6/21/10 - slaves

In today's excerpt - slave labor on sugar plantations had to be replaced every ten to thirteen years:

"Because of its centrality to the sugar trade, the slave trade was the most hotly contested European venture on the face of the globe. The numbers themselves shock one into an awareness of its significance. Between 1501 and 1820 slavers took 8.7 million Africans in chains to the Western Hemisphere; between 1820 and the final abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, 2.3 million more were sent. A total of 11 million men and women came from Africa to the New World colonies in comparison with the 2.6 million Europeans who crossed the Atlantic in the same period. Over one hundred thousand separate voyages brought this human cargo, 70 percent them owned by either British or Portuguese traders.

"Sugar was one of capitalism's first great bonanzas; its successes also revealed the power of the profit motive to override any cultural inhibitions to gross exploitation. Slavery was old. Egyptian slaves had built pyramids; Roman ones, bridges and aqueducts.What capitalism introduced was sustained and systematic brutality in the making of goods on a scale never seen before. It's not size alone that distinguishes modern slavery from its ancient lineage in Greece and biblical times; it's also race. Slavery then often had an ethnic component because slaves were taken as the captives of war, but never a consistently racial one. When the Portuguese brought back captured Africans to work in depopulated Lisbon starting in the fifteenth century, the trade didn't differ much from the commerce in slaves that the Arabs had been conducting for several centuries throughout central and eastern Africa. A hundred years later, something new had been added to this commerce in human beings: They were integrated into an expanding production system. Those sent to the Caribbean were put to work in gangs planting sugarcanes, chopping weeds, cutting the harvest, crushing the canes in the mills that turned out molasses and sugar. The very size of the trade promoted warfare in Africa in order to meet the new demand for slaves. ...

"Sometimes bands of freelancing armed Africans raided villages and sold their captives to all comers. Along thirty-five hundred miles of coastline from Senegambia to Angola, traders gathered slave cargoes that they sold for European goods. Slave sellers particularly favored guns with which to capture more men and women. Separated by sex for the voyage across the Atlantic, the captives were packed into ships, each person confined to a space of four square feet for a period of eight to twelve weeks. A typical voyage would carry 150 to 400 persons, 12 to 15 percent of whom usually died en route. Revolts broke out in about 10 percent of all voyages, almost always in the first weeks. ...

"The sugar planters, who invested their capital in plantations, worked their slaves and land as hard as possible. They accepted the inevitable decline of soil in the pursuit of quick returns. So profitable was the crop and so cruel the plantation owners that they literally worked their slaves to death. The labor force in the Caribbean had to be replaced about every ten to thirteen years."


Joyce Appleby


The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism


W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.


Copyright 2010 by Joyce Appleby


124-125, 129-130.
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