The Muddle in the Middle Passage: Intra-American Slave Routes of the Early South Atlantic

Thursday, January 4, 2018: 1:30 PM
Roosevelt Room 2 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Kara Schultz, Vanderbilt University
From its second foundation in 1580, Buenos Aires was a major point of disembarkation for enslaved Africans. Captives arrived in the Río de la Plata on vessels direct from Luanda as well as from the Brazilian ports of Salvador, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo, and São Vicente. This paper draws upon little-used material from Spanish, Portuguese, and Argentine archives to analyze over 340 slave voyages that landed in Buenos Aires between 1586 and 1680. These diverse sources, which include tax records, merchant correspondence, and legal suits, reveal the complexity of early modern slave ship trajectories. For example, ship captains seeking to avoid paying the higher duties owed on captives in Spanish American ports often claimed that they were intra-Brazilian slavers that had been blown off course, while transatlantic vessels en route to Spanish American ports often “stopped over” on the Brazilian coast to refresh, disembarking (and selling) some captives before re-embarking them onto several smaller craft to avoid prosecution by royal officials in their final destination. I argue that although these practices complicate our ability to classify many early modern slave voyages as “transatlantic” or “intra-American,” they nonetheless reveal how the early slave trade to Portuguese America was intricately integrated with that to Spanish America, both during the Portuguese “asiento” period (1595-1640) and beyond.
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