“The Coast Swarms with Slave Ships”: Slave Trading and Captives after Abolition

Thursday, January 4, 2018: 8:00 PM
Palladian Ballroom (Omni Shoreham)
Emma Christopher, Monash University and Unshackled Media
Perhaps the biggest transformation in the transatlantic slave trade occurred post-1808, in the era after abolition. Although some British and American traders packed up and went home when word reached them that their trade was now illegal, others were defiant, simply finding new methods to hide their activities. As well as burying their true identity underneath Spanish or Portuguese ships’ papers, different ports were used for both embarking and landing, and loading times in Africa were condensed from the former weeks or months voyaging between the various forts to a swift forty-eight hours from dropping anchor to setting off back over the Atlantic with a full hold. Smaller, faster vessels tried different routes to avoid patrol ships.

This paper will discuss how these changes affected not just those making the dread Middle Passage, but also the lives of men and women in the hinterlands of the new African slaving locations, and enslaved people on plantations across the Americas. In the hinterland of Gallinas, for example, where in 1811 ‘the coast swarm[ed] with slave ships’ and Pedro Blanco would later reign supreme, the abolition of the slave trade led to the decimation of the local population as demand increased and prices skyrocketed. The ethnic configuration of the interior altered with smaller groups disappearing and multi-ethnic confederations established.

The sufferings of those who made the horrific middle passage in these years could be substantially different to what had gone before. Increasingly they were child captives rather than adults. They were more likely to be with people of their own ethnic, linguistic or regional groups, the captain having filled his cargo at one slaving ‘factory’ in the interests of speed and stealth.

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