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The Atlantic Slave Trade

A Census

Philip D. Curtin

Publication Year: 1972

Curtin combines modern research and statistical methods with his broad knowledge of the field to present the first book-length quantitative analysis of the Atlantic slave trade.  Its basic evidence suggests revision of currently held opinions concerning the place of the slave trade in the economies of the Old World nations and their American colonies.

“Curtin’s work will not only be the starting point for all future research on the slave trade and comparative slavery, but will become an indispensable reference for anyone interested in Afro-American studies.”—Journal of American History

“Curtin has produced a stimulating monograph, the product of immaculate scholarship, against which all past and future studies will have to be judged.”—Journal of American Studies

“Professor Curtin’s new book is up to his customary standard of performance: within the limits he set for himself, The Atlantic Slave Trade could hardly be a better or more important book.”—American Historical Review


Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

List of Tables

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pp. ix-xiv

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pp. xv-xix

The history of the Atlantic slave trade, like that of New-World slavery as a whole, is an aspect of history where revision is long overdue. The reasons are, or should be, obvious enough. The Western historical tradition until recent decades was thoroughly ethnocentric and ill-adapted to the investigation of other societies -still less to considering historical processes that involved two ...

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1. The Slave Trade and the Numbers Game: A Review of the Literature

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pp. 3-14

social science-at a time when the social sciences themselves are becoming more quantitative-one way to gauge the state of historical scholarship is to examine the way historians have dealt with an important quantitative problem. The rise and fall of the Atlantic slave trade poses just such a problem. The impact of the slave trade on African societies is a crucial problem for African ...

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2. Distribution in Space: The Hispanic Trade

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pp. 15-50

The Hispanic nations of the Iberian peninsula were the first to begin the slave trade, and the last to quit. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Spanish and Portuguese carried the rudimentary institutions of the South Atlantic System from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Islands, then to Santo Domingo and Brazil. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Dutch, ...

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3. Distribution in Space: The Colonies of the North Europeans

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pp. 51-94

The demographic history of the English, French, Danish, and Dutch colonies in tropical America was markedly different from that of the Spanish and Portuguese. Not that one group were Nordic and Protestant while the other were Latin and Catholic; the crucial difference was a matter of timing. The Spanish and ...

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4. Distribution through Time: The Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries

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pp. 95-126

The number of slaves landed in the New World, and their distribution in space, is only a first step toward the numerical analysis of the slave trade. It may not even be a very important step. Grand totals are simply large numbers, whose real meaning often lies in the smaller numbers behind the global figure. The ...

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5. The English Slave Trade of the Eighteenth Century

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pp. 127-162

The eighteenth century saw the peak of the Atlantic slave trade, but increased size brought increased complexity. Historians have generally met the problem by restricting the scope of their studies-cutting back to the trade carried by one country, one port, or to the slaves received by a single colony overseas. ...

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6. The French Slave Trade of the Eighteenth Century

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pp. 163-204

The best studies of the French trade are focused on the trade of a particular port town, and especially on Nantes-the French equivalent of Liverpool as the principal slave trading port in the eighteenth century. They therefore correspond to the now-old but invaluable work of Gomer Williams on the port of Liverpool. ...

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7. Main Currents of the Eighteenth-Century Slave Trade

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pp. 205-230

century is susceptible to detailed projections indicating coastal regions of export, the same detail is not yet possible in dealing with other national branches of the trade. The French and English trade together nevertheless constitutes something like a 50-per-cent sample of the whole, over the period 1701-1810. The ...

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8. The Slave Trade of the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 231-264

The dimensions of the nineteenth-century slave trade have always been a matter of controversy-political controversy at the time and historical controversy since. This outcome is hardly unexpected. As the trade was made illegal, those who practiced it tried to keep their dealings to themselves. At the same time, ...

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9. Major Trends

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pp. 265-274

It is now possible to look at the long-term movement of the Atlantic slave trade over a period of more than four centuries. Table 77 sums up the pattern of imports for each century, while Fig. 26 shows the same data drawn as a graph to semi-logarithmic scale. Together, these data make it abundantly clear that the ...

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10. A Postscript on Mortality

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pp. 275-288

The cost of the slave trade in human life was many times the number of slaves landed in the Americas. For every slave landed alive, other people died in warfare, along the bush paths leading to the coast, awaiting shipment, or in the crowded and unsanitary conditions of the middle passage. Once in the New World, ...

Appendix: Koelle's Linguistic Inventory

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pp. 289-298


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pp. 299-311


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pp. 312-338

E-ISBN-13: 9780299054038
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299054045

Publication Year: 1972