New Orleans and the Slave Trade

AHA Session 86
Friday, January 4, 2013: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Chamber Ballroom I (Roosevelt New Orleans)
Alexander X. Byrd, Rice University
New Orleans and the Wider World
Alexander X. Byrd, Rice University

Session Abstract

Scholarship on the African slave trade has focused overwhelmingly on the period before 1808 when both the United States and Great Britain outlawed the trade, but the volume of the trade in the 19th Century nearly equaled that of the previous century. Most studies of the U.S. involvement in the African slave trade ignore the fact that U.S. ships and merchants were major carriers of slaves from Africa to Cuba and Brazil in that period. New Orleans, along with New York, Baltimore and other ports, were centers of this illegal activity, and New Orleans was especially involved in the slave trade to Cuba. In addition, New Orleans was the major slave trading center in the Deep South; many of those slaves arrived by sea from the Upper South, and the illegal and legal saltwater trades were often linked. The three microstudies in this session use cases of individual slave ships to explore various aspects of the saltwater trade. Sparks uses cases of ships trading illegally to Africa to study the U.S. role in that trade, particularly as it operated between New Orleans and Cuba. The continued involvement of U.S. ships in the illegal trade was a major bone of contention between the U.S. and Great Britain, a diplomatic split that Rupprecht’s study of the Creole case illustrates. Rupprecht’s paper takes a new slant on the incident and situates it in the context of the New Orleans legal and illegal trades. Kennedy explores the case of a black youth from Bermuda who was illegally kidnapped off a ship in New York, transported and sold in New Orleans, and the lenghty battle his family waged to free him. All three papers illustrate the value of court records to the study of these topics.

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