African Complicity in the Slave Trade

I have to deal with this issue so often I need to just make a source page for it.


K.G. Davies states in his The Royal African Company,

“At any time the native population by sheer weight of numbers could have taken all but the strongest forts. That they seldom did so is an indication less of white strength, more of negro disunion, and more still of the advantages which the Africans themselves (or some of them) thought they derived from the presence of European traders.”

William O. Blake, The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade, Ancient and Modern, pages 99-102,

“European skill and foresight assisted in giving constancy and regularity to the supply of negroes from the interior. At first the slave vessels only visited the Guinea coast, and bargained with the negroes of the villages there for what quantity of wax, or gold, or negroes they had to give. But this was a clumsy way of conducting business. The ships had to sail along a large tract of coast, picking up a few negroes at one place, and a little ivory or gold at another; sometimes even the natives of a village might have no elephants’ teeth and no negroes to give; and even under the most favorable circumstances, it took a considerable time to procure a decent cargo. No coast is so pestilential as that of Africa, and hence the service was very repulsive and very dangerous. As an improvement on this method of trading, the plan was adopted very early of planting small settlements of Europeans at intervals along the slave-coast, whose business it should be to negotiate with the negroes, stimulate them to activity in their slave-hunting expeditions, purchase the slaves brought in, and warehouse them until the arrival of the ships. These settlements were called slave factories. Factories of this kind were planted all along the western coast from Cape Verd to the equator, by English, French, Dutch, and Portuguese traders. [Not Southerners?-DS] Their appearance, the character of the men employed in them, their internal arrangements, and their mode of carrying on the traffic, are well described in the following extract from Mr. Howison’s book on “European Colonies”: “As soon as the parties concerned had fixed upon the site of their proposed commercial establishment, they began to erect a fort of greater or less magnitude, having previously obtained permission to that effect from the natives. The most convenient situation for a building of the kind was considered to be at the confluence of a river with the sea, or upon an island lying within a few miles of the coast. In the first case, there was the advantage of inland navigation; and in the second, that of the security and defensibleness of an insular position, besides its being more cool and healthy than any other. The walls of the fort enclosed a considerable space of ground, upon which were built the necessary magazines for the reception of merchandise, and also barracks for the soldiers and artificers, and a depot for slaves; so that, in the ‘event of external hostilities, the gates might be shut, and the persons and the property belonging to the establishment placed in security. The quarters for the officers and agents employed at the factory were in general erected upon the ramparts, or at least adjoining them; while the negroes in their service, and any others that might be attracted to the spot, placed their huts outside of the walls of the fort, but under the protection of its guns. The command of the establishment was vested in the hands of one individual, who had various subordinates, according to the extent of the trade carried on at the place; and if the troops who garrisoned the fort exceeded twenty or thirty, a commissioned officer usually had charge of them. The most remarkable forts were St. George del Mina, erected by the Portuguese, though it subsequently fell into the hands of the Dutch; Cape Coast Castle, the principal establishment of the English; Fort Louis, at the mouth of the Senegal, generally occupied by the French; and Goree, situated upon an island of the same name, near Cape Verd. Most of these forts mounted from fifty to sixty pieces of cannon, and contained large reservoirs for water, and were not only impregnable to the negroes, but capable of standing a regular siege by a European force….

The individuals next in importance to the director or governor were the factors, who ranked according to their standing in the company’s service. The seniors generally remained at headquarters, and had the immediate management of the trade there, and the care of the supplies of European merchandise which were always kept in store. The junior factors were employed in carrying on the traffic in the interior of the country, which they did sometimes by ascending the rivers in armed vessels, and exchanging various articles for slaves, gold-dust, and ivory, with the negroes inhabiting the neighborhood; and sometimes by establishing themselves for several months in a large town or populous district, and, as it were, keeping a shop to which the natives might resort for traffic. The European subordinates of the establishment consisted of clerks, bookkeepers, warehousemen, artificers, mechanics, gunners, and private soldiers, all of whom had particular quarters assigned for their abode, and lived under military discipline. The soldiers employed in the service of the different African companies were mostly invalids, and persons who had been dismissed from the army on account of bad conduct. Destitute of the means of subsistence at home, such men willingly engaged to go to the coast of Africa, where they knew they would be permitted to lead a life of ease, indolence, and licentiousness, and be exposed to no danger except that of a deadly climate, which was in reality the most certain and inevitable one that they could anywhere encounter. Few of the troops in any of the forts were fit for active duty, which was of the less consequence, because they were seldom or never required to fight except upon the ramparts of the place in which they might be quartered, and not often even there. Hence they spent their time in smoking, in drinking palm wine, and in gaming, and were generally carried off by fever or dissipation within two years after their arrival in the country. A stranger, on first visiting any of the African forte, felt that there was something both horrible and ludicrous in the appearance of its garrison; for the individuals composing it appeared ghastly, debilitated, and diseased, to a degree that is unknown in other climates; and their tattered and soiled uniforms, resembling each other only in meanness, and not in color, suggested the idea of the wearers being a band of drunken deserters, or of starved and maltreated prisoners of war. Each company was in the practice of annually sending a certain number of ships to its respective establishments, freighted with European goods suitable for traffic; while its factors in Africa had in the meantime been collecting slaves, ivory, gumarabic, and other productions of the country; so that the vessels on their arrival suffered no detention, but always found a return cargo ready for them. Though the forts were principally employed as places of safe deposit for merchandise received from Europe or collected at outposts, they were also generally the scene of a considerable trade, being resorted to for that purpose not only by the coast negroes, but often also by dealers from the interior of the country, who would bring slaves, ivory, and gold-dust for traffic. Persons of this description were always honorably, and even ceremoniously received by the governor or by the factors, and’ conciliated in every possible way, lest they might carry their goods to another market. They were invited to enter the fort, and were treated with liquors, sweetmeats, and presents, and urged to drink freely; and no sooner did they show symptoms of confusion of ideas, than the factors proposed to trade with them, and displayed the articles which they were disposed to give in exchange for their slaves, &c. The unsuspicious negro-merchant, dazzled by the variety of tempting objects placed before him, and exhilarated by wine or brandy, was easily led to conclude a bargain little advantageous to himself; and before he had fully recovered his senses, his slaves, ivory, and gold-dust were transferred to the stores of the factory, and he was obliged to be contented with what he had in his moments of inebriety agreed to accept in exchange for them.” From this extract, it appears that not only did the managers of these factories receive all the negroes who might be brought down to the coast, but that emissaries, “junior factors,” as they were called, penetrated into the interior, as if thoroughly to infect the central tribes with the spirit of commerce. The result of this was the creation of large slave-markets in the interior, where the negro slaves were collected for sale, and where slave-merchants, whether negro, Arabic, or European, met to conclude their wholesale bargains. One of these great slave-markets was at Timbuctoo; but for the most part the slaves were brought down in droves by Slatees, or negro slave-merchants, to the European factories on the coast. At the time that Park traveled in Africa, so Completely had the negroes of the interior become possessed with the trading spirit, so much had the capture and abduction of negroes grown into a profession, that these native slave-merchants were observed to treat the slaves they were driving to the coast with considerable kindness. The negroes were, indeed, chained together to prevent their escape. Those who were refractory had a thick billet of wood fastened to their ankle; and as the poor wretches quitting their native spots became sullen and moody, their limbs at the same time swelling and breaking out in sores with the fatigue of traveling, it was often necessary to apply the whip. Still, the Slatees were not wantonly cruel; and there was nothing they liked better than to see their slaves merry. Occasionally they would halt in their march, and encourage the negroes to sing their snatches of song, or play their games of hazard, or dance under the shade of the tamarind tree. This, however, was only the case with the professional slave-driver, who was commissioned to convey the negroes to the coast; and if we wish to form a conception of the extent and intricate working of the curse inflicted upon the negroes by their contact with white men, we must set ourselves to imagine all the previous kidnapping and fighting which must have been necessary to procure every one of these droves which the Slatees carried down. What a number of processes must have conspired to bring a sufficient number of slaves together to form a drove! In one case, it would be a negro master selling a number of his spare slaves; and what an amount of suffering even in this case must there have been arising from the separation of relatives! In another case, it would be a father selling his son, or a son selling his old father, or a creditor selling his insolvent debtor. In a third, it would be a starving family voluntarily surrendering itself to slavery. When a scarcity occurred, instances used to be frequent of famishing negroes coming to the British stations in Africa and begging “to be put upon the slave-chain.” In a fourth case it would be a savage selling the boy or girl he had kidnapped a week ago on purpose. In a fifth, it would be a petty negro chief disposing of twenty or thirty negroes taken alive in a recent attack upon a village at a little distance from his own. Sometimes these forays in quest of negroes to sell are on a very large scale, and then they are called slave-hunts. The king of one negro country collects a large army, and makes an expedition into the territories of another negro king, ravaging and making prisoners as he goes. If the inhabitants make a stand against him, a battle ensues, in which the invading army is generally victorious. As many are killed as may be necessary to decide that such is the case; and the captives are driven away in thousands, to be kept on the property of the victor till he finds opportunities of selling them. In 1794, the king of the southern Foulahs, a powerful tribe in Nigritia, was known to have an army of 16,000 men constantly employed in these slave-hunting expeditions into his neighbors’ territories. The slaves they procured made the largest item in his revenue.”

This issue also comes up in this conversation as well so…. In John Baker’s book Race (Oxford University Press, Athens, GA, 1981) we read on page 373 that the sub-Saharan African had no knowledge of the wheel. On pages 394-395 we read that the sub-Saharan African had no written language or calendar. On page 354 that the sub-Saharan African had no knowledge of mechanical devices. On pages 372-373 we read that the sub-Saharan African never figured out how to bind two pieces of wood together and because of this their boats were canoe like having to be carved out of large trees and they did not build bridges by binding wood together using geometric knowledge. The author gives one example of the “Mittu [who] used a half-shell (single valve) of a freshwater bivalve mollusc as a bridge for the rababa.” On page 402 we learn that only one incident, and that an ambiguous one, exists for the claim that blacks had the ability to build a two-story building.


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