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The Black Urban Atlantic in the Age of the Slave Trade

Edited by Jorge Canizares-Esguerra, Matt D. Childs, and James Sidbury

Publication Year: 2013

During the era of the Atlantic slave trade, vibrant port cities became home to thousands of Africans in transit. Free and enslaved blacks alike crafted the necessary materials to support transoceanic commerce and labored as stevedores, carters, sex workers, and boarding-house keepers. Even though Africans continued to be exchanged as chattel, urban frontiers allowed a number of enslaved blacks to negotiate the right to hire out their own time, often greatly enhancing their autonomy within the Atlantic commercial system.

In The Black Urban Atlantic in the Age of the Slave Trade, eleven original essays by leading scholars from the United States, Europe, and Latin America chronicle the black experience in Atlantic ports, providing a rich and diverse portrait of the ways in which Africans experienced urban life during the era of plantation slavery. Describing life in Portugal, Brazil, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Africa, this volume illuminates the historical identity, agency, and autonomy of the African experience as well as the crucial role Atlantic cities played in the formation of diasporic cultures. By shifting focus away from plantations, this volume poses new questions about the nature of slavery in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, illustrating early modern urban spaces as multiethnic sites of social connectivity, cultural incubation, and political negotiation.

Contributors: Trevor Burnard, Mariza de Carvalho Soares, Matt D. Childs, Kevin Dawson, Roquinaldo Ferreira, David Geggus, Jane Landers, Robin Law, David Northrup, João José Reis, James H. Sweet, Nicole von Germeten.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: The Early Modern Americas


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pp. 1-3


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pp. 4-4


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pp. 5-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. 1-18

In 1763 a young enslaved man who went by the name Gustavus Vassa went to sea in the British Caribbean. Like most sailors, he soon began to engage in petty commerce to make a bit of money. Over the next four years he built up his small savings by transporting goods from one island port and selling them in another. ...

Part I. African Identities in Atlantic Spaces

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Chapter 1. Identity among Liberated Africans in Sierra Leone

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pp. 21-41

In their influential collection of essays on Caribbean and Latin American port cities in 1991, Franklin Knight and Peggy Liss suggested that the presence of people of African origins, both slave and free, was an “especially important” topic in Atlantic history that deserved greater attention and study.1 ...

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Chapter 2. Ouidah as a Multiethnic Community

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pp. 42-62

The town of Ouidah, in the modern Republic of Bénin (formerly the French colony of Dahomey), was one of the preeminent “port” towns on the Atlantic coast of Africa in the precolonial period.1 It was a major point of embarkation of slaves for export across the Atlantic from the 1670s onward, and continued to flourish in this role ...

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Chapter 3. African Nations in Nineteenth-Century Salvador, Bahia

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pp. 63-82

The city of São Salvador da Bahia, known as the city of Bahia through the nineteenth century, and later as Salvador, was founded between the open sea and the Bay of All Saints in 1549. The city held the position of Portuguese America’s colonial capital until 1763, when it was replaced by Rio de Janeiro, ...

Part II: The Sources of Black Agency

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Chapter 4. Re-creating African Ethnic Identities in Cuba

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pp. 85-100

Havana has long served as a location for the major social and cultural processes that have marked the history of the Black Atlantic over the past five hundred years. In the sixteenth century, Havana became the largest city in the Caribbean, with an enslaved labor force that made up at least one-third of the city’s population. ...

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Chapter 5. The Slaves and Free People of Color of Cap Français

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pp. 101-121

For most of the eighteenth century, Cap Français was the largest town in the Caribbean’s wealthiest colony, French Saint Domingue. At the height of its commercial importance in the late 1780s, it was home to about 15,000 permanent residents. Two-thirds were slaves and about one-tenth were free people of color. ...

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Chapter 6. Kingston, Jamaica: Crucible of Modernity

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pp. 122-144

J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur is one of the key delineators of the American national character, a man whose Letters from an American Farmer has a canonical status in early American literature. He is primarily known for his bucolic depiction of rural Pennsylvania, as the originator of the notion of America as a mostly harmonious melting pot ...

Part III: Urban Spaces and Black Autonomy

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Chapter 7. The African Landscape of Seventeenth-Century Cartagena and Its Hinterlands

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pp. 147-162

Spain spent almost eight hundred years advancing its frontiers in the Iberian Peninsula, and the conquest of the last Muslim kingdom of Granada in 1492 segued into the “discovery” and conquest of new frontiers in the Americas. Spaniards viewed these events as proof of God’s will and of their own divine mission, ...

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Chapter 8. The Cultural Geography of Enslaved Ship Pilots

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pp. 163-184

Westerners were world voyagers navigating the blue deep-water seas that Africans, Asians, Amerindians, and Polynesians knew as their own waters. Yet they usually relied on local pilots to guide them through green coastal waterways and into and out of port, enabling pilots to control the waters between land and the open ocean. ...

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Chapter 9. Slavery and the Social and Cultural Landscapes of Luanda

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pp. 185-206

On July 10, 1771, Manoel de Salvador, a slave living in Luanda, was arrested on the accusation of committing a burglary. To defend himself, he laid out a set of startling arguments. According to Salvador, he had been “shipped from this city [Luanda] together with his mother and his brother to Rio de Janeiro when he was a child, ...

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Chapter 10. African Barbeiros in Brazilian Slave Ports

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pp. 207-230

For many decades, Latin American historians did not argue, debate, or investigate in detail where African slaves came from. Only during the last decades have scholars begun to emphasize the different experiences of enslavement for individuals who were born as slaves in the Americas from those who arrived as adults from abroad ...

Part IV. Black Identities in Non-plantation Economies

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Chapter 11. The Hidden Histories of African Lisbon

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pp. 233-247

The Monument to the Discoveries overlooking the Rio Tejo, with the faces of Portugal’s early overseas explorers permanently etched in stone, acts as a memorial to Portugal’s imperial greatness—a testament to a glorious past in which Portuguese invention and bravery brought extraordinary wealth to the metropole, ...

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Chapter 12. Black Brotherhoods in Mexico City

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pp. 248-268

As explored in other chapters in this volume that focus on port cities in the Iberian Black Atlantic, this chapter analyzes seventeenth-century Mexico City confraternities that had an African or Creole membership or were described in colonial documentation as founded and led by negros or mulatos.1 ...


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pp. 269-340

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Bibliographic Essay

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pp. 341-350

In a 1991 analysis of black life in the eighteenth-century British Empire titled “British Encounters with Africans and African-Americans, circa 1600–1780,” in Strangers within the Realm: Cultural Margins of the First British Empire, ed. Bernard Bailyn and Philip D. Morgan (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1991), 157–219, Philip D. Morgan suggested ...

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List of Contributors

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pp. 351-354

Trevor Burnard is the author of several books on Atlantic history and on white slave owners on the Chesapeake and in Jamaica. He has written a large number of articles on such things as the history of early Jamaica; gender, whiteness, and slavery in plantation societies; and the character of the planter class in the British Atlantic World. ...


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pp. 355-372

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pp. 373-382

The funds that made possible the conference that inspired these essays came from the University of Texas at Austin through the Faculty Harrington Fellowship and the Alice Drysdale Sheffield Professorship. Julie Ewald with the Harrington Fellowship facilitated all things. ..

E-ISBN-13: 9780812208139
E-ISBN-10: 0812208137
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812245103
Print-ISBN-10: 0812245105

Page Count: 376
Illustrations: 4 illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: The Early Modern Americas
Series Editor Byline: Peter C. Mancall, Series Editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 867739271
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Black Urban Atlantic in the Age of the Slave Trade

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Slave trade -- Atlantic Ocean Region -- History.
  • Sociology, Urban -- Atlantic Ocean Region -- History.
  • Blacks -- Atlantic Ocean Region -- Social conditions.
  • Atlantic Ocean Region -- Race relations -- History.
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