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The Supply of Slaves from Luanda, 1768–1806: Records of Anselmo da Fonseca Coutinho
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The Supply of Slaves from Luanda, 1768–1806:
Records of Anselmo da Fonseca Coutinho

Luanda was not a town in which the unwary amateur could hope to turn a profitable trade.1

The supply of slaves from Luanda, in Angola, was an activity that required significant experience in the transatlantic slave trade. In the late sixteenth century, the Portuguese established a colony at Luanda, which became one of the principal ports of slave embarkation on the coast of West Central Africa. It supplied slaves mostly to the plantations and mines of Portuguese and Spanish Americas. As the demand for slaves tended to increase over time, the economy of Luanda expanded based largely on the trade of human beings. However, in the eighteenth century, at the peak of the transatlantic trade, foreign competitors challenged Luanda’s position in this activity by purchasing slaves in ports located north of Luanda.2 Additionally, Benguela, a Portuguese port situated south of Luanda, emerged at the beginning of the eighteenth century as an important source of slaves, providing further competition for merchants based in Luanda.3 As a consequence, Luanda merchants had to adjust to the new circumstances and devise strategies to face the increasing competition in the slave trade from West Central Africa, as the records of Anselmo da Fonseca Coutinho will show.

The lives and commercial strategies of merchants based in Luanda have been explored comparatively recently. In 1972, Herbert Klein accessed the account books for the years between 1750 and 1760 of a Portuguese merchant resident in Luanda, Captain João Xavier da Proença e Sylva.4 In 1984, Joseph Miller analyzed the account books of a Portuguese royal officer, António Coelho Guerreiro, who resided temporarily in Luanda and had participated in the slave trade between 1684 and 1692.5 In 1985, Clarence-Smith explored the commercial strategies of slave traders operating in [End Page 53] Brazil and Portuguese Angola during the period of suppression of the slave trade, in the second quarter of the nineteenth century.6 More recently, Roquinaldo Ferreira and Mariana Cândido have highlighted the complexity of merchant operations in Luanda and Benguela, exploring their commercial strategies in the slave trade as a group.7

Despite these contributions, no study has ever traced the individual career of a slave merchant based in Luanda from the beginning through to its completion. In 1806, Governor and Captain General of Angola, D. Fernando António de Noronha, sent the service records of Anselmo da Fonseca Coutinho to the Portuguese Regent Prince, emphasizing Coutinho’s contribution to the royal revenue.8 These records included two lists of slaves shipped by Coutinho, which run for a time period of almost 40 years, from 1768 until 1806.9 Together, these lists provide the most extensive record available of slaves shipped by a single merchant based in Luanda at the peak of the transatlantic slave trade. More importantly, they provide a rare opportunity to trace the formation of a successful slave merchant from the beginning of his career to maturity.

Anselmo da Fonseca Coutinho, son of António da Fonseca Coutinho, Knight of the Order of Christ, was born in Luanda.10 Little is known about Coutinho’s early years at this point, but as an adult he was clearly an ambitious man who sought to climb to the top of Luanda’s social ladder by accumulating titles and highranking within the military. In 1784, the Portuguese Queen D. Maria confirmed Anselmo da Fonseca Coutinho in the rank of Colonel of the Auxiliary Troops of Massangano, in the interior of Angola.11 Two years after that, the queen made him knight of her own house and granted him with a symbolic stipend of 600 réis per month.12 Coutinho was then promoted to Colonel of the Militia of Luanda. In 1799, he followed in his father’s footsteps and became Knight of the Order of Christ; the most distinctive title of status that one could aspire to in the Portuguese Empire.13 He was able to apply for this title thanks to his sister, D. Ana Maria, whom he had supported into adulthood in exchange for...