Ep. 1. Colonial Slavery
slaves, colonies, slavery, examining, slave trade, transatlantic slave trade, british colonies, african slaves, united states, america, arab slave trade, arab, number, spain, africans, captured, ships, declaration, plantations, satisfy
NOTE: References in Audio to “Andrew Johnson” should be “Anthony Johnson.”
Hello, welcome to episode one of the Shane Caraway podcast. So today, what we're going to talk about is colonial slavery. Like a lot of areas specific to American history tends to have a very kind of myopic view of slavery in particular. The first thing that's very important to understand is that when we speak about colonial slavery, we're referring to the way in which it existed prior to 1776. So, we're dealing with the area of history prior to Declaration of Independence. Why this is important is to look at the broader circumstances surrounding the Founding of America, you have to understand as well, or at least have a respectable understanding of just how ingrained slavery was into the colonies. And then to try to also develop an understanding, not so much who was to blame for these circumstances, but to add the context that's necessary, just to kind of carry that over into later years and developments and claims that are often made by modern historians.
So, a lot of the information, because we're going to go through some statistical information, and a lot of that is actually drawn from slavevoyages.org. And a large bulk of the information is also taken from Africana, the Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. For those who are just new to what I do, a lot of this information is also contained in greater detail in Volume I of the 1787 Project.
Okay, so first, dealing with colonial America as a land mass. It was not America, you had British colonies. Yes, everyone knows that, because that's where our history derives from. But what’s examined in far less detail, is that there was territory held by Spain, Portugal, the Dutch Republic, Netherlands, and France. This was new territory. So, every one of the world's most powerful nations at the time wanted to come to this new place, develop their own colonies, and of course, enrich themselves materially from whatever they could find there.
Now the actual first slaves that were brought into the landmass that later became the United States. That was Spain. Spain introduced African slaves in 1526. They brought those generally into their Caribbean plantations of which they had many. In 1517 there were slaves actually delivered from Spain into Hispaniola, and that actually goes back as far as 1502. So, if you're looking, if you're examining slavery from that perspective, as far as its duration, you're looking at over 250 years of an ingrained tradition, prior to the Declaration of Independence.
So examining the transatlantic slave trade, the Atlantic slave trade, the trafficking of slaves into that into the new world, let's say. Now, most accounts kind of frame the United States as being like this, a hub a pivotal point in the slave trade. The greatest occurrences and coastal colonies with slave auctions and the like. In reality, though, when you examine the totality of numbers, total number of shipped specifically into the various colonies, and then apply that to the nations that actually owned those colonies, what would become the United States was only responsible for 1.9% of all of these importations. 1.9% is a small enough figure, that it could be essentially a rounding error.
Now, if you if you modify the same numbers just slightly, and you examine it instead, for how all of these were imported into British colonies. So not just the narrower range here, you're still only going to come up with a number around 5.6%. Even if you extend the time range out to 1866, so we're examining 1501 to 1866, the colonies and states actually dropped to only 2.46% of all slave imports.
Now, just as a matter of context, Portugal was responsible for around 47% of all slave importations during the same time period. Another interesting thing to note here is even, you know, extending ourselves for a brief moment beyond the colonial period that helps to highlight some of the data provided earlier. At this peak population, this number thrown around just habitually United States, or more specifically, I should say, the southern United States, possessed about 4 million slaves. This was the largest number that was a peak at any one particular time. That number is often held up as kind of evidence to this, this obsession or fixation that, again, is incorrectly and erroneously applied to all Americans had on slaves, it was just the south.
Rome was kind of a significant society. Their peak was four and a half million slaves. So, America can't even claim the mantle for the most total slaves owned at one time. No, we're still defeated by the Roman Empire, who also possessed slaves in a number and for a duration of time that makes the United States a blip on the larger historical record.
So, if you accept that 1776 marked the official start the United States, which I phrased it that way, because an argument can be made that it was 1787, and that is hence the name, or helped fuel the name rather for my book series. But if you accept that year 1776, the slave trade was officially banned at the federal level in 1808. January 1st 1808, actually, and signed by Thomas Jefferson. And that was actually, that was a fulfillment of guarantees made during the Constitutional Convention, and the slave trade clause or compromise, depending on which side of history you'd like to examine things from.
With these two dates, 1776 and 1808, America participated in the slave trade for 32 years. Now, that still sounds rather atrocious, as it should, slavery is a disgusting thing. But examining also, just going forward in time briefly again, as founded in 1776, America only practiced slavery for 89 years. These numbers may not seem like much in isolation. France practiced slavery for 160 years. So, the next closest developed Western nation to us was still double.
The next Britain practice chattel slavery for over 300 years. Spain was very close to 400 at 394. And Portugal is a reigning champion with over 700 years of institutionalized chattel slavery. And of course, for a lot of these other countries, and nations their advantage, in a sense, were that the slaves were held on colonies. Okay, Britain did not have very many slaves on the mainland. Instead, like with America, they forced slavery onto their colonies as a way of providing, well, cheap labor. And there were more reasons than just cheap labor. The Brits felt that large slave populations destabilized the colonies in which they were correct, and that this destabilization itself would disincentivize any hope of rebellion. As we know from the history the United States that did not work.
So examining for a moment, Britain and their role in all this. So specific to that timeframe again, between or before prior the declaration of independence, we were British colonies, was actually called the British colonies of North America or BNA. By 1770 20% of the population of all British colonies were slaves.
Now that doesn't necessarily mean black slaves just as a point of historical context. What was very common, especially with the French and the Spanish, was to enslave in indigenous peoples when they established new regions. There were numerous laws throughout the colonies and policies that were adopted to try to either restrict the slave trade or to ban slavery completely. Now, not all reasons for this were morally superior. It was a very basic examination of economics. If one instituted slave labor as the primary source of labor that excludes all skilled labor that excludes also any incentive for colonization. If there's no work, there's no reason to move to a new place.
So severe, in fact, was this insistence on slavery, that King George the Third threatened “pain of the highest displeasure” if colonies did not reverse their anti-slavery policies. And there are several instances where these policies were instituted strictly from a moral perspective. Unfortunately, he was successful in forcing the colonies to adopt and expand slavery. Since it was forced upon, especially southern colonies, any hope or growth of the economy, or productivity, or industriousness necessitated yet more slaves to satisfy that labor market.
This actually was such a big deal, it became the subject of the Declaration of Independence, and in its most famous and unfortunately omitted portion, Thomas Jefferson, accurately blamed King George and Britain more generally, for the perpetuation of slavery in the then forming states. That passage was unfortunately omitted, vetoed as it were, by slaveholding colonies, and also by those who felt that attacking the British people probably was not the best means of establishing oneself prior to what would likely be a massive war, which is exactly what exactly what occurred as a consequence.
But an interesting notion for the Declaration, which I'll get into more detail in the next episode, is that it was predicated in large part with the refusal of King George the Third, to allow the individual colonies to adopt their own policies with slavery, which at this time, and that 11 out of 13 colonies, at least, up to the Declaration of Independence, were more than happy to abolish slavery outright. That was only two states, predictably, South Carolina and Georgia, who vetoed that notion.
Another good comparison to make to try and draw a little clearer context for not just the American slave trade, but the transatlantic slave trade in general. Or we'll say, slave trafficking in the western areas, is the Arab slave trade. Now just just recently this has become something that scholars have kind of gotten a little more relaxed, I guess, discussing some of the information that's actually been known for a very long time. It's very difficult to quantify some of these numbers, because records weren't taken as well as they were for the transatlantic slave trade. There weren't as many shipping manifests and, and the like, and that alone is actually a good detail. Slaves were considered so low that they weren't even inventoried in many respects.
As far as duration, Islamic states continue to practice slavery regularly today. So that's an unfortunate thing. Now several of them have outlawed the slave trade, at least on paper. I believe it was Saudi Arabia maintained their slave trade and ownership until 1968. Mauritania was also later into the 20th century.
Now at this particular time, so you had the transatlantic slave trade going on. And again, I would need to preface these numbers by saying that many of these are just derived from calculations based on mortality rates and slaves shipped, slaves sold to other nations and that kind of thing. But approximately 16 million slaves were trafficked overland, in that same about 348-year window that the transatlantic slave trade went on. So, in sheer volume, you know, the Transatlantic Trade was about 12 million. And then you look at the Arab slave trade, and you're looking at 16 million so that sheer volume alone, it's more than significant. Where, it gets very, I guess, disturbing, is the mortality rates.
The transatlantic slave trade is often held up as like, this terrible death sentence, you know, to be on a ship vessel was, was tantamount to death. And it was pretty rough about 12% mortality rate is kind of averaging most of the speculation out there. And of course, that changed later in and the trade rates or the trade because the ships became faster, they can develop better systems or whatever. And this isn't meant to glorify the transatlantic slave trade.
But the Arabs did that themselves. In many respects, the lowest end for the Arab overland route was 30% mortality. And that technique requires a very important qualifier because one of the hallmarks of Arab slavery was castration. If you were a male, you were castrated. So common was this practice that castration centers were set up along trade routes in order to castrate male slaves. And actually, the Venetians even had a castration center because they activated or participated as kind of a trade hub later on.
Now, if you look at this, at the male slave rate, let's say, although that's politically incorrect, but yes, male slaves were the ones who were castrated. 90% mortality rate. Now this figure is harrowing. So, if one were to be given the option, especially as a male, would you prefer to be captured and trafficked in the transatlantic slave trade or Arab slave trade? The answer is pretty clear.
The duration of slavery practiced by Arab nations is also extreme. Some of the first naval wars fought by the newly formed America were against slave traders from the Barbary pirates that often operated as slave traffickers for the Ottoman Empire. And they trafficked almost extensively if not exclusively with white slaves. They, they captured somewhere between one to 1.25 million European slaves. And they were also-especially the Ottomans later on, they prefer Circassian female slaves. So, if you examine the rest of the world, it kind of helps clarify the circumstances in the colonies as well.
And so, what about Africa? One of the kinds of common misconceptions out there is that Englishmen were showing up in boats and conducting slave raids into the heart of Africa and snatching African tribes and aborigines out of their huts or temples, and then transporting them back to the coast on their ships to sell on our mainland. And that was impossible. Nobody went into the African heart, except for other Africans. There were a series of slave trading posts that were established on the coast. And there were some slave raidings on the coast. The Spanish in particular and the Portuguese were notorious for raiding any coastal villages. But other than that rare exception that cannot be attributed the United States, pretty much all of the slaves that we purchased at any given time were secondhand.
We never were engaged and actively procuring the slaves, nor that we need to the ethnic and kinship variety of slavery throughout Africa, pretty well ensure that there were always slaves available. So, kind of the going number at this point, is that about 7.2 million slaves were kidnapped and trafficked in the transatlantic slave trade [from Africa], but they were purchased directly from slavers or from African slave traders. This was a bustling industry in Africa it actually established a certain level of wealth that maintains itself to the modern day.
Another kind of interesting fact with how slavery was conducted, especially earlier in the colonies, was opportunistic. There were no racial predicates. Amerindian slaves were captured and enslaved because they were there. And in fact, as far as how, you know if what one was going to define what makes a quote-unquote “good slave,” it would not be an Amerindian. They were very reluctant to be controlled and they were very prone to escape and of course, having intimate knowledge of the land that surrounded them and better knowledge than the ones who captured them. They had a propensity to escape, so they were often shipped off into the Caribbean, especially Spain preferred to capture then ship and then essentially trade Amerindian for Africans.
But another lesser-known part of the Amerindian participation is that like the Africans, they too participated in the slave trade directly. Many native lands if you were a fleeing slave, your danger did not end at the border of the colony. Numerous tribes practiced not just enslaving Africans for their own use, but operated as bounty hunters and slave catchers. And so, they would actually capture then return slaves and of course, be compensated for their efforts.
One of the least known—but should be known—relevant examples of black slave ownership, which was also very prevalent at this time throughout all the colonies, in fact, all 13 colonies had blacks who owned other blacks as slaves.
A Gentleman by the name of John Casor, was an indentured servant, which was the primary means of satisfying labor in the early life of the colonies. So, his indenture, whose contract was bought by a man named Anthony Johnson, there is a series of, series of events that resulted in Anthony Johnson claiming John Casor as a slave. And ultimately, that claim was upheld in a very biased and awful court. And, in fact, that was the first time on American soil that a man had been legally defined as a slave, that wasn't the result of committing a crime. Being a criminal and being made into someone's slave was not uncommon, especially to satisfy debts. Now, the most interesting part of this whole thing is that both men were African, Anthony Johnson had come over as an indentured servant, and had done very well for himself. Unfortunately, he did not allow John Casor to experience that same kind of colonial dream, let's say, and instead ended up owning him for the remainder of his natural life.
Now, African slaves more generally, also were not pursued for any instance of race, as it existed at the time, which was very ambiguous and difficult, really to define. The most obvious variable at play here was availability, due to the prolific slave trading practices of other nations; Africa, Portugal, and Spain in particular. The supply was such that to satisfy with slave labor, it was nonsensical to use anything other than African slaves. They were available, they were the cheapest, and most critically of all, they tended to be very resistant to malaria. And malaria was such a scourge on some of the Southern plantations who depended really on kind of that wetland, subtropical climate for their crop production, that there were instances where entire colonies perhaps had been wiped out. Others where they weren't destroyed completely, but they were effectively rendered inert. When they either returned back to the mainland or reintegrated into other colonies. It was a very, very dangerous place to live. Mosquito borne illnesses were the leading cause of death at that time in some of these colonies.
So, once you find that, no African slaves are actually resistant to malaria, so they can work out in the field. So, when they're bitten, they won't die unlike the Europeans. That actually raised their value. And this is reflected in the slave markets at the time as well, where you had slaves whose point of origin were those areas most noted for malarial resistance, and that they were actually sold at a higher price than those who were not. And this was such a well-established fact at the time, that you can see that same kind of alterations and slave value reflected in the Arab markets as well, because the Arabs also had plantations and those plantations were also plagued with mosquitoes and particularly malaria.
So, when you get up to the year of 1775, there's a lot of information here and I've just kind of thrown it out there. Nothing quite piles up as comfortably as statistics I know. But the overall contextual changes that this information makes is critical to later understanding the Declaration the Constitution, the Founding in general and also to the developments and evolutions of political theory that, the rise of Calhounism, the establishment of the Democratic party, and really that notorious American south that has become such a trope in historical and academic writings alike.
But examining America's role [in slavery], or at least those regions that would later become America was negligible. We were hardly involved in slave trafficking. Our colonies, a vast majority of colonies attempted to restrict if not outright abolish slavery and the slave trade. It was really only due to the pressures of the mother nation of Britain and King George that we were not allowed to do so.
Other nations, the Ottoman Empire, for example, they were still capturing and selling European slaves well after America had banned all slavery in its borders. And this is still true to the modern day. There are countries that routinely practice slavery, we tend to call it human trafficking now. But it is slavery. It is slavery in every perspective of the word and curiously enough, the slave trade of the modern day, while it's still used to satisfy labor in some areas, it's largely the trafficking of slaves for sexual purposes. And that was the hallmark of the Ottoman Empire. To be a slave in the Arab caliphate meant that you had one of two purposes, if you were a male, you would be castrated. And if you survived, which was unlikely you would serve in the military or as a eunuch to guard the harems of very wealthy Arab men who attempted as much as they could to populate those harems full of white women, believing of course that the offspring of these white women, especially this Circassian women, would be intellectually superior.
So, the next episode, we're going to talk about the Declaration of Independence, because now with all this information just provided all of this was impacting the convention, and really kind of played a critical role in how America addressed slavery going forward. We find that a lot of the concerns expressed by the Founders and others at the time the, learned men at the time, were very accurate. And perhaps most importantly, and most excluded from the conversation is just how virulently opposed to slavery 11 out of 13 colonies were at the formation of the United States in 1776.
So thanks for listening and we will talk about the Declaration coming up.