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Kongo Slaves: Dutch Atlantic

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KONGO SLAVES

5. Dutch Atlantic

In 1642 the Netherlands strode the Atlantic. The Groote Desseyn (grand design) of the Dutch West Indische Compagnie (founded 1621) was to seize Portuguese territories in South America and West Africa, secure control of both sugar and slave trades, and reap huge profits for home investors. 

At the height of their naval power, the United Provinces seemed near their goal. Dutch 'possessions' included the sugar plantations of Portuguese Brazil and the slaving networks of Portuguese Angola. Yet within a few decades their ascendancy was gone. By 1674 the West India Company was bankrupt, and Brazil and Angola were back under Portugal's rule.

What was left was less impressive -- a handful of remote and generally unprofitable outposts in the tropics and some slave trade 'castles' along the African coast which were expensive to maintain. However, there were a couple of surviving arrangements from their 'golden days' that might prove rewardi…

Kongo Slaves: Angola Coast

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KONGO SLAVES

4. Angola Coast

The latter part of the 1600s can be overlooked as an 'interim' period, when slave numbers transported over the Atlantic reduced from the asiento peak. A time when Africa and the Americas 'drew breath' before the mighty, manic surge of slave trading resumed in the 1700s. In this frame of mind it is easy to miss the fundamental changes that occurred from 1650 to 1700, changes that defined the possibilities and set the pattern for much of what would follow in the next century.

In the previous study on the Portuguese-Spanish asiento, the politics of the slave trade regions were fairly stable. West Central Africa, the 'Angola Coast', was a 'private pool' of slave supply for the Portuguese. In Central America, the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico formed a virtual Spanish lake of slave demand. 

In the period of this next study, these two complementary, imperial monopolies were challenged by competitors from the Netherlands, England, and Fr…

Kongo Slaves: Spanish Americas

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KONGO SLAVES

4:  Spanish Americas

In the decades between 1580 and 1650, an estimated total of 289,531 slaves departed West Central Africa on board 820 ships. The great majority of these captives, 207,843, were intended for the Spanish Americas. A minor portion, 81,688, were bound for other destinations such as Portuguese Brazil. But an astonishing one fifth of them, 57,763, did not arrive anywhere at all, having died during the passage and their bodies flung overboard.(1)

In the late 1580s the Portuguese and Spanish Crowns were combined, a political union that lasted until they split again in 1640. Having a ruler in common opened up opportunities for commercial cooperation between the two nations and their overseas interests. Spain claimed enormous territories in America but lacked a 'disciplined' labour force to exploit them. Portugal on the other hand had established trading posts along the African coast with access to an apparently limitless supply of 'enslavable' peop…

Kongo Slaves: African Traders

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KONGO SLAVES

3. African Traders

Four main 'staples' traded in the hinterland of Angola Coast were salt, copper, cloth, and slaves. In the 1500s these goods, and foodstuffs sold locally, were paid for in nzimbu shells (kingdom of Kongo) or nkudimba cloth (colony of Angola). By the 1600s most prices, including tolls and taxes, were calculated according the dominant unit of value - 'a piece of Indies', equivalent to one male adult slave.

In the relatively balanced economy of the seventeenth century, 'commodities' produced in one area, near the sea, next to ore deposits, where raffia palms grew, or from expansionary wars, were marketed in areas that did not have those 'natural' advantages. Growing reliance by ruling African elites on European 'luxury' imports, like muskets, powder and shot, wines and spirits, education (in Portugal), or religion (in Kongo), seriously altered this balance. In the seventeenth century, the Portuguese desire for slaves had…