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5 - ‘There's nothing grows in the West Indies but will grow here’: Dutch and English projects of plantation agriculture on the Gold Coast, 1650s–1780s

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2013

Robin Law
Affiliation:
Professor of African History, University of Stirling
Suzanne Schwarz
Affiliation:
Professor of History, University of Worcester
Silke Strickrodt
Affiliation:
Research Fellow in Colonial History, German Institute of Historical Research, London
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Summary

The idea of the promotion of commercial agriculture in West Africa as a substitute for the export of slaves is familiar in the context of the Abolitionist movement, from the late eighteenth century onwards. But the alternative of employing slaves in cultivation in Africa, rather than transporting them to the Americas, existed from the beginning of maritime contacts between sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. Most if not all of the crops enslaved Africans were employed to cultivate in the Americas could also be grown in West Africa. Of the crops grown on American plantations, some were not introduced into West Africa until relatively late — notably coffee. But others were either already established in West Africa when European traders first arrived in the fifteenth century, or were introduced there soon afterwards.

Consider, first, rice, which became a major export from South Carolina — a variety of rice (oryza glaberrima) was indigenous to West Africa, and indeed was purchased by European traders for provisions for the Middle Passage. Admittedly it was Asian rice (oryza sativa) which was cultivated for export in Carolina; although ‘Guinea rice’ was also introduced there, it was grown by slaves only for their own subsistence. It might be supposed that African rice, although acceptable for slaves' provisions, was not saleable in Europe. However, Asian rice seems to have been introduced, presumably by Europeans, into West Africa by the 1570s, when a white form of rice was reported being cultivated in Sierra Leone.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2013

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