“Trading Slaves as If This Port Were Open”: Buenos Aires and the South Atlantic Slave Trade, 1580–1700
In spite of Buenos Aires’ significance as a major slave destination of the Americas, the early slave trade to the port has received little scholarly attention. As Toby Green, David Wheat, and others have noted, port entry records and slave licenses—sources traditionally used to study the slave trade—provide little information about the illicit commerce of Buenos Aires. This paper draws upon diverse sources, including baptismal records, investigations of contraband slave trading, and ecclesiastical correspondence to provide an overview of the transatlantic commercial, familial, and political networks that fed the 17th-century slave trade to Buenos Aires. Beyond reappraising the volume and dimensions of the 17th-century trade, this paper suggests the trade’s influence on urban life. This paper demonstrates how, far from being stuck in a colonial “backwater,” Buenos Aires’ free and enslaved populations participated in vibrant South Atlantic communities that cut across imperial boundaries.
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