The only part of the basin where this was not the case was Africa…’.
13 Curtin, Philip D., The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (Madison, Wisconsin, 1969), 268.Google Scholar
16 Curtin undertook one such regional analysis; see his Economic Change in Precolonial Africa: Senegambia in the Era of the Slave Trade (Madison, Wisconsin, 1975).Google Scholar His interpretation has been challenged; see especially Becker, Charles, ‘La Sénégambie à l'époque de la traite des esclaves. A propos d'un ouvrage récent de Philip D. Curtin’, Revue française d'histoire d'outremer, lxiv (1977), 203–44.Google Scholar For a general survey of the regional studies, see Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery.
17 Vol. 1, Nantes (Paris, 1978, Daget, S., ed.)Google Scholar; Vol. 11, Ports autres que Nantes (Paris, 1984, S., and Daget, M., eds.).Google Scholar Serge Daget has also completed an inventory of the illegal trade of the nineteenth century; see Répertoire des Expéditions négrières françaises à la traite illégale (1814–1850) (Nantes, 1988)Google Scholar, but I have not attempted to analyse the data therein. Instead, I am relying on Eltis's research, which is based on different data.
18 Richardson, David, ‘Slave exports from west and west-central Africa, 1700–1810: new estimates of volume and distribution’, J. Afr. Hist., xxx, 1 (1989), 1–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Becker, Charles, ‘Note sur les chiffres de la traite atlantique française au XVIIe siècle’, Cahiers d'études africaines, xxvi (1986), 633–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
19 Richardson, David, ‘The eighteenth-century British slave trade: new estimates of its volume and distribution’, Research in Economic History, xii (1988)Google Scholar; and Richardson, ‘Slave exports’.
20 Curto, José C., ‘Recounting the numbers: the legal Angolan slave trade, 1710–1830’, unpublished.Google Scholar I wish to thank José Curto for showing me his unpublished work.
21 ‘Slave exports’, 2.
22 See, for example, Elbl, Ivana C., ‘The Portuguese trade with West Africa, 1440–1521’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Toronto, 1986).Google Scholar According to Elbl's interpretation, some upward revision is called for.
23 This is why I did not use the Nantes volume in my 1982 synthesis.
24 ‘La traite atlantique française’, 633–79, and personal communication.
25 The gaps include at least 3,848 slaves on twenty-two ships not reported in the Mettas inventory, and another twenty-six ships whose cargoes are unknown. For Senegambla alone, Becker has information on other vessels that are also not included in the Mettas data. In addition, Becker refers to documents that conflict with the Mettas materials for certain periods. In a registry of slaves introduced into the Americas between 1728 and 1740, for example, 203,522 slaves arrived on 723 ships. The Mettas material records only 132,851 slaves on 418 vessels. These discrepancies alone account for an additional 82,000 slaves. Other documents reveal similar discrepancies. All figures are lower than the Mettas data; see Becker, , ‘Traite atlantique française’, 665–8.Google Scholar A figure of 1,082,000 is certainly the lower limit for the period of the Mettas data (1707–93). When estimates for the period before 1707 and after 1793 are included, an adjusted estimate for Becker's figure would be at least 1,126,000 and easily 1,150,000. Becker's projection of 1·5 million for the French trade as a whole, including 160,000 slaves shipped to the Mascarene islands, represents a further increase of 15 per cent. Whether or not he is correct in this projection remains to be proven.
26 Richardson, , ‘Slave exports’, 10, 14.Google Scholar The similarity between Richardson's and Becker's calculations of the Mettas data cannot be explained. Becker included the Mascarene trade; Richardson states that he did not. Nonetheless, both reached virtually identical totals based on the same number of ships. A more thorough comparison of their methodologies might resolve the difference.
27 Richardson (‘Slave exports’) correctly observes that my earlier estimate of the French trade to the Americas wrongly included the Mascarene trade. I relied on Stein, Robert, The French Slave Trade in the Eighteenth Century: An Old Regime Business (Madison, Wisconsin, 1979)Google Scholar; and Stein, , ‘Measuring the French slave trade, 1713–1792/3’, J. Afr. Hist., xix, 4 (1978), 515–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Richardson incorrectly assesses my error at 125,000, not 160,000; see Filliot, J.-M., La Traite des esclaves vers les Mascareignes au XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 1974), 45–51.Google Scholar
28 Richardson, , ‘Slave exports’, 3–4.Google Scholar For the earlier research, see Lovejoy, , ‘Volume of the Atlantic slave trade’, 473–501Google Scholar and the citations therein, especially Anstey, Roger, The Atlantic Slave Trade and British Abolition, 1760–1810 (London, 1975)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Anstey, , ‘The volume and profitability of the British slave trade, 1761–1807’, in Engerman, Stanley and Genovese, Eugene (eds.), Race and Slavery in the Western Hemisphere: Quantitative Studies (Princeton, 1975)Google Scholar; Inikori, J. E., ‘Measuring the Atlantic slave trade: an assessment of Curtin and Anstey’, J. Afr. Hist., xvii, 2 (1976), 197–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Curtin, Philip D., ‘Measuring the Atlantic slave trade once again’, J. Afr. Hist., xvii, 4 (1976), 595–605CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Anstey, , ‘The British slave trade 1751–1807; a comment’, J. Afr. Hist., xvii, 4 (1976), 606–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Drescher, Seymour, Econocide: British Slavery in the Era of Abolition (Pittsburgh, 1977), 205–13.Google Scholar
29 Richardson criticizes my synthesis for failing ‘to examine critically the basic sources of information used by the various protagonists in the debate over the volume of the British slave trade’ (‘British slave trade’). Richardson is correct, but after reviewing the various calculations, I accepted the arguments of Anstey and Drescher; Lovejoy, ‘Volume of the Atlantic slave trade’, 486–7.
30 Richardson, ‘British slave trade’. It should be noted that Richardson has located new data on the annual volume of shipping, the number of slaves delivered per vessel in the Americas, and the mortality of slaves in the Atlantic crossing, but no new data on the average number of slaves loaded on British ships in Africa.
31 Richardson's estimates for the British trade vary. In ‘British slave trade’, he estimates the trade from 1700 to 1807 at 3,039,050 (I have subtracted his estimate for 1699 from his total, with an allowance for mortality of 20 per cent). In ‘Slave exports’, he rounds his figures to the nearest thousand and adds in additional figures for slaves shipped via Madeira, which affect his estimates for the period 1710–29, an upward revision of 81,000.
32 The few foreign ships that somehow crept into British statistics and those ships that did not carry slaves affect Richardson's estimate and should be eliminated from the analysis, while most ships that failed to complete their voyages still carried slaves and hence should be included in an assessment of volume.
33 Richardson, ‘British slave trade’.
34 Richardson, , ‘Slave exports’, 7–9Google Scholar, and full citations therein, but see Coughtry, Jay, The Notorious Triangle: Rhode Island and the African Slave Trade (Philadelphia, 1981)Google Scholar and Klein, Herbert S., ‘The Cuban slave trade in a period of transition, 1790–1843’, Revue française d'histoire d'outre-mer, lxii (1975), 72–5.Google Scholar
35 Anstey, Roger, ‘The volume of the North American slave-carrying trade from Africa, 1761–1810’, Revue française d‘histoire d'outre-mer, lxii (1975), 65.Google Scholar
36 As indeed may have been the case.
37 ‘Angolan slave trade’.
38 In a personal communication, Curto has indicated that his data may warrant a revision that might be a few thousand higher still.
40 Richardson's analysis suggests an upward revision of 437,000.
41 If Richardson's estimates are used, then the new total would be in the order of 11,911,000.
42 Compare with Lovejoy, ‘Volume of the Atlantic slave trade’, 496.
43 Joseph Miller's analysis of the export trade from west-central Africa suggests that there may be less missing data than some scholars might like to think, at least for the crucial eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Portuguese records are particularly rich; the other countries were involved in an ‘illegal’ trade from the Portuguese perspective, but their shipments show up in their national records, especially as reflected in import series and shipping records. The regional distribution of slave exports within west-central Africa requires adjustment, but not the overall level of exports; see ‘The origins and destinations of slaves in the eighteenth-century Angolan slave trade’ (unpublished). I wish to thank Miller for letting me read this important contribution.
44 Richardson, ‘Slave exports’.
45 Richardson, ‘British slave trade’; ‘Slave exports’, Tables 6 and 7.
46 See Northrup, David, Trade Without Rulers: Pre-Colonial Economic Development in South-Eastern Nigeria (Oxford, 1978)Google Scholar; Ekejiuba, F. I., ‘The Aro trade system in the nineteenth century’, Ikenga, 1, 1 (1972), 11–26Google Scholar; and Lovejoy, , Transformations in Slavery, 82–3, 99–100.Google Scholar
47 Richardson, ‘Slave exports’. Joseph C. Miller demonstrates that slaves from west-central Africa, whether exported from Loango, Luanda or Benguela, came from interior regions that overlapped considerably (Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade, 1730–1830 (Madison, Wisconsin, 1988), 140–244Google Scholar); see also Miller, ‘Origins and destinations of slaves’.
49 Manning, Patrick, ‘The slave trade in the Bight of Benin, 1640–1890‘, in Gemery, H. A. and Hogendorn, J. S. (eds.), The Uncommon Market: Essays in the Economic History of the Atlantic Slave Trade (New York, 1979), 141Google Scholar; Johannes Postma did not break down the Dutch figures sufficiently to resolve this question; see ‘The origin of African slaves: the Dutch activities on the Guinea Coast, 1675–1795’, in Engerman, and Genovese, , Race and Slavery, 49Google Scholar; and ‘The Dutch slave trade: a quantitative assessment’, Revue française d'histoire d'outre-mer, lxii (1975), 237.Google Scholar Manning believes that the Dutch tended to buy gold at their forts on the Gold Coast and slaves further east.
50 See, especially, Debien, Gabriel, Les Esclaves aux Antilles françaises (XVIIe–XVIIIe siècles) (Basse-Terre and Fort-de-France, 1974).Google Scholar
53 Curtin, Philip D. and Vansina, Jan, ‘Sources of the nineteenth century Atlantic slave trade’, J. Afr. Hist., v, 2 (1964), 185–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Chilver, E. M., Kaberry, P. M. and Cornevin, R., ‘Sources of the nineteenth century slave trade: two comments’, J. Afr. Hist., vi, 2 (1965), 117–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Curtin, , Atlantic Slave Trade, 244–57; 289–98Google Scholar; Northrup, , Trade Without Rulers, 60–1; 231–3.Google Scholar Also see Koelle, S. W., Polyglotta Africa (London, 1854; reprinted with new introduction by P. E. H. Hair, Graz, Austria, 1963).Google Scholar
54 Geggus' sample can be compared with the smaller sample collected by Arlette Gautier, who has tabulated the ethnic origins of 1,812 slaves in southern St Domingue between 1721 and 1770. Her data are from the Archives de Nippes, which Geggus appears not to have used. Gautier also confirms the six principal ethnic categories, which comprised 78·3 per cent of her sample; see Gautier, Arlette, ‘Les origines ethniques des esclaves de Saint-Domingue d'après les sources notariales’, Canadian J. Afr. Studies, xxiii, i (1989).Google Scholar If Gautier's and Geggus’ samples are combined, some of my conclusions would require adjustment, but the relative importance of the various ethnic categories would not change. The data complied for Guadeloupe would alter these percentages further; see Frisch, Nicole, ‘Les esclaves de la Guadeloupe à la fin de l'ancien régime d'après les sources notariales (1779–1789)’ Bulletin de la Société d'histoire de la Guadeloupe, lxiii/lxiv (1985).Google Scholar
55 In many of the sources that identify the ethnicity of exported slaves, there is a category ‘Chamba’, ‘Thiamba’, etc. The correct identification is with the related Gurma languages, not with Chamba, an important ethnic group in the Benue River Valley.
58 The data on ethnicity in early nineteenth-century Bahia reveal a very different pattern, which reflects the close ties between Bahia and the Bight of Benin. According to João José Reis, a very large proportion of identifiable ethnic groups between 1819 and 1836 were from West Africa. In one sample of 1,161 manumissions (1819–36), 76·2 per cent of individuals came from the Bight of Benin, and among the urban slave population of Salvador (sample: 1,480 slaves) between 1820 and 1835, 64·6 per cent of slaves came from the Bight of Benin. In contrast to Rio de Janeiro, far fewer slaves came from west-central Africa (13·4 per cent in the first sample and 24·1 per cent in the second sample). ‘Mina’ might refer to Akan and/or Ewe-Fon in this sample. It should be noted that the number of Hausa, Borno and Nupe slaves was a significant proportion of the total (15·5 per cent in the first sample and 13·9 per cent of the second sample), which reflects the importance of the Sokoto jihad as a supplier of slaves, especially since some Yoruba slaves would also have been a product of the jihad. Reis provides an excellent analysis of revolts in Bahia in this period, particularly with reference to Islam and Yoruba orisha; see Reis, João José, ‘Slave rebellion in Brazil: the African Muslim uprising in Bahia, 1835’, (Ph.D. thesis, University of Minnesota, 1983).Google Scholar
59 Manning, Patrick, Slavery, Colonialism and Economic Growth in Dahomey, 1640–1960 (Cambridge, 1982), 335–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar According to Manning, total slave exports from 1720 to 1800 were 799,300 slaves, of which 576,000 were Gbe (Aja), 124,300 Yoruba, 81,600 Voltaic, 7,900 Nupe, and 10,500 Hausa. These estimates were based on a combination of several New World slave inventories, including some from Brazil, which may explain the differences in the percentages.
63 Geggus, ‘French shipping and plantation records’.
65 Geggus, , ‘French shipping and plantation records‘, 24Google Scholar, Table I, but strangely not including Eltis, ‘Age and sex ratios’.
68 Ibid., 259. It should be noted that Geggus (‘French shipping and plantation records’, 26) overstates his case in claiming that ‘in no trade from Africa did the known proportion of males exceed, or even equal, 70 per cent’.
69 Geggus, ‘French shipping and plantation records’. These conclusions are based on Geggus' analysis of French shipping records for all regions and French, British and Dutch records for the Bight of Biafra.
70 Ibid. Geggus includes British, Dutch and French samples for his calculation. The French sample alone was even lower: 53·9 per cent male.
72 Postma, Johannes, ‘Mortality in the Dutch slave trade, 1675–1795’, in Gemery, and Hogendorn, , Uncommon Market, 257.Google Scholar Earlier statistics on the Dutch trade reveal only a slight difference in sex ratios between West Africa and west-central Africa. In Dutch shipments between 1637 and 1645, West Africa exported 1,791 males in a total trade of 3,086, or 58·0 per cent male, while west-central Africa exported 1,286 males in a total trade of 2,064, or 63·3 per cent. It is worth noting, moreover, that the West African ratio was lower than the pattern for the eighteenth century, when the ratio was 61·2 per cent, at least in the French trade. The west-central Africa ratio may have been on the rise and was already above the eighteenth-century ratio for West Africa. Statistics from the Portuguese trade, if available, should clarify the situation. For the 1637–45 period, see van den Boogaart, Ernst and Emmer, Pieter C., ‘The Dutch participation in the Atlantic slave trade, 1596–1650’, in Gemery, and Hogendorn, , Uncommon Market, 366.Google Scholar
73 Geggus, ‘French shipping and plantation records’.
75 Geggus, ‘French shipping and plantation records’.
76 In the nineteenth century, the ratio was 195:100, based on a sample of 24,502; see Geggus, ‘French shipping and plantation records’. Eltis (‘Age and sex ratios’, 259) reports a similar ratio for the period 1811–67: 65–7 per cent.
78 Manning, Patrick, ‘The impact of slave trade exports on the population of the western coast of Africa, 1700–1850’, in Daget, S. (ed.), Actes du collogue sur la traite des noirs (Paris/Nantes, 1988).Google Scholar See also Manning, , Slavery and African Life (Cambridge, forthcoming).Google Scholar I wish to thank Manning for showing me this important study.
79 Geggus, ‘French shipping and plantation records’. I have not included the Cuban sample, 1790–1829, in this calculation.
81 According to Miller, (Way of Death, 159, 346–8, 387–9)Google Scholar, one of the reasons west-central Africa led the way in the shift toward more children related to attempts at ‘tight packing’ as a result of Portuguese regulations on shipping slaves. Also see Eltis, , ‘Sex and age ratios’, 262Google Scholar, for a graphic portrayal of the nineteenth-century trend.
82 Geggus, ‘French shipping and plantation records’, Table 1.
85 Ibid. 259. Geggus, ‘French shipping and plantation records’, has virtually the same ratio for the Bight of Biafra as Eltis.
86 Manning argues that ‘Children had no special premium price in the interior, but they tended to be kept there because a long march to the coast would cost more in mortality and maintenance than what the child would bring on arrival’; see ‘Impact of slave trade exports’. His argument appears to be correct for small children but not for older boys; see Miller, , Way of Death, 159, 347–8, 387–9.Google Scholar
87 Miller (Way of Death, 148, 149, 153–4, 159–64, 387–9) emphasizes distance from the coast as a factor that influenced the ratio of males to females in the export trade and notes that there was a tendency to bring increasing numbers of boys from the interior.
89 See Transformations in Slavery.
90 See his forthcoming monograph, Slavery and African Life.
91 Eltis, and Jennings, , ‘Western Africa and the Atlantic world’, 957.Google Scholar Eltis and Jennings define ‘western Africa’ as the region that supplied slaves to the Atlantic trade, including West Africa and west-central Africa.
92 Eltis relies on Gemery, Henry A. and Hogendorn, Jan S., ‘The economic costs of West African participation in the Atlantic slave trade: a preliminary sampling for the eighteenth century’, in Gemery, and Hogendorn, , Uncommon Market, 153Google Scholar, for the estimate on per capita income, although he inexplicably lowers Gemery's and Hogendorn's upper limit; see Eltis, Economic Growth, 72. For the estimated value of the export trade, see Eltis, and Jennings, , ‘Western Africa and the Atlantic world’, 956.Google Scholar
93 Manning, ‘Impact of slave trade exports’; and Slavery and African Life.
94 Manning, ‘Impact of slave trade exports’.
99 Manning, Slavery and African Life, ch 4.
100 ‘Indigenous African slavery’, in Craton, Michael (ed.), Roots and Branches: Current Directions in Slave Studies (Toronto, 1979), 19–61Google Scholar; and Transformations in Slavery. As I have acknowledged, Walter Rodney, Philip Curtin, John Fage and other scholars provided-the inspiration for this insight.
101 Miller, , Way of Death, 153.Google Scholar Miller is able to postulate which areas were most severely hit and when (see map, 148).
102 Miller, , Way of Death, 160–5Google Scholar; see also Thornton, John, ‘The slave trade in eighteenth-century Angola: effects on demographic structures’, Canadian J. Afr. Studies, xiv, 3 (1980), 417–27Google Scholar; Thornton, , ‘An eighteenth century baptismal register and the demographic history of Manguenzo’, in African Historical Demography (Edinburgh, 1977). 1, 405–15Google Scholar; Thornton, , ‘The demographic effect of the slave trade on Western Africa, 1500–1850’, in African Historical Demography (Edinburgh, 1981), 11, 691–720.Google Scholar
105 Curiously, Miller concludes that the slave trade had a marginal impact on the level of population west-central Africa, despite his convincing and overwhelming array of data to the contrary; see Way of Death, 165–9. It should be noted that Miller attempts to distinguish between sheer demographic impact and all other kinds of influence, mostly institutional, and his demographic analysis tries to identify population relocations, shifts in sex and age ratios, among other factors.
107 Ibid. 225. Eltis claims that this interpretation is a modification of my ‘transformation thesis’, but in fact an appreciation of the Islamic factor, virtually unrelated to the trans-Atlantic trade, is an integral part of my argument; see Transformations in Slavery, 184–219.
110 It could be argued that a more accurate comparison would include slaves and the descendants of slaves. The purpose of the present comparison is intended to suggest the magnitude of the issue, not its complexity. To include the freed black population of the Americas in the analysis would require an inclusion of the descendants of slaves in Africa, which would greatly complicate the discussion, particularly since it would mean that the scale of ‘slavery’ in Africa would increase correspondingly. The usual argument is that slaves and their descendants tended to be ‘assimilated’, and hence the numbers of people affected by the ‘slavery’ legacy was geometrically greater in Africa than the Americas.
113 Blackburn estimates the total in 1860 at six million; see Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 544.
114 Klein, Martin A., ‘The demography of slavery in Western Soudan: the late nineteenth century’, in Cordell, Dennis D. and Gregory, Joel W. (eds.), African Population and Capitalism: Historical Perspectives (Boulder, Colorado, 1987), 52, 54.Google Scholar
115 Hogendorn, J. S. and Lovejoy, Paul E., Legal Slavery Abolition. The Decline of Slavery in Northern Nigeria (Cambridge, forthcoming).Google Scholar
116 Unfortunately, all too few Americanist historians take this point seriously. Blackburn, for example, analyses the end of ‘colonial slavery’ only in the colonies of the Americas (Overthrow of Colonial Slavery). For an example of an historian who does make the attempt to consider slavery in a trans-Atlantic framework; see Klein, African Slavery. Both Eltis and Miller try to bridge the Atlantic gap as well by examining change throughout the Atlantic basin, including the interior of Africa. They reach remarkably different conclusions, nonetheless. In my opinion, Miller's approach is truly global and represents a dramatic break with past scholarship. He has succeeded in following slavery from deep within west-central Africa to Brazil and Portugal. He has set an example that will be difficult to follow. Eltis has made a similar attempt, but less successfully from an African perspective.
Full text views reflects PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.