Cuba and the United States in the Atlantic Slave Trade

Saturday, January 3, 2015: 3:10 PM
Carnegie Room East (Sheraton New York)
Jorge Felipe Gonzalez, Michigan State University
Marial Iglesias Utset, W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute, Harvard University
When in 1789 Spain ended the state monopoly on the slave trade and the system of trading contracts in Cuba, there were no economic policies that favored the free exchange of goods and technologies, or professional sailors to undertake the crossing to Africa, let alone traders or business contacts there. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, Cuba was importing vast numbers of slaves. How can this transformation be explained? In this paper, we examine the extent to which the vertiginous growth of the Havana-based slave trade after 1807 was driven by a substantial transfer of capital (human and financial) and expertise accumulated in the slave trade by North Americans, who after the ban on trafficking in the U.S. shifted their investment into Cuba. In the first years of the nineteenth century, driven by the sustained boom in sugar and coffee in Cuba and the rising strength of the cotton market in the southern United States, a large group of American merchants joined forces and pooled resources with traders and planters in Havana to prolong the existence of the slave trade and the institution of slavery itself. It was U.S slave traders who instructed the captains and crew from Cuba, sold them technology, transferred their expertise, and created joint ventures with their Cuban counterparts.

     Using the tools of Atlantic History with micro-historical approaches, we have been rebuilding the trade relationships and human ties that bound and made possible the existence of a community of Atlantic traffickers supplying the Cuban slave market. We have matched the substantial information located in the collections of the National Archive in Havana with materials found in North American archives and the British Parliamentary Papers in order to explain the rebirth of the Spanish slave trade at the end of the eighteenth century.

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