The Atlantic Slave Trade: Effects on Economies, Societies and Peoples in Africa, the Americas, and Europe

The Atlantic Slave Trade: Effects on Economies, Societies and Peoples in Africa, the Americas, and Europe

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Debates over the economic, social, and political meaning of slavery and the slave trade have persisted for over two hundred years. The Atlantic Slave Trade brings clarity and critical insight to the subject. In fourteen essays, leading scholars consider the nature and impact of the transatlantic slave trade and assess its meaning for the people transported and for those who owned them.
Among the questions these essays address are: the social cost to Africa of this forced migration; the role of slavery in the economic development of Europe and the United States; the short-term and long-term effects of the slave trade on black mortality, health, and life in the New World; and the racial and cultural consequences of the abolition of slavery. Some of these essays originally appeared in recent issues of Social Science History; the editors have added new material, along with an introduction placing each essay in the context of current debates.
Based on extensive archival research and detailed historical examination, this collection constitutes an important contribution to the study of an issue of enduring significance. It is sure to become a standard reference on the Atlantic slave trade for years to come.

Contributors. Ralph A. Austen, Ronald Bailey, William Darity, Jr., Seymour Drescher, Stanley L. Engerman, David Barry Gaspar, Clarence Grim, Brian Higgins, Jan S. Hogendorn, Joseph E. Inikori, Kenneth Kiple, Martin A. Klein, Paul E. Lovejoy, Patrick Manning, Joseph C. Miller, Johannes Postma, Woodruff Smith, Thomas Wilson

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822382379
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 04/30/1992
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 423
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Joseph E. Inikori is Professor of History and Associate Director of the Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies at the University of Rochester.

Stanley L. Engerman is John H. Munro Professor of Economics and Professor of History at the University of Rochester.

Read an Excerpt

The Atlantic Slave Trade

Effects on Economies, Societies, and Peoples in Africa, the Americas, and Europe

By Joseph E. Inikori, Stanley L. Engerman

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1992 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-8237-9


Introduction: Gainers and Losers in the Atlantic Slave Trade


SINCE THE DEBATE in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries between the proslavery interests in Europe and the Americas—the slave traders and slaveholders—and the abolitionist movements, conflicting arguments have been presented on a host of issues relating to slavery and the slave trade. These often center on questions of who were gainers and who were losers. The issues fall into three broad groups: (1) the social cost in Africa of forced migration; (2) Atlantic slavery and the rise of the Western world; and (3) Atlantic slavery, the world of the slaves, and their enduring legacies. Debate over these issues has become more and more frequent in the last two decades. Several conferences have been organized on some or all of these issues. Currently, the literature is growing so fast that a critical bibliographical essay is badly needed. While we are unable to do that here, we can at least highlight some of the main areas of contention and locate within them the papers in this volume.


The literature on the costs and benefits of the Atlantic slave trade for Africa generally distinguishes between private and social costs and benefits (Inikori 1982: 51–52). It is generally agreed that those who raided and took captives, and the African traders who bought and sold the captives, all realized private gains. No quantifiable evidence exists for detailed measurement of the private gains and losses. But one can argue on the basis of human rationality that the raiders and traders would not have sustained the captive business for centuries if there had been no private gains. Given the low prices at which the captives were sold for export, the questions have been raised of why it was not privately more profitable for hegemonic African states to accept tribute from potential captives rather than capturing and selling them; and why it was not privately more profitable for African slaveholders to employ the captives to produce goods and services for the domestic markets rather than selling the captives for export (Gemery and Hogendorn 1974; Fenoaltea 1988). The question is answered in the literature by pointing to the economic and political situation that existed in tropical Africa in the fifteenth century, which was reproduced and further worsened by the social cost of the Atlantic trade (Inikori 1990b).

It is generally accepted that the export centers on the African coast benefited economically and demographically from the trade. Where they succeeded in insulating themselves from the socio-political upheavals provoked by the trade in their hinterlands, these port towns (or city-states) realized short-term benefits that have been equated with private gains (Inikori 1982: 51). Market production of agricultural commodities to meet the limited needs of the slave ships for foodstuffs was stimulated, their populations expanded as the coastal traders retained some of the captives for their business needs and for the production of their subsistence products, and so on. These port towns or city-states typically grew as enclave economies.

Some historians believe that these private and short-term micro-regional gains were also social or macroregional benefits (Fage 1969; Northrup 1978; Miller 1988). This view has been criticized for its failure to take into account the devastating consequences of the trade for the much larger regions from which the captives were violently procured (van Dantzig 1975). Other researchers, employing structural analysis and discussing opportunity costs, describe far-reaching social costs of the trade for African societies. It has been argued, for example, that the Atlantic slave trade transferred to the New World part of Africa's relative advantage in the production of commodities for the evolving world market, and that this retarded the growth and development of commodity production for international trade in Africa. In turn, this helped to delay the development of market institutions and the general commercialization of economic activities in Africa (Inikori 1982, 1986; Inikori et al. 1986; Rodney 1969).

It has also been argued that the slave trade helped to structure African societies in ways that were inimical to capitalist development in Africa. The growth of chattel slavery in Africa has been linked specifically to the Atlantic slave trade (Klein and Lovejoy 1979; Meillassoux 1982), as has been the phenomenon of political fragmentation in nineteenth-century Africa. This phenomenon was characterized by the existence of systems of small-sized states, limited in geographical extent and population and dominated by military aristocracies. It is argued that politically the size and class structure of these state systems (which were a function of the Atlantic trade) were unfavorable to capitalist development (Inikori et al. 1986).

The controversy surrounding the structural analysis, as it relates to the societies of the Western Sudan, is discussed in this volume in the chapter by Martin Klein. Klein shows that the debate originated from the critical response of Senegalese and French historians to the arguments of Philip Curtin (1975). According to Klein, Curtin treated the slave trade in Senegambia as having developed much like any other type of trade. He did not address the issue of the structural impact of the slave trade on Senegalese societies. The Senegalese and French historians, in their efforts to demonstrate the historical origins of contemporary societal problems in Senegambia, reacted by detailing the structural impact of the Atlantic slave trade on Senegambian societies. The arguments, as summarized by Klein, show that the Atlantic trade transformed the class character of the state systems, causing them to become dominated by the warrior class. Widespread insecurity and exploitation by warrior aristocracies drove the masses to seek protection under Muslim leadership. This Islamic alternative, intended to contain the disruptive effects of the Atlantic trade, was soon caught up in the vicious circle of the forces it sought to control and ended up depending on slaving for survival. It is argued that the socioeconomic and political upheavals associated with the Atlantic slave trade also aggravated the effects of droughts on food supply and "eroded traditional mechanisms for dealing with natural disaster."

The chapter by Hogendorn and Lovejoy examines the efforts of the British colonial state to deal with the issue of slavery in northern Nigeria in the early twentieth century. Their subject is very much related to the issues Klein treats with respect to the Senegambia area. Hogendorn and Lovejoy do not specifically connect slavery in northern Nigeria with the Atlantic slave trade, but other scholars have done so. Meillassoux (1982) argues that slavery in the Sudanese region of West Africa developed originally in response to the socioeconomic and political conditions created by the trans-Saharan slave trade, but that the system was later sustained by the expansion of transatlantic slave exports. Humphrey Fisher (1988) argued that the growing enslavement of people in the Hausa states, used to supply the Atlantic trade from the 1780s, was a major factor in the jihad, aimed at suppressing slavery, that led to the creation of the Sokoto Caliphate in the early nineteenth century. This is much in line with developments in the Western Sudan discussed by Klein. To stress his point, Fisher called the leader of the Sokoto jihad in northern Nigeria "a Muslim William Wilberforce." But, like its counterparts in the Western Sudan, the Sokoto Caliphate soon became a major slaving machine, producing captives for export as well as for internal use. By the time it was taken over by the British in the early twentieth century, as Hogendorn and Lovejoy tell us, about 25% of the roughly 10 million people in all the emirates of the caliphate were slaves.

The contradiction in British colonial administration was that it consolidated and extended the influence, if not the real power, of the feudal class upon which it relied for the administration of its northern territories. And this was the very class that held the slaves. Abolition of slavery in northern Nigeria, therefore, became a delicate political issue for the British colonial state in Nigeria. Lord Lugard's ingenious handling of this delicate matter is presented in minute detail by Hogendorn and Lovejoy.

Probably the aspect of the Atlantic slave trade that has received the most lively debate is its impact on African populations. The controversy begins with the numbers actually exported and ends with the interpretation of these numbers in terms of African historical demography. Disagreement about the numbers exported revolves around the estimate published over two decades ago by Philip Curtin (1969), based on the published data available at the time. Curtin's work served to raise questions about the then-available estimates based on earlier pamphleteers. Since 1969, detailed archival researches have been conducted on the volume of the traffic from particular ports, nations, and regions during particular time periods. Most of these researches have revised upward Curtin's original estimates, some by small, others by large margins. Nearly a decade ago, Paul Lovejoy (1982) provided a controversial synthesis of these researches, arriving at a global figure only slightly higher than Curtin's original estimate. However, further estimates since then, some still quite controversial, include those by Charles Becker (1986:668), who has raised the estimate of the French trade by over 50 percent to about 1.5 million in total. Ivana Elbl (1986: 487–88) presents an estimate for the Portuguese slave trade of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries (132,880 for 1450–1521) that suggests a doubling of Curtin's figures for the early period, raising the possibility of a further upward revision of his estimate. And David Richardson (1989:3) has raised Lovejoy's figures for the British trade in the eighteenth century by 342,700, although the magnitude of Richardson's adjustment is itself contested by Joseph Inikori (forthcoming). Inikori is now working on an estimate of the entire British trade from the seventeenth century to abolition. On the basis of these and other archival researches, many specialists believe that Curtin's original estimate has to be revised upward, but important disagreements on the magnitude of such revision remain; Lovejoy (1989:369) says that "the acceptable figures for the volume of the trade seem to inch upwards" (see also Eltis 1990). But how fast is the movement, and what final level can we expect? Making inferences based on the results of archival researches since 1976, Joseph Inikori (Inikori 1982; Inikori et al. 1986) has suggested a global figure of 15.4 million. This figure has been contested by some scholars, and while the process of revision continues, it seems probable that the ultimate figure is unlikely to be less than 12 million or more than 20 million captives exported from Africa in the transatlantic slave trade.

Interpreting the export figures in terms of African historical demography has posed as much of a problem as the computation of the export volume. For many years scholars were uncertain about the age and sex ratios of the exported population. That issue is now very much settled. The overall female ratio turned out to be higher than many had thought: over 35% (Geggus 1989; Eltis and Engerman forthcoming; Inikori 1990b). But the magnitude of the mortality between the time of capture and the final departure of slave ships from the African coast, as well as the numbers of deaths occurring during the process of capture, and the magnitude of further deaths caused by sociopolitical upheavals associated with the procurement of captives remain uncertain. The demographic consequences of the Moroccan invasion of 1591 in the Niger Bend of the Western Sudan have been used as one gauge of the effects of sociopolitical upheavals on populations of precapitalist agricultural societies (Inikori 1981). Ultimately the main source of disagreement on the subject is the differing conceptual frameworks employed by the scholars. Some have used models, such as the Malthusian population theory, claiming that the populations of tropical African societies had reached the limit permissible by available resources by 1400 (Miller 1982 and 1988). The demographic effects of the Atlantic slave trade have even been compared with the effects of emigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from capitalist and semi-capitalist industrial countries (Eltis 1987: 67–68). These kinds of comparison were criticized by Joseph Inikori (1978:16–17) over a decade ago, who argued that each mode of production has a demographic law specific to it, and that it is therefore unwise to compare demographic behavior in precapitalist, preindustrial agricultural societies with that of capitalist and industrial societies. It is also contended that tropical African societies were land-surplus (open resource) between 1400 and 1850, under the existing agricultural technology (Gemery and Hogendorn 1974; Birmingham 1977: 549; Inikori 1981).

This demographic conundrum constitutes the focus of the chapters by Joseph Miller and Patrick Manning in this book. Miller examines the volume of the eighteenth-century Angolan slave exports, including the geographical origin of the slaves in west-central Africa and their distribution in Brazil. He concludes that the volume of the trade in west-central Africa in the eighteenth century was greater than was previously thought. A portion of the British and French trade from Angola had earlier been assigned to other African regions; hence, according to Miller, the larger measured volume of the Angolan trade does not affect the overall estimates of the volume of the slave trade.

The chapter by Patrick Manning, on the other hand, provides a detailed demographic model for analyzing the effects of the export slave trade from Africa on populations in Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. The application of the model leads Manning to the conclusion that as a result of the export slave trade, Africa contributed about one-seventh of the current gene pool in the Americas and the Middle East, respectively. But the contribution in the Americas is more segregated than in the Middle East, where it is more broadly spread throughout the population. As for Africa, Manning's model shows that from 1700 to 1850, the population of sub-Saharan Africa as a whole stagnated or declined absolutely as a result of the slave trade. Since the populations of Europe, the Americas, and Asia expanded rapidly during this period, Africa's share of Atlantic basin population declined from about 30% in 1650 to roughly 10% in 1850.

From these four essays, it can be claimed that the social costs of the Atlantic slave trade for Africa completely dwarfed the private gains of a few members of the African elites. The structural impact left long-lasting adverse effects, politically and economically. It can be further argued that the demographic impact seriously delayed the commercialization of economic activities and thus retarded capitalist development in sub-Saharan Africa.


The literature on the rise of the Western world has grown considerably since the early 1960s (Deane and Cole 1962; Davis 1973; North and Thomas 1973; Frank 1978 and 1979; Wallerstein 1974, 1980, and 1989; Rosenberg and Birdzell 1986; Jones 1981; Rostow 1975). Some writers focus exclusively on factors that explain the rise of the West. Others employ a broad perspective which locates the Western world within a world-historical process in which the same factors that explain the rise of the Western world also explain the stagnation and underdevelopment of other parts of the world. The extent to which the Atlantic slave trade and New World slavery enter the explanations of these scholars varies considerably. The reason for this wide variation is an intriguing historiographical question. Among other things, a major explanatory factor appears to be the theoretical framework which informs the issues raised, the data collected, and the analysis conducted.

It should be remembered that the neoclassical growth theories of the 1950s and 1960s were based on economic models in which international trade was downplayed, with the developing economies seen as lifting themselves by their own bootstraps. These bootstraps were fashioned from technology, agricultural productivity, and population change, with international trade generally not considered. Politics, the role of the state, the formation of class structure that determines the nature of state policy—these, too, were excluded. Since these growth theories were quite influential in the 1960s and 1970s, it is to be expected that they informed the agenda of many historical investigations and that the resulting historical investigations underrated the importance of international trade. K. E. Berrill (1960) criticized this tendency, which he thought the Keynesian revolution ought to have discouraged. Assigning a marginal role to international trade led automatically to the marginalization of the contribution of the Atlantic slave trade and New World slavery to the early rise of the Western world.


Excerpted from The Atlantic Slave Trade by Joseph E. Inikori, Stanley L. Engerman. Copyright © 1992 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

1 Introduction: Gainers and Losers in the Atlantic Slave Trade INIKORI JOSEPH E. ENGERMAN STANLEY L.
2 The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on the Societies of the Western Sudan KLEIN MARTIN A.
3 Keeping Slaves in Place: The Secret Debate on the Slavery Question in Northern Nigeria, 1900–1904 HOGENDORN JAN LOVEJOY PAUL E.
4 The Numbers, Origins, and Destinations of Slaves in the Eighteenth-Century Angolan Slave Trade MILLER JOSEPH C.
5 The Slave Trade: The Formal Demography of a Global System MANNING PATRICK
6 Slavery and the Revolution in Cotton Textile Production in England INIKORI JOSEPH E.
7 Private Tooth Decay as Public Economic Virtue: The Slave-Sugar Triangle, Consumerism, and European Industrialization AUSTEN RALPH A. SMITH WOODRUFF D.
8 The Slave(ry) Trade and the Development of Capitalism in the United States: The Textile Industry in New England BAILEY RONALD
9 British Industry and the West Indies Plantations DARITY, JR. WILLIAM
10 The Dispersal of African Slaves in the West by Dutch Slave Traders, 1630–1803 POSTMA JOHANNES
11 Slave Importation, Runaways, and Compensation in Antigua, 1720–1729 GASPAR DAVID BARRY
12 Mortality Caused by Dehydration during the Middle Passage KIPLE KENNETH F. HIGGINS BRIAN T.
13 The Possible Relationship between the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Hypertension in Blacks Today WILSON THOMAS W. GRIM CLARENCE E.
14 The Ending of the Slave Trade and the Evolution of European Scientific Racism DRESCHER SEYMOUR

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