This article explores the nature and expansion of slavery in Benguela, in West Central Africa, during the nineteenth century, engaging with the scholarship on second slavery. Robert Palmer, Eric Hobsbawm, and Janet Polasky have framed the nineteenth century as the age of contagious liberty, yet, in Benguela, and elsewhere along the African coast, the institution of slavery expanded, in part to attend to the European and North American demand for natural resources. In the wake of the end of the slave trade, plantation slavery spread along the African coast to supply the growing demand in Europe and North America for cotton, sugar, and natural resources such as wax, ivory, rubber, and gum copal. In Portuguese territories in West Central Africa, slavery remained alive until 1869, when enslaved people were put into systems of apprenticeship very similar to labor regimes elsewhere in the Atlantic world. For the thousands of people who remained in captivity in Benguela, the nineteenth century continued to be a moment of oppression, forced labor, and extreme violence, not an age of abolition.
After the 1836 abolition of slave exports, local merchants and recently arrived immigrants from Portugal and Brazil set up plantations around Benguela making extensive use of unfree labor. In this article, I examine how abolition, colonialism, and economic exploitation were part of the same process in Benguela, which resulted in new zones of slavery responding to industrialization and market competition. Looking at individual cases, wherever possible, this study examines the kinds of activities enslaved people performed and the nature of slave labor. Moreover, it examines how free and enslaved people interacted and the differences that existed in terms of gender, analyzing the type of labor performed by enslaved men and women. And it questions the limitations of the “age of abolition”.