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Commercial Agriculture, the Slave Trade and Slavery in Atlantic Africa

Commercial Agriculture, the Slave Trade and Slavery in Atlantic Africa

Robin Law
Suzanne Schwarz
Silke Strickrodt
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 270
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  • Book Info
    Commercial Agriculture, the Slave Trade and Slavery in Atlantic Africa
    Book Description:

    This book presents a new perspective on the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery in Western Africa itself, through its examination of the role of commercial agriculture. The idea of promoting the export of agricultural produce from Africa first became central to European thought in the context of the campaign to end the trans-Atlantic slave trade from the late eighteenth century. The eleven essays in this book explore this issue, re-appraising the links between slavery and colonialism and the rise of 'legitimate commerce' which marked the beginnings of economic 'modernity' in West Africa. The development of commercial agriculture in West Africa began with Danish attempts to establish plantations on the Gold Coast (Ghana) from 1788, followed by the British colony of Sierra Leone, after it was taken over by the Sierra Leone Company in 1791. The slave trade itself is also seen to have stimulated commercial agriculture in West Africa, to supply provisions for slave ships in the Middle Passage, and the experience of this trade in provisions may have facilitated the development of other export crops from the nineteenth century onwards. Commercial agriculture was also linked to slavery within Africa, since slaves were widely employed there in agricultural production. Although Abolitionists expected or hoped production of export crops in Africa would be based on free labour, in practice it often tended to promote more extensive and intensive use of slave labour, so that the institution of slavery in Africa persisted into the early colonial period. Robin Law is Emeritus Professor of African History, University of Stirling; Suzanne Schwarz is Professor of History, University of Worcester; Silke Strickrodt is Research Fellow in Colonial History, German Institute of Historical Research, London.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-178-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. x-xi)
  5. List of Maps, Tables & Figures
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  7. MAP
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-27)

    This volume presents a selection of papers from a conference held at the German Historical Institute London (GHIL), in September 2010, on the topic of ‘Commercial Agriculture in Africa as an Alternative to the Slave Trade’. This Introduction begins by situating this topic in its context within the history and historiography of western Africa.¹

    The idea of promoting the export of agricultural produce from Africa first became central to European thought in the context of the campaign to end the trans-Atlantic slave trade from the late eighteenth century onwards, with actual projects on the ground in West Africa beginning with...

  9. 1 The slave trade & commercial agriculture in an African context
    (pp. 28-53)

    What is commercial agriculture? For present purposes two types come to mind: one that produces for local markets (where the output is sold within say 50 km of the point of production) and the other that is able to supply markets further afield. We can assume that before low-cost sea or inland waterway transportation developed, the populations of large cities everywhere survived on the basis of local commercial agriculture. In that sense, commercial agriculture in Africa, as in the rest of the world, must go back almost to the point where human beings began to draw most of their sustenance...

  10. 2 São Tomé & Príncipe: The first plantation economy in the tropics
    (pp. 54-78)

    On two occasions the small archipelago of São Tomé and Príncipe, a former Portuguese colony located in the Gulf of Guinea, played an important role in the history of tropical commercial agriculture. During the Age of Discoveries, in the sixteenth century, the islands became a major sugar-producer and the first plantation economy in the tropics. After some two centuries of economic decay, in the mid-nineteenth century, the archipelago emerged as Africa’s first cocoa-producer and in the early twentieth century, for a few years, even became the world’s largest cocoa-producer. This paper focuses on the first period which coincided with the...

  11. 3 The export of rice & millet from Upper Guinea into the sixteenth-century Atlantic trade
    (pp. 79-97)

    The connection of Atlantic slavery to production is a topic of importance to the early modern history of Atlantic Africa, a subject which after a couple of decades of neglect is now being studied with renewed concentration by historians. The legacy of the nineteenth-century transition to ‘legitimate’ trade and the imposition of a cash-crop economy not only involved a rupture from preceding mixed agricultural economies but also the obscuring of how these economies operated and how they interacted with and were related to the expansion of Atlantic trade from the fifteenth century onwards.¹ New studies, located primarily in Upper Guinea,...

  12. 4 ‘Our indico designe’: Planting & processing indigo for export, Upper Guinea Coast, 1684–1702
    (pp. 98-115)

    Indigo was a major trade commodity in antiquity and in the Indian Ocean trade, as one of the dyestuffs falling under the generic categories of ‘spices’ or ‘drugs’. It continued to be important in the era of Atlantic trade as planters in the Americas vied with the Mughal Empire and other Asian indigo producers for a competitive edge in world markets. Dyeing with natural substances, which were often extremely variable in quality, was highly skilled work, often looked upon as an ‘art’ or a ‘mystery’ that few could master.² But with the chemical revolutions of the late nineteenth and early...

  13. 5 ‘There’s nothing grows in the West Indies but will grow here’: Dutch and English projects of plantation agriculture on the Gold Coast, 1650s–1780s
    (pp. 116-137)

    The idea of the promotion of commercial agriculture in West Africa as a substitute for the export of slaves is familiar in the context of the Abolitionist movement, from the late eighteenth century onwards. But the alternative of employing slaves in cultivation in Africa, rather than transporting them to the Americas, existed from the beginning of maritime contacts between sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. Most if not all of the crops enslaved Africans were employed to cultivate in the Americas could also be grown in West Africa. Of the crops grown on American plantations, some were not introduced into West Africa...

  14. 6 The origins of ‘legitimate commerce’
    (pp. 138-157)

    Where did the idea of ‘legitimate commerce’ come from? At first glance, there would seem to be a simple answer to this question. The Abolitionists, it would appear, invented the idea of legitimate commerce to justify slave trade abolition, to make an economic case for a moral cause. No one championed the transition in the African trade from slaves to staple crops with more ardour. After the formation of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787, the economic potential of legitimate commerce became a point of emphasis among the Abolitionists, figuring centrally thereafter in Abolitionist...

  15. 7 A Danish experiment in commercial agriculture on the Gold Coast, 1788–93
    (pp. 158-179)

    Denmark was an active player in the Atlantic slave trade and responsible for the export of about 100,000 slaves from West Africa in the period 1660–1806.² From the end of the seventeenth century Danish trade centred at Christiansborg Castle in Accra, and by the mid-1780s the Danes could operate from a string of forts along the coast from Accra east to the Volta and beyond: Christiansborg, Fredensborg at Ningo, Kongensten at Ada, and Prindsensten at Keta. The early 1780s had been a boom period for Danish trade, which also sustained geographical expansion of activities on the Coast. By the...

  16. 8 ‘The Colony has made no progress in agriculture’: Contested perceptions of agriculture in the colonies of Sierra Leone & Liberia
    (pp. 180-202)

    In founding Liberia and Sierra Leone, anti-slavery colonizationists in Britain and America built on the dreams and ambitions of centuries of agricultural planning for Africa. They hoped to establish self-sufficient colonies that would contribute to the production of tropical goods for import into the metropole (‘legitimate commerce’), bases from which to operate against the slave trade, and refuges for freed slaves.¹ From the start, however, the many advocates of legitimate commerce in both countries were disappointed by the colonists’ apparent lack of enthusiasm for plantation agriculture and the failure of their mission in spreading agriculture to the indigenous Africans. Agriculture...

  17. 9 Church Missionary Society projects of agricultural improvement in nineteenth-century Sierra Leone & Yorubaland
    (pp. 203-224)

    The campaign in Great Britain for the legal abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, from the last quarter of the eighteenth century onwards, always had issues of morality as its central focus. However, during the same period of time that the Abolitionists gradually inched towards their goal of eliminating the trade, the prospect of replacing it with a ‘legitimate’ one in agricultural produce from Africa also featured prominently in their arguments. Curiously, when the idea of commercial agriculture as a replacement for the trade in human beings became prominent in the struggle it did not excite the same vigorous debate...

  18. 10 Agricultural enterprise & unfree labour in nineteenth-century Angola
    (pp. 225-242)

    This chapter analyses Portuguese attempts to strengthen colonial ties with Angola by promoting agricultural activities in its African colony between the 1830s and 1860s. Recently, Seymour Drescher has argued that the abolition of the slave trade was not part of British imperialist aspirations towards Africa and that the end of the slave trade did not lay the groundwork for colonial rule over Africa.¹ While this statement might be true in the case of the British, it did not apply to another colonial power with long ties to Africa: Portugal. In the first half of the nineteenth century, as the movement...

  19. 11 Commercial agriculture & the ending of slave-trading and slavery in West Africa, 1780s–1920s
    (pp. 243-265)

    This chapter reconsiders two turning-points in the economic and social transition from human to agricultural commodities as the principal exports of West Africa. Discussion of this process usually focuses on the first half of the nineteenth century, featuring British abolition and the growth of ‘legitimate commerce’ in the form of palm-oil and groundnut exports. It will be argued here that the chronological scope should be lengthened, at both ends of the story. For the beginning, I propose a shift in focus from 1807, the year the most powerful of the slave-trading countries embarked upon abolition, to 1787, when the volume...

  20. Index
    (pp. 266-272)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-273)