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  • European Slave Trading in the Indian Ocean, 1500–1850 by Richard B. Allen
  • Markus Vink
European Slave Trading in the Indian Ocean, 1500–1850. By richard b. allen. Indian Ocean Studies Series 1. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2015. 378 pp. $90.00 (cloth); $34.95 (paper).

This book is the groundbreaking volume in the new Indian Ocean Studies Series published by Ohio University Press. The avowed aim of the author and series editor, Richard B. Allen, a specialist on the social and economic history of Mauritius as well as slavery and indentured labor in the Indian Ocean and colonial plantation worlds, is to “accord the Mare Indicum its proper place in slavery studies” (p. xi). It is prompted by two professional concerns: the continuing reluctance of many historians of slavery, slave trading, and abolition to look beyond the confines of the Atlantic, and the absence of a more comprehensive picture of the European slave-trading experience in the Indian Ocean in its appropriate regional and global contexts (pp. 4, 100). Relying heavily on British and Mauritian archival sources, Allen’s study of the “world’s oldest trade” in the “oldest of the seas in history”8 reflects his own considerable expertise, complemented by a comprehensive overview of the state of the field, warts and all. It emphasizes the British and French experiences in the western Indian Ocean (most notably the Mascarene Islands in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries) while only partially exploring the large-scale Portuguese and Dutch slave trades and calling on others to fill the existing lacunae (p. xii).9

The book consists of a preface, six chapters, four appendices, almost one hundred pages of notes, an extensive bibliography, and an index, along with four maps and twenty tables. Chapter 1, “Satisfying the Demand for Laboring People, 1500–1850,” provides a cursory overview of the Portuguese, Dutch, British, and French slave trades between 1500 and 1850, which involved, based on “incomplete and problematic evidence,” at least 954,000 to 1,275,900 slaves within and beyond the Indian Ocean basin (p. 24). The current state of knowledge, Allen asserts, makes assessing the impact on indigenous societies, economies, and politics a “complicated and potentially contentious exercise” (p. 19). [End Page 139]

Chapter 2, “The British East India Company (EIC) and the Trade in Stout Coffree Men, 1621–1804,” focuses on the activities of the EIC from the first reports of its trading in Malagasy/“Coffree” slaves in the 1620s to “the last known instance” of British officials in the region purchasing slaves in 1804 (p. 36). Allen argues that the EIC’s involvement in slave trading, assiduously micromanaged by the directors, remained “exceedingly modest” accounting for a maximum of only 3.6 to 4.6 percent trafficked by Europeans from 1500 to circa 1850 (p. 59).

Chapter 3, “Satisfying the Constant Demand of the French, 1670–1810,” discusses how the French trading of as many as 243,000 African, Malagasy, Southeast Asian, and Indian slaves (p. 64) was intimately bound up with the coloniƵation of the Mascarenes and these islands’ steadily increasing strategic and commercial importance during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It also demonstrates the overlapping and closely intertwined European (and Asian) slave-trading networks and their intersections in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans (pp. 105–107).

Chapter 4, “Carrying Away the Unfortunate from India and Southeast Asia, 1500–1800,” examines the exportation of 350,000–484,000 Indian and “Malay” slaves by Europeans, both directly and indirectly, from India and Southeast Asia between 1500 and 1830 (p. 136). Interacting with and conforming to preexisting systems of slavery, Indians reached European settlements and colonies in the wider Indian Ocean world, while “Malay” slaves remained largely within Southeast Asia (pp. 127–128).

Chapter 5, “The Mascarenes and the Disgraceful Traffic in Chattel Labor, 1811–1835,” chronicles how abolition of the British and French slave trades early in the nineteenth century turned Mauritius, Réunion, and the Seychelles into clandestine slave-trading centers, importing 122,000–149,000 slaves (pp. 145, 149, 175). The islands also served as an “important early test case” for British and eventually French abolitionism and the “critical laboratory” for...


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