The Human Consequences of the Illegal Slave Trade in Western Cuba, 1835–50

Friday, January 5, 2018: 4:10 PM
Delaware Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
William C. Van Norman, James Madison University
This paper explores the rise of the illegal slave trade in western Cuba during the 1830s and 40s and how the expansion of this trade affected people both free and enslaved in the region. This comes out of my previous work on the coffee plantation district southwest of Havana and the significance of a secondary crop to shape the lives of people and the social and economic realties of a district. In the 1830s and 40s coffee production came under pressures that ultimately led to its decline in western Cuba. International competition drove down the price of coffee and this was compounded by two devastating hurricanes that destroyed much of the plant stock. As a result many changes occurred in the western region including some planters turning to large-scale trade in illegal African slaves. I argue that this shift was pivotal in transforming the region with effects on all its inhabitants. While their were demonstrable impacts on small farmers this paper will focus on the population of enslaved workers. The population of slaves expanded rapidly throughout the period as the plantation boom entered a new phase. Africans and creoles experienced new stresses as they experienced new dislocations within the region, across Cuba, and even off the island. Their increasingly tenuous situations created hardships and extreme dislocation and contributed to rising amounts of acts of resistance both large and small.