I’ve finished Berlin and am finishing tonight Trade. Both deal with African slavery, the former in the U.S. The first is very readable and I would recommend Berlin’s Many Thousands Gone for a fascinating presentation of the unfolding of slavery in the U.S. Some cross-fertilization occurred when Berlin points out the Whites’ shallow understanding of Black people and in Branch he stresses the complete ignorance on the part of the Whites in Montgomery of who “their Negros” were as people. Also, I see again the prominent role being able to testify in court played in demands Africans made on the polity and wonder why that is.
Trade continues up to the end to detail endlessly all the players in the slave trade. The numbers of slaves conducted to Brazil until the very end are astounding to read, tens of thousands every year. Sugar was the key: I liken it to the way our American appetite for drugs fuels the cartels; the European appetite for sugar fueled the slave trade.
Feb. 1 Several observations on the Atlantic slave trade after reading Trade:
I had thought Cuba and Brazil had much larger slave populations than the U.S. Not so.
The Portuguese word ‘cabra’, goat, could refer to the animal or a person labeled then a ‘female quadroon’ which is what my granddaughter is. When I read that, it gave me a chill. My beautiful 18 year old granddaughter off to college being sold off to god knows what fate.
While I knew that slave labor continued to be of inestimable value right up to emancipation, I had not realized how many institutions were set up to continue slavery in the U.S. but to reopen the slave trade had the South won the war.
Thomas makes it clear that, as I had learned, slave dealing in Africa had poisoned the society to the extent that people sold their own children. That must be put in context as these cases often involved debt payment but it must be admitted also outright kidnapping of nephews, etc., perhaps reflecting feuds. It got so that, as I have read elsewhere, peopled dared not walk about without bodyguards. Just where this occurred would demand study but the coastal areas of West Africa were most vulnerable to such corruption because the buyers were close by.