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Circuits of wealth, circuits of sorrow: financing the illegal transatlantic slave trade in the age of suppression, 1850–66*

  • John A. E. Harris (a1)

Abstract

Slave traders forced more than 1.65 million captive Africans aboard illegal transatlantic slave ships during the nineteenth century. This article focuses on the final phase of this brutal traffic, between 1850 and 1866. It argues that slave traders sustained their illicit industry, in large part, by strategically coordinating their financial arrangements against a rising tide of international suppression. One key tactic was for slave trade investors in the United States, Cuba, Africa, and Iberia to lower the risks of interdiction by joining forces and co-financing voyages. Another was to combine with an international cast of merchants and bankers, who helped them launder slave trade capital and transmit it to their distant allies. This capital was concealed within broader currents of global commerce, which was, in turn, spurred by the growth of free trade in the nineteenth century. These myriad alliances and capital flows undergirded the trade until its final extinction in the 1860s.

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*

I wish to thank the participants at the Gilder Lehrman Center’s annual conference in 2015 for their helpful feedback on an earlier version of this article. I am also grateful to Philip D. Morgan, David Eltis, Gabriel Paquette, Nicholas Radburn, Neal D. Polhemus, Robinson dos Santos, and the Journal’s editors and anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on previous drafts. The title of the article was inspired by Robert Harms’ River of wealth, river of sorrow: the Central Zaire Basin in the era of the slave and ivory trade, 1500–1891, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1981.

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1 For a synthetic treatment of the ‘age of abolition’, see Drescher, Seymour, Abolition: a history of slavery and antislavery, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009 .

2 Voyages: the trans-Atlantic slave trade database, http://slavevoyages.org/estimates/uZ0Pb54H (consulted 18 June 2016).

3 The figure for Cuba and Puerto Rico is 281,776; the figure for Brazil is 168,601. For these estimates, see Voyages, http://slavevoyages.org/estimates/DEwsHNLu and http://slavevoyages.org/estimates/HCflQn3J (consulted 18 June 2016).

4 The current estimated total for the entire trade is 12,521,335. See Voyages, http://slavevoyages.org/estimates/PPSoJFUl (consulted 18 June 2016).

5 See, for instance, Murray, David, Odious commerce: Britain, Spain and the abolition of the Cuban slave trade, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980 ; Bethell, Leslie, The abolition of the Brazilian slave trade: Britain, Brazil and the slave trade question, 1807–1869, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1970 .

6 See Fehrenbacher, Don, The slaveholding republic: an account of the United States government’s relations to slavery, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001, pp. 135204 ; Soulsby, Hugh G., The right of search and the slave trade in Anglo-American relations, 1814–1862, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1933 .

7 Canney, Donald L., African squadron: the U.S. navy and the slave trade, 1842–1861, Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2006 ; Martinez, Jenny, The slave trade and the origins of international human rights law, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 7882 .

8 David Eltis and Leonardo Marques have explored the shift from the pre- to post-1850 era. See Eltis, David, Economic growth and the ending of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, New York: Oxford University Press, 1987, pp. 164204 ; Marques, Leonardo, ‘The United States and the transatlantic slave trade to the Americas, 1776–1867’, PhD thesis, Emory University, 2013, pp. 226363 .

9 Voyages, http://slavevoyages.org/estimates/jJtXLuGJ (consulted 18 June 2016).

10 Ibid., http://slavevoyages.org/estimates/Z3OG2vRU (consulted 18 June 2016).

11 Eltis, Economic growth, pp. 157–62; Marques, ‘United States’, pp. 292–6; Ferreira, Roquinaldo, Dos sertões ao atlântico: tráfico ilegal de escravos e comércio lícito em Angola, 1830–1860, Luanda: Kilombelombe, 2012, pp. 137184 ; Rodrigo, Martín, ‘Spanish merchants and the slave trade: from legality to illegality, 1814–1870’, in Josep M. Fradera and Christopher Schmidt Nowara, eds., Slavery and antislavery in Spain’s Atlantic empire, New York: Berghahn, 2013, pp. 176199 .

12 Varella, Claudia, ‘A expensas de la esclavitud: la marca también de Moses Taylor & Co.’, in José Antonio Piqueras, ed., Plantación, espacios agrarios y paisaje social en la Cuba colonial, Castellón de la Plana: Universitat Jaume, forthcoming. See also Eltis, David, ‘The British contribution to the nineteenth-century transatlantic slave trade’, Economic History Review, 32, 2, 1979, pp. 211227 .

13 I am using twenty-nine letters found in British Foreign Office and Admiralty records, dispatches from the US Minister in Lisbon, and newspapers. The correspondence of Emilio Sánchez, the British spy in New York City, is found in The National Archives, United Kingdom, Kew, Foreign Office (henceforth TNA, FO), 84/1086, 84/1111, and 84/1138. For the unidentified US spy in Lisbon, see National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC, State Department Records (henceforth NARA, SDR), M43: Dispatches from US Ministers to Portugal, 1790–1906, Roll 16, John O’Sullivan to William L. Marcy, 24 August 1856 and 28 March 1857. Newspapers are cited as used herein.

14 For Cuban prices, see Bergad, Laird W., García, Fe Iglesias, and Barcia, María del Carmen, The Cuban slave market: 1790–1880, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 4752 . For slave prices on African coasts, see Eltis, Economic growth, p. 264, tables C.3 and C.4.

15 Eltis, Economic growth, p. 161, table 10, and pp. 269–82.

16 Ibid., pp. 97–101.

17 For bribes, see Archivo Histórico Nacional, Madrid, Ultramar (henceforth AHN, Ult.), Legajo 3549/3, Francisco Serrano to Ministro de la Guerra y Ultramar, 6 September 1861. On Pezuela’s unusually robust administration, see María de los Ángeles Meriño Fuentes and Aisnara Perera Díaz, Contrabando de bozales en Cuba: perseguir el tráfico y mantener la esclavitud, 1845–1866, Mayabeque, Cuba: Ediciones Montecallado, 2015, pp. 104110 .

18 Marques, ‘United States’, pp. 270–87.

19 Cassard, Andres, Cincuenta años de la vida de Andres Cassard, escrita por un amigo y hermano, con presencia de documentos auténticos, New York: G.R. Lockwood, 1875, p. 216 . On Rio de Janeiro, see Florentino, Manolo G., ‘Slave trading and slave traders in Rio de Janeiro, 1790–1830’, in José Curto and Paul E. Lovejoy, eds., Enslaving connections: changing cultures of Africa and Brazil during the era of slavery, Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2004, pp. 5779 .

20 TNA, FO 84/955, T. Ward in memo respecting expulsion of Cunha Reis, 7 July 1854.

21 Cassard, Cincuenta años, p. 216.

22 For more on these individuals, see NARA, SDR, John O’Sullivan to Lewis Cass, 28 March 1857; TNA, FO 84/932, George Jackson to Lord Clarendon, 28 March 1854; TNA, FO 84/1086, Sánchez memo in Edward Archibald to Lord Malmesbury, 3 May 1859. For further short biographies of slave traders, see Clarence-Smith, William Gervase, The third Portuguese empire, 1825–1975: a study in economic imperialism, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985, pp. 4950 .

23 Law, Robin, Ouidah: the social history of a West African slaving ‘port’ 1727–1892, Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2004, pp. 235236 .

24 Archivo Nacional de Cuba, Havana, Gobierno General (henceforth ANC, GG), Legajo 427/20575, Gefatura Principal de Policía to Gobr. Supr. Civil, 2 January and 1 February 1854; ANC, GG, Legajo 427/20575, Secretaría Politica to Teniente Gobernador de Cárdenas, 17 February 1854; See also AHN, Ult., Legajo 3549/4, Captain General José Concha to Ministro de la Guerra y Ultramar, 12 August 1855.

25 AHN, Ult., Legajo 3549/3, Francisco Serrano to Ministro de la Guerra y Ultramar, 6 September 1861.

26 TNA, FO 84/905, Joseph Crawford to Lord Clarendon, 10 June 1853.

27 For examples of these connections, see Murray, Odious commerce, pp. 186–7; Rodrigo, Slavery and antislavery, pp. 176–99.

28 These details are drawn from Franco, José Luciano, Comercio clandestine de esclavos, Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1980, pp. 246249 ; Bergad, Laird W., Cuban rural society in the nineteenth century: the social and economic history of monoculture in Matanzas, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990, pp. 51, 126130 .

29 Borucki, Alex, Eltis, David, and Wheat, David, ‘Atlantic history and the slave trade to Spanish America’, American Historical Review, 120, 2, 2015, pp. 433461 .

30 Eltis, Economic growth, pp. 153–4, 181.

31 Voyages shows captives arriving in Cuba from all slaving coasts of Africa during the 1830s and 1840s: http://slavevoyages.org/estimates/9jcp2Z8U (consulted 18 June 2016). For average prices for these regions, see Eltis, Economic growth, p. 264, table C.3.

32 The estimate of 353 total voyages is offered by Marques, ‘United States’, p. 289.

33 TNA, FO 84/1086, Sánchez memo in Archibald to Malmesbury, 3 May 1859; NARA, SDR, O’Sullivan to Marcy, 24 August 1856. The Clotilda, which appears to have operated along the lines of the Restaurador, did not ‘freight’ slaves. See below, Table 2.

34 See the case of the unnamed vessel from 1854, in Table 2, below.

35 Miller, Joseph, Way of death: merchant capitalism and the Angolan slave trade, 1730–1830, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988, pp. 314318 . For the British trade, see Morgan, Kenneth, ‘Remittance procedures in the eighteenth-century British slave trade’, Business History Review, 79, 4, 2005, pp. 715749 . For the French trade, see Stein, Robert Louis, The French slave trade in the eighteenth century: an old regime business, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979, pp. 5194 .

36 Eltis, Economic growth, pp. 152–3.

37 TNA, FO 84/950, John Beecroft to Lord Clarendon, 20 February 1854.

38 Ibid., Benjamin Campbell to Clarendon, 12 August 1854; Law, Ouidah, p. 222.

39 TNA, FO 84/995, W. Stafford Jerningham to Clarendon, 8 March 1856.

40 Sources for these voyages are listed in Table 2.

41 NARA, SDR, Lucas da Costa to João Soares, 20 May 1856, enc. in O’Sullivan to Cass, 28 March 1857.

42 This voyage was by the Mary E. Smith: see Table 2.

43 For more details, see TNA, FO 84/1086, Sánchez memo in Archibald to Malmesbury, 3 May 1859.

44 TNA, FO 84/1086, Sánchez memo in Archibald to Malmesbury, 3 May 1859.

45 For source, see Table 2.

46 Marques, ‘United States’, pp. 349–50.

47 Milne, Taylor, ‘The Lyons–Seward treaty of 1862’, American Historical Review, 38, 3, 1933, pp. 511525 .

48 Library of Congress, Abraham Lincoln Papers, Rhoda E. White to Abraham Lincoln, 17 February 1862.

49 Ron Soodalter, Hanging Captain Gordon, New York: Atria Books, 2006.

50 Marques, ‘United States’, p. 361.

51 TNA, FO 84/1174, John Macpherson Brackenbury to Lord Russell, 30 December 1862.

52 TNA, FO 84/1218, Alexander Dunlop to Russell, 29 July 1864.

53 TNA, Admiralty, 123/184, João Soares Pereira to Julián Zulueta, 1 December 1863, enc. in Admiralty to Russell, 7 January 1864.

54 TNA, FO 84/1241, Dunlop to William H. Wylde, 8 May 1865.

55 TNA, FO 84/1203, Horace Young to Russell, 5 January 1863.

56 For sources, see Table 2.

57 TNA, FO 84/1174, Joseph Crawford to Russell, 8 March 1862.

58 Voyages, http://slavevoyages.org/estimates/ACZ0vnJb (consulted 18 June 2016).

59 For more background, see Schmidt-Nowara, Christopher, Empire and antislavery: Spain, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, 1833–1874, Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999, pp. 51125 ; Murray, Odious commerce, pp. 298–326.

60 AHN, Ult., Legajo 3549/3, Francisco Serrano to Ministro de la Guerra y Ultramar, 25 July 1861.

61 For the Chinese ‘coolie’ trade to Cuba, which increased as the slave trade declined in the 1860s, see Rimner, Steffen, ‘Chinese abolitionism: the Chinese Education Mission in Connecticut, Cuba, and Peru’, in this issue, pp. 344364 .

62 For clues on West Central African merchants’ credit in New York, see TNA FO 84/995, John Morgan to Lord Clarendon, 11 August 1856.

63 TNA, FO 84/1086, Sánchez memo in Archibald to Malmesbury, 3 May 1859.

64 On Plá, see Burgoa Fernández, Juan J., El marqués de Amboage: Ramón Plá y Monge, un ilustre Ferrolano, Ferrol: Vision Libros, 2011, pp. 3031 .

65 TNA, FO 84/1086, Sánchez memo in Archibald to Malmesbury, 3 May 1859. On Ceballos, see New York Times, 23 February 1886.

66 For New York merchants’ willingness to accept gold, see NARA, STD, O’Sullivan to Marcy, 24 August 1856.

67 For a damning portrait of Spanish failure to suppress the trade in Cádiz, see Durham University Archives, Wylde Papers (henceforth DUA, WP), WYL/27/38-40, Alexander Graham Dunlop to William H. Wylde, 20 September 1864.

68 For the rise of this trade and its broader context, see Perez, Louis, Cuba and the United States: ties of singular intimacy, 3rd edn, Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2003, pp. 128 .

69 TNA, FO 84/1086, Sánchez memo in Archibald to Malmesbury, 3 May 1859.

70 O’Flanagan, Patrick, Port cities of Atlantic Iberia, c. 1500–1900, Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2008, pp. 112115 .

71 Albion, Robert, The rise of New York port, 1815–1860, New York: Charles Scribner, 1939, pp. 394395 , 399.

72 For Sánchez’s Cádiz trade, see New York Times, 21 October 1851.

73 Voyages, http://slavevoyages.org/estimates/jJtXLuGJ (consulted 18 June 2016).

74 On Dona Ana Joaquina dos Santos, see Cardoso, Carlos Alberto Lopes, ‘Ana Joaquina dos Santos Silva, industrial angolana da segunda metade do século XIX’, Boletim Cultural da Câmara Municipal de Luanda, 32, 1972, pp. 514 ; Wheeler, Douglas L., ‘Angolan woman of means: D. Ana Joaquina Dos Santos e Silva, mid-nineteenth century Luso-African merchant-capitalist of Luanda’, Santa Barbara Portuguese Studies Review, 3, 1996, pp. 284297 .

75 For Angola, see da Silva, Daniel Domingues, ‘Crossroads: slave frontiers from Angola, c.1780–1867’, PhD thesis, Emory University, 2011, pp. 146172 . For the Loango Coast, which was a major embarkation region after 1850, see ibid., pp. 62–5.

76 TNA, FO 84/950, Benjamin Campbell to Lord Clarendon, 7 December 1854. For the broader political and economic contexts of the slave trade in the Bight of Benin, see Law, Ouidah, pp. 189–244.

77 For more on Martins, see Verger, Pierre, Trade relations between the Bight of Benin and Bahia from the 17th to 19th century, trans. Evelyn Crawford, Ibadan, Nigeria: Ibadan University Press, 1976, pp. 412418 ; Robin Law, Ouidah, pp. 186, 201.

78 TNA, FO 84/950, Campbell to Clarendon, 7 December 1854.

79 Ibid.

80 Law, Ouidah, p. 201.

81 TNA, FO 84/950, Campbell to Clarendon, 12 August 1854.

82 For more on Flores, see Ferreira, Dos sertões, pp. 69–85.

83 TNA, FO 84/960, Edmund Gabriel to Clarendon, 21 March 1855.

84 British Library, Add. MS 37410, David Livingston to Gabriel, 21 November 1854.

85 TNA, FO 84/950, Campbell to Clarendon, 7 December 1854.

86 Eltis, David, ‘The British contribution to the transatlantic slave trade after 1807’, Economic History Review, 32, 2, 1979, pp. 211227 ; Sherwood, Marika, After abolition: Britain and the slave trade since 1807, New York: I.B. Tauris, 2007, pp. 111142 . For some aspects of the US role in supplying goods tied to the slave trade, see the following subsection and Graden, Dale T., Disease, resistance, and lies: the demise of the transatlantic slave trade to Brazil and Cuba, Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2014, pp. 1922 .

87 TNA, FO 84/1167, Sebastião Lopes de Calheiros e Meneses to Edmund Gabriel, 28 August 1862, enc. in Gabriel to Lord Russell, 17 September 1862.

88 DUA, WP, Lord Palmerston to W. H. Wylde, 16 May 1862.

89 For a recent discussion of this point, see Huzzey, Richard, Freedom burning: anti-slavery and empire in Victorian Britain, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012 . See also Lynn, Martin, ‘British policy, trade, and informal empire in the mid-nineteenth century’, in Andrew Porter, ed., Oxford history of the British empire, vol. 3, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 101121 .

90 For a summary of these debates, see Paquette, Gabriel, ‘After Brazil: Portuguese debates on empire, c.1820–1850’, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 11, 2, 2010 .

91 For the slave trade in southern Angola, see Candido, Mariana, An African slaving port and the Atlantic World: Benguela and its hinterland, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013 .

92 NARA, SDR, enclosures in O’Sullivan to Cass, 28 March 1857.

93 Directorio de artes, comercio e industrias de la Habana, Havana: Litografia de T. Cuesta, 1859, tercera parte, pp. 8–9.

94 Mazorra held the lesser position of supernumerario: ibid.

95 Ibid.; see also Estatutos y reglamento del Banco Español de la Habana, Havana: Imprenta del Gobierno y Capitanía General por S.M., 1856.

96 AHN, Ult., Legajo 4686/52, caja 1, Domingo Dulce to Ministro de Ultramar, 30 August 1863.

97 New York Public Library, Moses Taylor Collection, Box 220, Folder 2, R. Drake to H. Coit, 14 January 1854.

98 TNA, FO 84/1086, Sánchez memo enc. in Archibald to Lord Malmesbury, 5 April 1859.

99 New York Herald, 30 November 1860.

100 Accounts and papers of the House of Commons, vol. 44, London: Harrison and Sons, 1857, p. 132, Cunha Reis to João José Vianna, 2 October 1855, enc. in John Morgan to Lord Clarendon, 13 June 1856.

101 NARA, SDR, O’Sullivan to State Department, 28 July 1856 and 28 March 1857.

102 AHN, Ult., 4676/64, ‘Expediente de solicitud de Manuel Basilio Reis’, 19 June 1861. See also Diario de la Marina, 3 May 1861.

103 For this collapse and its global implications, see Beckert, Sven, Empire of cotton: a global history, New York: Alfred Knopf, 2014, pp. 242273 .

104 New York Herald, 4 May 1868; Evening Telegraph (Philadelphia), 4 January 1866.

* I wish to thank the participants at the Gilder Lehrman Center’s annual conference in 2015 for their helpful feedback on an earlier version of this article. I am also grateful to Philip D. Morgan, David Eltis, Gabriel Paquette, Nicholas Radburn, Neal D. Polhemus, Robinson dos Santos, and the Journal’s editors and anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on previous drafts. The title of the article was inspired by Robert Harms’ River of wealth, river of sorrow: the Central Zaire Basin in the era of the slave and ivory trade, 1500–1891, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1981.

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