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  • The British Presence on the Cape Verdean Archipelago (Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries)
  • Maria João Soares (bio)

The purpose of the present study is to analyze the relations established between British trade networks and the Cape Verde archipelago from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries and their impact upon the latter’s insular economic, social, and military structures. This theme is almost absent from British, Portuguese or Capeverdean studies. However, if, from the British point of view, the case is understandable due to the debility of Anglo-Capeverdean contacts in the wider context of transatlantic trade, such connections nonetheless acquired an essential role for the economy and society of Cape Verde.

Within the chronologic scope investigated here, the British had the most influential and long-lasting foreign commercial and naval presence on the Cape Verde archipelago, stretching well into the first decades of the twentieth century. But, because the nature of Anglo-Capeverdean relations changed considerably with the transition from slave trading to legitimate commerce, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will not be the focus here. In the late nineteenth century, Cape Verde became a maritime outpost for British transoceanic steaming ships, a supplier of mineral coal, and a coaling station at Porto Grande of Mindelo on S. Vicente island.1 Thus began a different chapter in the relations between the British and Cape Verdeans.

The theme under investigation is a particularly difficult one to deal with. The sources in Portuguese that relate to this colonial space are quite poor. Most relate to a political context, focusing on matters such as daily administration, political and institutional rivalries, military infrastructures, illegalities in offices, and late payment of wages. Rarely do they provide information concerning the Capeverdean people, including their daily life, habits, lifestyles, religious practices, or language. As a result, we must turn to information in non-Portuguese sources. English authors like the privateer William Dampier and the small trader George Roberts [End Page 129] Verde wrote more about Cape Verde and Capeverdean people in a few pages than we can find in dozens of Portuguese documents. To be sure, some, as in the case of Dampier, contain information amidst much fiction,2 a trend that worsened as the archipelago of Cape Verde became peripheral or even ultra-peripheral to the main African slave routes from the second half of the sixteenth century onwards. Even information on trade, excluding quantitative data, the origin and destination of ships, the names of traders and agents involved, and trade routes is usually quite imprecise and vague.

Atlantic archipelagos are places of intricate surroundings with which they interact directly or indirectly. From the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, Cape Verde was integrated into the Atlantic world. In these small islands converged routes that linked them to Senegambia,3 northern Atlantic archipelagos, Portugal, Spain, France, England, the Netherlands, and their respective colonies in the West Indies, Brazil, the Antilles, the Caribbean, and finally North America.4

From the very beginning, Capeverdean society emerged in the last decades of the fifteenth century on a relational based model built upon its geostrategic position in the central Atlantic. Its core was “Guinea of Cape Verde” and the “Capeverdean-Guinean” world.5 Soon, this society developed an active external commerce, particularly the slave trade, first directed to the Iberian Peninsula and afterwards to the Castile Indies.6 By the middle of the sixteenth century, the Capeverdean-Guinean connection was the main articulation between the two Iberian empires.7 Furthermore, Cape Verde was an obligatory stop of the maritime trade route to India and later to Brazil.8 The prime position of Capeverdean traders in the Senegambian slave trade was built based on privileges conceded by the Portuguese crown in 1466, assuring them a legal monopoly under the doctrine of mareclausum.9 These insular merchants acquired a profound understanding of African markets and local commercial practices, knowledge that ensured them preferential status as agents, brokers and main providers of the Senegambia slave trade to Portugal, Spain and afterwards to the Castile Indies. The Island of Santiago, in turn, became the main fiscal point of the African trade.

In Santiago and Fogo, the first islands occupied by the Portuguese, different nationalities and...


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pp. 129-146
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