The Negro, by W.E.B. Du Bois, , at sacred-texts.com
Color was never a badge of slavery in the ancient or medieval world, nor has it been in the modern world outside of Christian states. Homer sings of a black man, a "reverend herald"
Greece and Rome had their chief supplies of slaves from Europe and Asia. Egypt enslaved races of all colors, and if there were more blacks than others among her slaves, there were also more blacks among her nobles and Pharaohs, and both facts are explained by her racial origin and geographical position. The fall of Rome led to a cessation of the slave trade, but after a long interval came the white slave trade of the Saracens and Moors, and finally the modern trade in Negroes.
Slavery as it exists universally among primitive people is a system whereby captives in war are put to tasks about the homes and in the fields, thus releasing the warriors for systematic fighting and the women for leisure. Such slavery has been common among all peoples and was wide-spread in Africa. The relative number of African slaves under these conditions was small and the labor not hard; they were members of the family and might and did often rise to high position in the tribe.
Remembering that in the fifteenth century there was no great disparity between the civilization of Negroland and that of Europe, what made the striking difference in subsequent development? European civilization, cut off by physical barriers from further incursions of barbaric races, settled more and more to systematic industry and
to the domination of one religion; African culture and industries were threatened by powerful barbarians from the west and central regions of the continent and by the Moors in the north, and Islam had only partially converted the leading peoples.
When, therefore, a demand for workmen arose in America, European exportation was limited by religious ties and economic stability. African exportation was encouraged not simply by the Christian attitude toward heathen, but also by the Moslem enmity toward the unconverted Negroes. Two great modern religions, therefore, agreed at least in the policy of enslaving heathen blacks, while the overthrow of black Askias by the Moors at Tenkadibou brought that economic chaos among the advanced Negro peoples and movement among the more barbarous tribes which proved of prime advantage to the development of a systematic trade in men.
The modern slave trade began with the Mohammedan conquests in Africa, when heathen Negroes were seized to supply the harems, and as soldiers and servants. They were bought from the masters and seized in war, until the growing wealth and luxury of the conquerors demanded larger numbers. Then Negroes from the Egyptian Sudan, Abyssinia, and Zanzibar began to pass into Arabia, Persia, and India in increased numbers. As Negro kingdoms and tribes rose to power they found the slave trade lucrative and natural, since the raids in which slaves were captured were ordinary inter-tribal wars. It was not until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that the demand for slaves in Christian lands made slaves the object, and not the incident, of African wars.
In Mohammedan countries there were gleams of hope in slavery. In fiction and in truth the black slave had a chance. Once converted to Islam, he became a brother to the best, and the brotherhood of the faith was not the sort of idle lie that Christian slave masters made it. In Arabia black leaders arose like Antar; in India black slaves carved out principalities where their descendants still rule.
Some Negro slaves were brought to Europe by the Spaniards in the fourteenth century, and a small trade was continued by the Portuguese, who conquered territory from the "tawny" Moors of North Africa in the early fifteenth century. Later, after their severe repulse at Al-Kasr-Al-Kabu, the Portuguese began to creep down the west coast in quest of trade. They reached the River of Gold in 1441, and their story is that their leader seized certain free Moors and the next year exchanged them for ten black slaves, a target of hide,
ostrich eggs, and some gold dust. The trade was easily justified on the ground that the Moors were Mohammedans and refused to be converted to Christianity, while heathen Negroes would be better subjects for conversion and stronger laborers. In the next few years a small number of Negroes continued to be imported into Spain and Portugal as servants. We find, for instance, in 1474, that Negro slaves were common in Seville. There is a letter from Ferdinand and Isabella in the year 1474 to a celebrated Negro, Juan de Valladolid, commonly called the "Negro Count", (El Conde Negro), nominating him to the office of "Mayoral of the Negroes" in Seville. The slaves were apparently treated kindly, allowed to keep their own dances and festivals, and to have their own chief, who represented them in the courts, as against their own masters, and settled their private quarrels.
Between 1455 and 1492 little mention is made of slaves in the trade with Africa. Columbus is said to have suggested Negroes for America, but Ferdinand and Isabella refused. Nevertheless, by 1501, we have the first incidental mention of Negroes going to America in a declaration that Negro slaves "born in the power of Christians were to be allowed to pass to the Indies, and the officers of the royal revenue were to receive the money to be paid for their permits."
About 1501 Ovando, Governor of Spanish America, was objecting to Negro slaves and "solicited that no Negro slaves should be sent to Hispaniola, for they fled amongst the Indians and taught them bad customs, and never could be captured." Nevertheless a letter from the king to Ovando, dated Segovia, the fifteenth of September, 1505, says, "I will send more Negro slaves as you request; I think there may be a hundred. At each time a trustworthy person will go with them who may have some share in the gold they may collect and may promise them ease if they work well." 1 There is a record of a hundred slaves being sent out this very year, and Diego Columbus was notified of fifty to he sent from Seville for the mines in 1510.
After this time frequent notices show that Negroes were common in the new world. 2 When Pizarro, for instance, had been slain in Peru, his body was dragged to the cathedral by two Negroes. After the battle of Anaquito the head of the viceroy was cut off by a Negro, and during the great earthquake in Guatemala a most remarkable figure was a gigantic Negro seen in various parts of the city.
[paragraph continues] Nunez had thirty Negroes with him on the top of the Sierras, and there was rumor of an aboriginal tribe of Negroes in South America. One of the last acts of King Ferdinand was to urge that no more Negroes be sent to the West Indies, but under Charles V, Bishop Las Casas drew up a plan of assisted migration to America and asked in 1517 the right for immigrants to import twelve Negro slaves, in return for which the Indians were to be freed.
Las Casas, writing in his old age, owns his error: "This advice that license should be given to bring Negro slaves to these lands, the Clerigo Casas first gave, not considering the injustice with which the Portuguese take them and make them slaves; which advice, after he had apprehended the nature of the thing, be would not have given for all he had in the world. For he always held that they had been made slaves unjustly and tyrannically; for the same reason holds good of them as of the Indians." 1
As soon as the plan was broached a Savoyard, Lorens de Gomenot, Governor of Bresa, obtained a monopoly of this proposed trade and shrewdly sold it to the Genoese for twenty-five thousand ducats. Other monopolies were granted in 1523, 1527, and 1528. 2 Thus the American trade became established and gradually grew, passing successively into the hands of the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, and the English.
At first the trade was of the same kind and volume as that already passing northward over the desert routes. Soon, however, the American trade developed. A strong, unchecked demand for brute labor in the West Indies and on the continent of America grew until it culminated in the eighteenth century, when Negro slaves were crossing the Atlantic at the rate of fifty to one hundred thousand a year. This called for slave raiding on a scale that drew upon every part of Africa--upon the west coast, the western and Egyptian Sudan, the valley of the Congo, Abyssinia, the lake regions, the east coast, and Madagascar. Not simply the degraded and weaker types of Negroes were seized, but the strong Bantu, the Mandingo and Songhay, the Nubian and Nile Negroes, the Fula, and even the Asiatic Malay, were represented in the raids.
There was thus begun in modern days a new slavery and slave trade. It was different from that of the past, because 'more and more it came in time to be founded on racial caste, and this caste was
made the foundation of a new industrial system. For four hundred years, from 1450 to 1850, European civilization carried on a systematic trade in human beings of such tremendous proportions that the physical, economic, and moral effects are still plainly to be remarked throughout the world. To this must be added the large slave trade of Mussulman lands, which began with the seventh century and raged almost unchecked until the end of the nineteenth century.
These were not days of decadence, but a period that gave the world Shakespeare, Martin Luther, and Raphael, Haroun-al-Raschid and Abraham Lincoln. It was the day of the greatest expansion of two of the world's most pretentious religions and of the beginnings of the modern organization of industry. In the midst of this advance and uplift this slave trade and slavery spread more human misery, inculcated more disrespect for and neglect of humanity, a greater callousness to suffering, and more petty, cruel, human hatred than can well be calculated. We may excuse and palliate it, and write history so as to let men forget it; it remains the most inexcusable and despicable blot on modern human history.
The Portuguese built the first slave-trading fort at Elmina, on the Gold Coast, in 1482, and extended their trade down the west coast and up the east coast. Under them the abominable traffic grew larger and larger, until it became far the most important in money value of all the commerce of the Zambesi basin. There could be no extension of agriculture, no mining, no progress of any kind where it was so extensively carried on. 1
It was the Dutch, however, who launched the oversea slave trade as a regular institution. They began their fight for freedom from Spain in 1579; in 1595, as a war measure against Spain, who at that time was dominating Portugal, they made their first voyage to Guinea. By 1621 they had captured Portugal's various slave forts on the west coast and they proceeded to open sixteen forts along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. Ships sailed from Holland to Africa, got slaves in exchange for their goods, carried the slaves to the West Indies or Brazil, and returned home laden with sugar. In 1621 the private companies trading in the west were all merged into the Dutch West India Company, which sent in four years fifteen thousand four hundred and thirty Negroes to Brazil, carried on war with Spain, supplied even the English plantations, and gradually became the great slave carrier of the day.
The commercial supremacy of the Dutch early excited the envy and emulation of the English. The Navigation Ordinance of 1651 was aimed at them, and two wars were necessary to wrest the slave trade from them and place it in the hands of the English. The final terms of peace, among other things, surrendered New Netherlands to England and opened the way for England to become henceforth the world's greatest slave trader.
The English trade began with Sir John Hawkins' voyages in 1562 and later, in which "the Jesus, our chiefe shippe" played a leading part. Desultory trade was kept up by the English until the middle of the seventeenth century, when English chartered slave-trading companies began to appear. In 1662 the "Royal Adventurers," including the king, the queen dowager, and the Duke of York, invested in the trade, and finally the Royal African Company, which became the world's chief slave trader, was formed in 1672 and carried on a growing trade for a quarter of a century. Jamaica had finally been captured and held by Oliver Cromwell in 1655 and formed a West Indian base for the trade in men.
The chief contract for trade in Negroes was the celebrated "Asiento" or agreement of the King of Spain to the importation of slaves into Spanish domains. The Pope's Bull or Demarkation, 1493, debarred Spain from African possessions, and compelled her to contract with other nations for slaves, This contract was in the hands of the Portuguese in 1600; in 1640 the Dutch received it, and in 1701 the French. The War of the Spanish Succession brought this monopoly to England.
This Asiento of 1713 was an agreement between England and Spain by which the latter granted the former a monopoly of the Spanish colonial slave trade for thirty years, and England engaged to supply the colonies within that time with at least one hundred and forty-four thousand slaves at the rate of forty-eight hundred per year. The English counted this prize as the greatest result of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), which ended the mighty struggle against the power of Louis XIV. The English held the monopoly until the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), although they had to go to war over it in 1739.
From this agreement the slave traders reaped a harvest. The trade centered at Liverpool, and that city's commercial greatness was built largely on this foundation. In 1709 it sent out one slaver of thirty tons' burden; encouraged by Parliamentary subsidies which
amounted to nearly half a million dollars between 1729 and 1750, the trade amounted to fifty-three ships in 1751; eighty-six in 1765, and at the beginning of the nineteenth century one hundred and eighty-five, which carried forty-nine thousand two hundred and thirteen slaves in one year.
The slave trade thus begun by the Portuguese, enlarged by the Dutch, and carried to its culmination by. the English centered on the west coast near the seat of perhaps the oldest and most interesting culture of Africa. It came at a critical time. The culture of Yoruba, Benin, Mossiland, and Nupe had exhausted itself in a desperate attempt to stem the on-coming flood of Mohammedan culture. It has succeeded in maintaining its small, loosely federated city-states suited to trade, industry, and art. It had developed strong resistance toward the Sudan state builders toward the north, as in the case of the fighting Mossi; but behind this warlike resistance Jay the peaceful city life which gave industrial ideas to Byzantium and shared something of Ethiopian and Mediterranean culture.
The first advent of the slave traders increased and encouraged native industry, as is evidenced by the bronze work of Benin; but soon this was pushed into the background, for it was not bronze metal but bronze flesh that Europe wanted. A new tyranny, bloodthirsty, cruel, and built on war, forced itself forward in the Niger delta. The powerful state of Dahomey arose early in the eighteenth century and became a devastating tyranny, reaching its highest power early in the nineteenth century. Ashanti, a similar kingdom, began its conquests in 1719 and grew with the slave trade. Thus state building in West Africa began to replace the city economy, but it was a state built on war and on war supported and encouraged largely for the sake of trade in human flesh. The native industries were changed and disorganized. Family ties and government were weakened. Far into the heart of Africa this devilish disintegration, coupled with Christian rum and Mohammedan raiding, penetrated. The face of Africa was turned south on these slave traders instead of northward toward the Mediterranean, where for two thousand years and more Europe and Africa had met in legitimate trade and mutual respect. The full significance of the battle of Tenkadibou, which overthrew the Askias, was now clear, Hereafter Africa for centuries was to appear before the world, not as the land of gold and ivory, of Mansa Musa and Meroe, but as a bound and captive slave, dumb and degraded.
The natural desire to avoid a painful subject has led historians to gloss over the details of the slave trade and leave the impression that it was a local west-coast phenomenon and confined to a few years. It was, on the contrary, continent wide and centuries long and an economic, social, and political catastrophe probably unparalleled in human history.
The exact proportions of the slave trade can be estimated only approximately. From 1680 to 1688 we know that the English African Company alone sent 249 ships to Africa, shipped there 60,783 Negro slaves, and after losing 14,387 on the middle passage, delivered 46,396 in America.
It seems probable that 25,000 Negroes a year arrived in America between 1698 and 1707. After the Asiento of 1713 this number rose to 30,000 annually, and before the Revolutionary War it had reached at least 40,000 and perhaps 100,000 slaves a year.
The total number of slaves imported is not known. Dunbar estimates that nearly 900,000 came to America in the sixteenth century, 2,750,000 in the seventeenth, 7,000,000 in the eighteenth, and over 4,000,000 in the nineteenth, perhaps 15,000,000 in all. Certainly it seems that at least 10,000,000 Negroes were expatriated. Probably every slave imported represented on the average five corpses in Africa or on the high seas. The American slave trade, therefore, meant the elimination of at least 60,000,000 Negroes from their fatherland. The Mohammedan slave trade meant the expatriation or forcible migration in Africa of nearly as many more. It would be conservative, then, to say that the slave trade cost Negro Africa 100,000,000 souls. And yet people ask to-day the cause of the stagnation of culture in that land since 1600!
Such a large number of slaves could be supplied only by organized slave raiding in every comer of Africa. The African continent gradually became revolutionized. Whole regions were depopulated, whole tribes disappeared; villages were built in caves and on bills or in forest fastnesses; the character of peoples like those of Benin developed their worst excesses of cruelty instead of the already flourishing arts of peace. The dark, irresistible grasp of fetish took firmer hold on men's minds.
Further advances toward civilization became impossible. Not only was there the immense demand for slaves which had its outlet on the west coast, but the slave caravans were streaming up through the desert to the Mediterranean coast and down the valley of the Nile
to the centers of Mohammedanism. It was a rape of a continent to an extent never paralleled in ancient or modern times.
In the American trade there was not only the horrors of the slave raid, which lined the winding paths of the African jungles with bleached bones, but there was also the horrors of what was called the "middle passage," that is, the voyage across the Atlantic. As Sir William Dolben said, "The Negroes were chained to each other hand and foot, and stowed so close that they were not allowed above a foot and a half for each in breadth. Thus crammed together like herrings in a barrel, they contracted putrid and fatal disorders; so that they who came to inspect them in a morning had occasionally to pick dead slaves out of their rows, and to unchain their carcases from the bodies of their wretched fellow-sufferers to whom they had been fastened." 1
It was estimated that out of every one hundred lot shipped from Africa only about fifty lived to be effective laborers across the sea, and among the whites more seamen died in that trade in one year than in the whole remaining trade of England in two. The full realization of the horrors of the slave trade was slow in reaching the ears and conscience of the modern world, just as to-day the treatment of dark natives in European colonies is brought to publicity with the greatest difficulty. The first move against the slave trade in England came in Parliament in 1776, but it was not until thirty-one years later, in 1807, that the trade was banned through the arduous labors of Clarkson, Wilberforce, Sharpe, and others.
Denmark had already abolished the trade, and the United States attempted to do so the following year. Portugal and Spain were induced to abolish the trade between 1815 and 1830. Notwithstanding these laws, the contraband trade went on until the beginning of the Civil War in America. The reasons for this were the enormous profit of the trade and the continued demand of the American slave barons who had no sympathy with the efforts to stop their source of cheap labor supply.
However, philanthropy was not working alone to overthrow Negro slavery and the slave trade. It was seen, first in England and later in other countries, that slavery as an industrial system could not be made to work satisfactorily in modern times. Its cost was too great, and one of the causes of this cost was the slave insurrections
from the very beginning, when the slaves rose on the plantation of Diego Columbus down to the Civil War in America. Actual and potential slave insurrection in the West Indies, in North and South America, kept the slave owners in apprehension and turmoil, or called for a police system difficult to maintain. In North America revolt finally took the form of organized running away to the North, and this, with the growing scarcity of suitable land and the moral revolt, led to the Civil War and the disappearance of the American slave trade.
There was still, however, the Mohammedan slave trade to deal with, and this has been the work of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century ten thousand slaves annually were being distributed on the southern and eastern coast of the Mediterranean and at the great slave market in Bornu.
On the east coast of Africa in 186z nineteen thousand slaves were passed into Zanzibar and thence into Arabia and Persia. As late as 1880, three thousand annually were being thus transplanted, but now the trade is about stopped. To-day the only centers of actual slave trading may be said to be the cocoa plantations of the Portuguese Islands on the west coast of Africa, and the Congo Free State.
Such is the story of the Rape of Ethiopia--a sordid, pitiful, cruel tale. Raphael painted, Luther preached, Corneille wrote, and Milton sung; and through it all, for four hundred years, the dark captives wound to the sea amid the bleaching bones of the dead; for four hundred years the sharks followed the scurrying ships; for four hundred years America was strewn with the living and dying millions of a transplanted race; for four hundred years Ethiopia stretched forth her hands unto God.
88:1 Cf. Helps: Spanish Conquest, IV, 401.
88:2 Helps, op. cit., I, 219-220.
89:1 Helps, op. cit., II, 18-19.
89:2 Helps, op. cit., III, 211-212.
90:1 Theal: History and Ethnography of South Africa before 1795, I, 476.
94:1 Ingram: History of Slavery, p. 112.