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The Transatlantic Slave Trade

A History, Revised Edition

James A. Rawley

Publication Year: 2005

The transatlantic slave trade played a major role in the development of the modern world. It both gave birth to and resulted from the shift from feudalism into the European Commercial Revolution. James A. Rawley fills a scholarly gap in the historical discussion of the slave trade from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century by providing one volume covering the economics, demography, epidemiology, and politics of the trade.
This revised edition of Rawley’s classic, produced with the assistance of Stephen D. Behrendt, includes emended text to reflect the major changes in historiography; current slave trade data tables and accompanying text; updated notes; and the addition of a select bibliography.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. viii

List of Tables

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

In the writing of this book over many years I have incurred heavy obligations. It is appropriate that I should acknowledge my debts and at the same time excuse all my creditors for any errors that may appear in these pages. First of all, this book was begun at the suggestion of an English scholar and friend, Gordon Mingay ...


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pp. xiii


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pp. xiv-xvii

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pp. 1-7

In the popular mind the theme of the Atlantic slave trade conjures up visions of European slave raids on the steaming coasts of Africa, of naive natives bartering their valuable countrymen for cheap beads and gewgaws, of manacled blacks in barracoons, of human cargoes closely packed on shipboard like sardines, of bonanza profits ...

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1. The Early Years of the Slave Trade

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pp. 8-17

In the century of the trade’s birth—the fifteenth—Europe was undergoing that transformation of political authority that created the system of national states. It was the New Monarchies that took the lead in the slave trade—first the Portuguese, then the Spanish, and later the French and English. The Dutch, who established a republic ...

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2. The Portuguese Pioneers

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pp. 18-44

It was the Portuguese who first opened the Atlantic Ocean, started the Atlantic slave trade, and established the first European overseas empire. On the western rim of Christendom, occupying but a part of the Iberian Peninsula, with scanty natural and commercial wealth, at first sight they may seem an unpromising people to make ...

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3. Spain and the Slave Trade

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pp. 45-68

The commerce in Africans for the Spanish American market held distinctive characteristics. At the beginning of the trade Spain owned nearly all the New World, including a virtual monopoly of tropical America. At the same time, thanks to the papal line of demarcation of 1494, she held no territory in West Africa, the source of labor. ...

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4. The Dutch and the Danes

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pp. 69-90

If Spaniards played a large and distinctive role as contractors and receivers of the African slave trade, and the Portuguese, French, and English carriers dominated it, minor European traders figured significantly in it. In this chapter we shall examine these minor carriers, with special attention to the Dutch and the Danes. ...

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5. France: The Early Years

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pp. 91-108

France was among the first European nations to display an interest in the African trade and the last to enter significantly into the slave trade. As early as the end of the fifteenth century the French were encroaching upon Portugal’s monopoly of the African coast, but not until the end of the seventeenth century were the French ...

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6. France in the Eighteenth Century

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pp. 109-128

In the seventeenth century, as we have seen, France had successfully contested with the Dutch and the Spanish for empire and slave trade, establishing herself in the Caribbean and temporarily grasping the asiento. In the course of the eighteenth century France vied with England for colonies and slaves in a great struggle ...

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7. England Gains Ascendancy

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pp. 129-147

Late in taking up the slave trade, England by the end of the seventeenth century had thrust herself forward in a few decades to become the leading carrier of slaves from West Africa, and within a few more decades she had become the leading carrier from all Africa. Negligible in 1650, English slave exports from Africa rose ...

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8. Bristol

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pp. 148-165

The second-largest city in England in 1700, Bristol had campaigned actively to overthrow the Royal African Company’s monopoly. Variously described by historians as “A Gateway of Empire” and “Metropolis of the West in the 18th Century,” it enjoyed ready access to the Atlantic through the Bristol Channel and to the ...

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9. Liverpool

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pp. 166-188

Liverpool in the eighteenth century became the world’s pre-eminent port in the Atlantic slave trade. It not only shouldered aside Bristol as well as London for the mastery of the English trade, but by the close of the century accounted for perhaps one-half of all the Atlantic trade. The city’s great success became both a boast ...

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10. London and the Eighteenth-Century Slave Trade

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pp. 189-211

It has been widely supposed that with the decline of the Royal African Company after 1698 and the rise of the outports, London played an insignificant role in the African slave trade during the lush eighteenth century. The historian C. N. Parkinson pronounced the demise of the London slave trade in the early years of the century. ...

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11. The Economics of the Slave Trade

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pp. 212-242

Europe’s impulse to conduct a trade in Africans enjoyed an ideological underpinning in the theory of mercantilism. However amorphous that body of doctrine may have been, certain familiar lineaments include: state intervention in the economy, securing national advantage in foreign relations, development of shipping ...

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12. The Middle Passage

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pp. 243-263

Few stereotypes about the Atlantic slave trade are more familiar than popular impressions of the Middle Passage—the crossing from Africa to America. Huge ships—crammed to the gunwales with Africans, packed together like spoons, chained to one another, daily exposed to white brutality, meager provisions, and hygienic neglect ...

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13. Americans Enter the Slave Trade

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pp. 264-276

The Atlantic slave trade was two centuries old before it became consequential in North America, yet at the same time it strongly influenced the colonial American economy. Its influence was profound throughout the eighteenth century, and, through laying the foundations of a biracial society, would continue to mold ...

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14. The American Dimensions and the Massachusetts Contribution

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pp. 277-304

The widespread impression of the heavy flow of African slaves into the presentday United States has been nourished not merely by distorted popular histories of the slave trade but also by the estimates of the traffic made by eminent historians. The authority on the history of sugar, Noel Deerr, calculated that ...

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15. Rhode Island

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pp. 305-330

The smallest of the North American colonies had the greatest share of the Atlantic slave trade. Rhode Islanders, with just over 1,000 square miles of land to live on, naturally took to the sea. Fishing and trading occupied many Rhode Island men, and their enterprises in turn gave rise to industries that contributed to the slave trade. ...

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16. The American Slave Market

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pp. 331-359

The North American carrying trade centered in New England, where Newport was the pre-eminent port and Bristol held second place. Beyond New England the major carrying ports were New York and Philadelphia, of which New York was far more important. Below the Delaware River merchants and shipowners accounted ...

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17. A Summing Up

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pp. 360-374

The Atlantic slave trade is a significant theme in the history of the modern world. Beginning in the early fifteenth century, it endured until the second half of the nineteenth. The trade formed a part of Europe’s transition to capitalism, the nation-state, and imperialism. An expression of the Commercial ...


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pp. 375-418

Recent Works on the Transatlantic Slave Trade

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pp. 419-426


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pp. 427-441

E-ISBN-13: 9780803205123
E-ISBN-10: 0803205120

Publication Year: 2005