Gonçalvez was sent by Prince Henry (a.k.a. "Henry the Navigator") on a mission to expand Portugal's war "under the banner of the Order [of Christ] against the said Moors and the other enemies of the faith" into "that land of Africa." Henry was curious to see just how far southward the influence of the Moors extended.
The kingdom of Ghana was already well established before the arrival of the Arabs in the 400s. Over time, trade would lead to an expansion of West African empires.
Kankan Musa (1280-1331), a Muslim king who ruled the empire of Mali between 1312 and 1337, is pictured on the Catalan Atlas. This medieval map was created by Jewish cartographer Abraham Cresques (1325-1387) in 1375 for the King of Aragon (Spain) who gifted it in 1381 to the King of France, Charles V (you guessed it), "eager to have before the eyes a representation of the richly decorated world, and further enriched by the number of learned anecdotes and references to books very fashionable in the princely libraries."
Mansa Musa on folio 7 of the Atlas of nautical charts attributed to the Mallorcan school of cartography, 1370-1380 (Source: National Library of France)
The Arabic inscription to the right of the king reads:
This Black lord is called Musa Melly, Lord of the Black people of Guinea. So abundant is the gold which is found in his country that he is the richest and most noble king in all the land.
You can see alternate versions of this map here and here.
Back then, Mali was bigger than the nation that exists today. It was even larger than Western Europe and one of the most powerful states in the world. It covered a large portion of West Africa, including the land of Ghana. The city of Timbuktu was a center of education with a university, where written studies consisted of mathematics, astronomy, logic, religion, and history.
A tale of the previous Mansa (King) Akubakari, abandoning the throne in 1312 to sail the seas, quotes Kankan Musa in the unfinished encyclopaedia Masalik Al-Absar by Arab Historian Ibn Fadlullah al-Umari (1300-1349). This tale was visited by Ivan van Seritma in his book They Came Before Colombus, first published in 1976, which suggested that the king, who never returned, may have reached the New World. This theory was further explored by Malian historian Gaoussou Diawara in 1992.
At the time of his death in 1331, Mansa Musa had a net worth of roughly $400 billion (in modern currency, adjusted for inflation). This earns him the title of the richest person in the history of the world. (The one person to come the closest to that in modern times is the late leader of Libya, Muammar Ghaddafi (1942-2011).)
On Musa's Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca in 1324, al-Umari wrote:
Mansa Musa flooded Cairo with his gifts. He left no emir or holder of a royal office without the gift of a load of gold. The people of Cairo made incalculable profits out of him and his caravan in buying and selling and giving and taking. They traded away gold until they depressed its value in Egypt and caused its price to fall. This has been the state of affairs for about twelve years until this day by reason of the large amount of gold which they brought into Egypt and spent there.
Musa's wealth is attributed to his country's production of salt and gold, which was more than half of what was available in the economy of the Eastern Hemisphere. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "he left behind an empire filled with palaces and mosques, some of which still stand today."
Arab chronicler Ibn Battuta wrote during the reign of Musa Sulayman, Mansa Musa's son:
The Blacks are the most respectful of people to their king and abase themselves most before him...[The subject] comes forward humbly and lowly, and strikes the ground hard with his elbows...[H]e takes his robe off his back and throws dust on his head and back...I was astonished that they did not blind themselves...That is good manners among them. Among their good practices are their avoidance of injustice; there is no people more averse to it, and their Sultan does not allow anyone to practice it;...the universal security in their country, for neither the traveler nor the resident has to fear thieves or bandits. They do not interfere with the property of white men who die in their country, even if it amounts to vast sums; they just leave it in the hands of a trustworthy white man until whoever is entitled to it takes possession of it.
Prior to the 1400s, the supply and production of African gold was in the hands of Africans themselves. They mastered their own commerce among themselves and had control over the volume of the resources they exchanged with others.
Gold brought from Southern Africa was taxed in Mali and traded for Malian copper. And as you might recall, West Africa had its own goldfields. Salt from deposits along the northern edge of the Sahara Desert was traded for gold. This was a valuable resource for Africans south of the Sahara, because it was necessary to preserve food and it this salt was used as a form of currency.
The rulers of both Ghana and Mali kept their gold mines a closely guarded secret from the Arabs and Berbers. Likewise, the Moors in the North would not allow their customers, the Genoese and Venetian merchants of Europe, to journey beyond the Mediterranean. All of this was done to maintain fair profits by preventing excess competition. Europeans brought clothing of their own fashions. (We can just assume what else the European merchants were selling. I mean, isn't it obvious?)
This system started to crumble when the Portuguese, the English, and the French attempted to make in-roads on the trade from within the continent and to build establishments (trading posts and forts) as close to the mines as possible. They also attempted to bypass these checks and balances by taking to the seas rather than crossing through the desert.
Over time, the slave trade effectively replaced the gold trade.
Gonçalvez departed in 1436. He reached an inlet he called "Rio d'Ouro" (River of Gold), where he sent out two young scouts. They happened upon 19 African men armed with spears. The men fought them for hours and the youth returned to the ship after nightfall.
Disgracefully, Gonçalvez returned to the prince of Portugal empty-handed.
The captain set off again in 1441. This time, he and his crew of nine managed to catch a naked man and a "black Mooress."
On his way back, Gonçalvez intercepted another member of Henry's court on the same mission, Nuno Tristão, and agreed to join him in hunting for more slaves.
Together, they were able to purchase 12 Africans from a market run by black Muslims near modern-day Mauritania. One was a local chief who spoke Arabic. He negotiated his own release along with a boy from his family. The next year, they were exchanged in the same location for 10 "black Gentiles" of non-Moorish heritage.
All of these black Africans were brought back to show to Prince Henry.
The royal archivist and chronicler, Gomes Eanes de Zurara, describes them in his historic volume Cronica dos feitos de Guine:
Here you must note that these blacks (negros), even though they are Moors like the others, are nevertheless slaves (servos) of them in accordance with ancient ·custom, which I believe to have been because of the curse which, after the flood, Noah laid upon his son Ham, cursing him in this way: that his race should be subject to all the other races of the world. And from his race these [blacks] are descended.
Among the earliest of these foreigners from the south to be held in captivity by Europeans were the Guanches from the Canary Islands off the coast of West Africa, from where Columbus first began his journey into the unknown. By the early 1430s, Christianity had gained many converts there, but some of these people were also taken as slaves. Since the islands were disputed territory between Spain and Portugal, pirates raided the area on occasion. As with other pirate-merchants who operated along the coast of sub-Saharan Africa and brought their captives to Mediterranean ports, some were Christian and some were Muslim. Even Jews financed piracy and joined the ranks of these swashbuckling buccaneers under constant threat of persecution in Portuguese society and from the Spanish government.
As a result of complaints by the bishop of the islands, Fernando Calvetos, Pope Eugenius IV (1383-1447) issued the papal bull Creator omnium (1434) and a further edict Sicut dudum (1435) excommunicating anyone who enslaved newly baptized Christians, the penalty to stand until the captives were restored to their liberty and possessions. He acquiesced to pressure from King Edward of Portugal to allow unrestricted access to any unconverted parts of the Canary Islands. Again, those natives who were not Christians were fair game.
After his first shipment of Blacks from West Africa, Prince Henry requested of the pope to endorse his project.
On December 19, 1442, the pope issued a papal bull Illius qui se pro divini, announcing indulgences (full remission of sins) to anyone who succeeded on this renewed crusade.
Tristao captured 29 more Africans in 1443. Two "explorers" from the Portuguese city of Lagos, Lançarote de Freitas and Gil Eanes, teamed up and filled "six armed carvels" with 215 people from several islands on the West coast. Eanes had already traveled the farthest south of any European and returned with unsuspecting captives in 1433.
Just as the Iberians were still doing with the Moors in Europe, Freitas and Eanes charged these Moors in West Africa with the signature battle cry of the Christian army at the battle of Navas de Tolosa "Saint James" "Santiago!" "Saint James and Portugal, charge!"
Zurara describes the sight of them on arrival in Portugal:
...Amongst them were some who were fairly white, handsome, and well-proportioned; others were less white, more like brown; others again were as black as Ethiopians and so ugly both in face and in body as almost to appear, to those who looked upon them, the images of the lower hemisphere.
In the auction that followed, children were separated from their fathers, wives from their husbands, and brothers from their sisters. Everyone was distraught. Even the townspeople were upset with the scene. And in the midst of it all was Prince Henry himself, who was there for his own share of slaves.
These captives were baptized. Zurara recounts "as they learned our language, they turned Christians with little effort." Their children and their grandchildren were raised as Christians in Lagos.
Venetian explorer and merchant Alvise da Cadamosto (1428-1423) wrote about his own voyages for Prince Henry in 1450. He describes the slave trade in Africa during this time. The Portuguese brought cloths, carpets, and silver. The Arabs traded their own spoils.
They give in exchange slaves whom the Arabs bring from the land of the Blacks, and gold. The Lord Infante [Prince Henry] therefore caused a castle to be built on the island to protect this trade for ever. For this reason, Portuguese caravels are coming and going all the year to this island. These Arabs also have many Berber horses, which they trade, and take to the Land of the Blacks, exchanging them with the rulers for slaves...every year the Portuguese carry away from Argin a thousand slaves. Note that before this traffic was organized, the Portuguese caravels, sometimes four, sometimes more, were wont to come armed to the Golfo d'Argin, and descending on the land by night, would assail the fisher villages, and so ravage the land. Thus they took of these Arabs both men and women, and carried them to Portugal for sale: behaving in a like manner along all the rest of the coast.
By 1448, 51 Portuguese ships had embarked upon these slaving expeditions, stealing away as many human beings as they possibly could. These voyages continued long after the death of the prince in 1460.
Wedding portrait of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of the kingdom of Castile, 1469 (Source: ART Collection/Alamy Stock Photo via the History Network, also found in GEO Epoche. Als Spanien die Welt beherrschte, vol. 31, 2008, p. 45)
The King of Portugal during this time, Alphonso V, married Juana de Trastámara, the daughter of the former Spanish king Henry IV and went to war with then Prince Ferdinand and Princess Isabella to defend his fiance's right to the throne of Spain. Alphonso V was actually given the title of "the African" for the lands that he had conquered in Africa.
As this conflict raged on, Castille and Portugal were also at war in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of West Africa. Portugal forced both of these wars to a conclusion on terms very advantageous to them. With the Treaty of Alcáçovas in 1479, Alphonso V and his son John left Spain with their standing claim to the Canary Islands and themselves gained exclusive rights to all lands in Africa to be discovered south of that territory.
In the mid-15th century, the Roman Catholic Church under the authority of Pope Nicolas V, had already sanctioned the "perpetual" enslavement of "all Saracens and pagans" in these lands.
We [therefore] weighing all and singular the premises with due meditation, and noting that since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso--to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery...
This decree did not stop at slavery. It included a clause of approval for colonialism and imperialism.
...and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his use and profit...
In 1482, the Portuguese built a castle in present-day Ghana called "São Jorge da Mina" (Saint George's of the mine), later known simply as "Elmina". They arrived with an army and persuaded the local African chief Caramansa to grant them permission for settlement on his land. This was the first sub-Saharan trading post of 600 castles European nations built on the African continent which would be invested in the slave trade.
One of the earlier Portuguese castles in West Africa was Rubicon, built on the island of Lanceroto in the Canaries in 1402. This base was meant to enable the Portuguese to conquer the land from the native people.
That same year, 24 of the natives were kidnapped by a nobleman from Normandy named Berthin de Berneval, who stole his captain's ship and made a beeline for Spain, hoping to sell them. Initially, two of the Canarians came to Berneval and asked him for protection from Spaniards who landed on an island nearby. In order to have these Africans for himself, Berneval promised them and their king he would keep them all safe. He served them supper and said, "Sleep in peace and fear nothing, for I will protect you."
The next thing they knew, Berneval had the exit blocked with his sword drawn. The king and another man managed to escape. Berneval sold these Africans to the very same Spaniards and boarded their ship.
He landed in prison when he arrived in Cadiz while the rest of the bound Canarians were sailed to Aragon and sold.
Sometimes, Europeans collaborated in trade at these castles. After sailing from England and raiding the West African coast, Royal Navy Admiral John Hawkins and his part-Portuguese crew sailed from Plymouth in 1564 and forcibly captured "a hundred and fifty Negroes" in Sierra Leone. He brought them "to the coast of the Mina, hoping to have obtained some gold for our wares" because according to him, they had "nothing wherewith to seek the coast of the West Indies."
Portugal also proceeded to colonize the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe in the 1490s, using them as a port of trade with the surrounding region.
A significant part of the early labor force in the American colonies consisted of semi-servile White people imported under bond for a term of up to seven years, usually to pay for their passage from Europe. These were known as indentured servants.
According to a description of social life in Barbados by 17th-century English pirate, John Nutt, masters were "either English, Scotch, or Irish, with some...white Servants and Slaves."
The White Servants are either by Covenant or Purchase, and are of two Sorts, such as sell themselves in England, Scotland, and Ireland, for four Years or more, and such as are transported hither for Capital Crimes. The Barbadoes Gentlemen scorned to employ any of the latter, till the Late Sickness and War had reduced them to great want of Hands; but many of the former Sort, who have behaved themselves well in the Time of their Service, have made their Fortunes, and become Masters of good Plantations.
These were people who served for a limited time and earned their way to freedom. Even people from Africa were indentured, but they were not often treated the same.
"Negros are forced to refine sugar" by Theodore de Bry, 1550 (Source: Akg-Images)
In Short, the people live as plentifully, and some of 'em as luxuriously, as any, are absolute Lords within their own Territories, and some of them have no less than 700 or 800 Negroes, who, with their Posterity, are Slaves for ever. ... The white Men-Servants are sold 20 pounds apiece, but for much more if they are Mechanicks, and handsome Women for 10 pounds. They are more gently treated than Blacks during the Time of their Service, and when 'tis expired, are their own Masters. ... The servitude of the Blacks is perpetual, yet there's great Care taken of them, because if a Negro dies, the Owner loses 40 or 50 pounds, whereas by the Death of a white Man, he only loses two or three Years Wages to another.
The Black Business lies most in the Field, unless it be those that are taken into their Sugar-mills, Storehouses, and Dwelling-houses, where the handsomest, neatest maids are bred to Menial Services, and the cleverest Fellows to be Coachmen, Footmen, Grooms, and Lackies, and the others are often employed in Handicraft Trades.
A slave that is a good Mechanick is worth 150 or 200 [pounds], and 400 [pounds] has been bid for a Boiler of Sugar. The Black Male Slaves are all of them worth from 40 to 50 pounds per Head, and the Females in Proportion. The Slaves are Purchased by Lots out of the Guinea Ships, are all viewed stark naked, and the strongest and handsomest bear the best Prices. ... Some planters have 2,000 pounds worth of Slaves, and many Planters are undone in a time of Mortality for want of Money to renew their Stock, which must be filled up every Year, because a 4th part die in seasoning.
Did you catch that? 25% of all the African slaves did not survive "training".
Every Infant Negro is commonly valued at 6 pounds when a Month old, and the Commodity in general rises and falls as well as others in the Market.
"If a negro does not work properly, his master will maltreat him cruelly" by Theodore de Bry, 1594 (Source: Akg-Images)
As Puritan settlers found this supply of indentured servants to be inadequate for their purposes. They increasingly turned to Negro slavery.
The natives proved unreliable and constantly in a state of rebellion.
Learn now what we have solved in council.
We have a long time discussed, because the opinions are very contradictory, on the freedom that must be string with the Indians. To date, no definitive resolution has been taken.
Natural law and canon law, it is true, ordain that all men be free, but Roman law admits a distinction, and the contrary use has established itself. A long experience has, indeed, demonstrated the need to make slaves "and to deprive those who by their very nature are inclined to abominable vices which, for want of guides and protectors, return to their shameless mistakes." We quoted before the council of the Dominican friars in white and black clothing, and Franciscans barefooted who have long resided in those countries, and we asked them what they thought about it.
[Footnote: This great question of the freedom of the Indians was discussed early in Council of India. Queen Isabella had declared herself their protectress, but after her the contrary opinion prevailed, and the American natives were subjected to hard treatments.] They agreed that nothing was more dangerous than leaving them freedom.
Edicts from Europe restricted the enslavement of the indigenous people of the Americas and certain other people in favor of a labor force mostly consisting of enslaved Africans.
Because with great care we have procured the conversion of the Indians to our Holy Catholic Faith, and furthermore, if there are still people there who are doubtful of the faith in their own conversions, it would be a hindrance [to them], and therefore we will not permit, nor allow to go there [to the Americas] Moors nor Jews nor heretics nor reconciled heretics, nor persons who are recently converted to our faith, except if they are black slaves, or other slaves, that have been born under the dominion of our natural Christian subjects.
Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama (c. 1660s-1524) became the first European to successfully reach India by sea, landing in Calicut on May 20, 1498.
In 1505, the first Spanish-speaking black African slaves were brought from Spain to Hispañola to serve under the island's third governor Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres. While Ovando requested 17 from the king, Ferdinand sent him 100. In 1510, 250 more slaves were transported from Europe to the Indies.
Meanwhile, the Portuguese were making attempts to colonize other parts of Africa. An explorer by the name of Dom Francisco de Almeida (1453-1510) was appointed as the first viceroy (governor) of India in 1505. He was sent by King Manuel I to establish forts on the east coast of Africa and in India. That year, he departed Portugal, sailed around the southern tip of Africa, and attacked a settlement by the name of Kilwa on the coast of what is now Tanzania.
Ibn Battuta, writing 170 years earlier claimed the native inhabitants were "Zinj, jet-black in color" with "tatoo marks on their faces." He described the establishment itself as "one of the finest and most substantially built town" with a Muslim sultan who raided the natives' lands on ocassion.
With all this land to themselves, the Portuguese built the first fort and soldiers were left to guard it. Almeida continued on to destroy another town at Mombasa on the coast of modern-day Kenya. His victims were Swahili and Arabs.
A trading port and naval base were built on the Island of Mozambique in 1507. In 1509, Almeida set out for a return trip to Portugal. As he approached South Africa, he stopped to refresh and to collect water. He embarked onto the shore and his men traded with some of the people they met.
Upon entering the nearest village, a wild idea came to the sailors. They snatched some cattle and made a beeline for their ship. However, when they reached the shore where Almeida was waiting, the ship had captain had already steered off to the location of the water-hole.
The Death of Almeida From A century of discovery; biographical sketches of the Portuguese and Spanish navigators from Prince Henry to Pizarro (1877)
Almeida, 11 captains, and 54 crew members perished that day. It would be another 142 years before another European would attempt to establish a colony there.
It was in 1518 under the authority of Bartolomé de las Casas that 20 more Africans were taken as slaves across the Atlantic Ocean as part of an experiment to replace "Indian" slave labor in the gold mines of Cuba. Cristobal Colonizer would not be the last of his kind.
Nautical chart of Portuguese cartographer Fernão Vaz Dourado (c. 1520 - c. 1580) part of a nautical atlas drawn in 1571 now kept in the Portuguese National Archives of Torre do Tombo, Lisbon (Source: Wikipedia Commons)
Shown above is a 16th century map of the Portuguese possessions in western Africa.
'GVINEA' a map of the West-African Gold Coast, published in 1635 by Willem Jansz. Blaeu ( c. 1571-1638) based on "continuous visits from European traders and adventurers looking for gold, slaves and ivory sold by the local people since the 16th century." (Source: National Library of the Netherlands)
[Footnote: The first colony sent thither by John the third, King of Portugal] The Portuguese that dwelt on this island informed the Netherlanders, that few lived above fifty years there, yet notwithstanding the great Gain tempted them to tarry, several of them having two or three hundred Negro's that worked in the Sugar-Mills; that John the Third, King of Portugal, sent a Colony thither, above two hundred years before, who though the unwholesome Air destroyed, yet the Place was not left desolate; for he sent new Inhabitants, who first Settled in Guinea, next in Angola, and lastly on the Island St. Thomas, that so they might be the better used to the Air; that the said King sold all those Jews for Slaves that refused to embrace the Roman Religion, and caused their Children to be Baptized, from whom (coming thither in great numbers) most of the present inhabitants were descended.
Hold on a minute here...What is the deal with Jews being sold as slaves for not accepting the Roman Catholic religion?
Perhaps you have heard of the Spanish Inquisition.
You may have even heard of the "95 theses" of a protester by the name of Martin Luther (1483-1546), whose famous work in 1517 sparked a movement for Reformation among the Christians of Europe starting in Germany. On May 25, 1521, Charles V, as emperor of Germany, declared Luther an outlaw and banned his teachings against the supreme authority of the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church, among which was their prompting of war against Muslims.
The one who signed the decree was one Antonio de Eraso, who was, at the time, a criminal prosecutor or officially "mayor of crime" for the Spanish city of Valladolid. He later became "a consultant to the Holy Office of the Inquisition" on August 28, 1578.
The poison of the Lutheran heresy was spilled, and it tried to contaminate the kingdoms of Spain; but as firm in faith, they gave the punishment repulse to such perverse seed. Our king, by preventing the damage that could be caused to these kingdoms, prevented the remedy to the contingent damage, which could be future, with a cedula, given in Madrid on July 13, one thousand five hundred and fifty-nine years, addressed to all the archbishops, bishops and other ecclesiastical prelates of them, who have come to Yucatan in particular, I mean it, and it says: "You will have known our Lord has allowed, for our sins, that in these kingdoms there have been some who have had the opinion and heresy of Luther, many of whom have been punished, and will be made of all others who are in this blame. And because it could be that since the evil is so great, and the devil so solicitous to plant in the heretics Christianity, some Lutherans have passed, or pass to those parts, and others of the caste of Moors and Jews, who want to live in its law and ceremonies. And it is fitting that where our holy Catholic Faith is now planted again, there should be great vigilance, so that no heresy will be sown, nor will there be in it; and that if any is found, it is extirpated, and unmaking, and punished with rigor.
And so I beg and command you all, and each one of you in your dioceses, archbishoprics and bishoprics, that you have very great care and warning to inform you and know if it has happened to some of them who are Lutherans, Moors, Jews, or have some heregies. And finding one or some of these, you will punish them exemplary, that for this we send our vireyes, presidents and oidores of our royal audiences of these parts, who give you all the favor and help that you ask them and you need. Likewise you will be informed if they have passed or pass, or there are in these dioceses some Lutheran books, or of the forbidden ones; and if some are found, take them and gather all, and send them to these kingdoms to our council of the holy and general inquisition, and proceed against those in whose power you will find them, according to law. And to better be able to find out if the said heresies, or forbidden books, pass to those parts, whenever they are ships of these kingdoms, you will have diligence done, if something of them goes there. In which you understand with all diligence and good care that you can be, and we trust you, Well, you see what matters that way. Date, etc.
As you can see, marranos (Moorish and Jewish converts suspected of only pretending to be Christians) were the primary targets of the Spanish Inquisition. Many of them fought back. The Moors of Granada revolted against the forced conversions so that over a thousand were killed and may were sold into slavery.
Combat between a Christian knight and a Muslim soldier who displays the Star of Jerusalem. Mudejar roof of the Teruel Cathedral in Spain. End of the 13th Century From Blazon of Aragon: the shield and the flag (1995) (Source: Aragonese Law Virtual Library)
The Lutherans were also targeted and punished by the Roman Catholic church.
This part confirms something that we do not often learn about the Inquisition. People in the colonies overseas who taught the theology of the Lutherans or any other ideas contrary to the Roman Catholic church were also persecuted under the law of Spain.
"Dispatch [these] card inserts in a real provision Goatemala hearing the bishop of Yucatan (as it was said in the sixth book, had not yet arrived) again ordering the request that in such serious matter should have.
The date of the provision is ten and seven of August one thousand five hundred and sixty years. and says not to bring another pain if he dies, but not to be able to give news of his religion in those parts. And although it is understood of your zeal and care to be what suits the service of God and good of the souls that are under your charge. And because you see, this business is very important and important, I beg and charge that you are very vigilant in this, and with all secrecy and diligence you ask and know if your diocese has arrived or is in it any of these false and damaged ministers, or suspects in our holy Catholic faith, and provide and put into it by all the ways you can the remedy that is necessary, and convenient to the service of God our Lord, and be punished according to their crimes and excesses, and what you do in it, you will give us notice. Date in Madrid on July twenty one thousand five hundred and seventy-four years. I THE KING, By errand of his majesty."
The white people that dwelt here commonly have a fever every eighth day; first they grow chill, then cold, and at last very hot. They commonly Let Blood four times a year to prevent this Distemper. The Negro's generally attain to a great Age, many times to above a hundred years. The Island bears the Name of St. Thomas, from the Saint on whose day the Portuguese discovered the same. The City of Pavaosa is the Metropolis of the Island,...and is flanked on one side with Hills, fruitful in the production of Sugar-Canes, but partakes in the unwholesome Air of the Island, which therefore can scarce be defended by Netherlanders, because they being unaccustomed to the Climate, generally die: Wherefore Grave Maurice advised the states to people this Place with Malefactors, who might live here to the Publick good, or die with less Disgrace than in a Prison.
Negroes washing for diamonds, gold, &c. From Travels in the interior of Brazil, particularly in the gold and diamond districts of that country, 1823 (Source: John Carter Brown Library)
Nutt describes the extent of African slavery in Brazil:
It appears by the Register, that in the Years 1620, 1621, 1622, and 1623, 15,430 Negroes were imported hither from Angola at the charge of the King of Spain...this Country alone had been enough to subsist the Dutch, if they had not been negligent and extravagant. 'Tis only inhabited within 8 Miles of the Coast, for the Sake of Traffick, and because the Portuguese are not strong enough to drive the Natives farther within Land. It was computed in our Author's time that 30 or 40,000 Slaves worked at the Sugar-Mills between the Rivers St. Francisco and Grande; and he says that 3,000 Negroes were sent hither every Year from Mina, Angola, Cape Verde, and other Parts of Africa, to fill up the Places of the Dead, or those that were sick or run away. Nieuhoff says...that there were 120 Sugar-Mills here in his Time, many of which stood still for want of Negroes.
1641 was quite an eventful year for the colonizers. The Portuguese revolted against the Spaniards in Brazil. Rebelling Natives from the coastal island of Maragnan captured a Brazilian fort. Portuguese troops and allied Brazilians fled Maranas as Netherlanders and allied Brazilians approached. The Portuguese attacked St. Thomas. The Dutch raided two river villages of "fled Negroes" in northeastern Brazil who had "destroyed all the country thereabouts."
These maroons lived in fugitive communities called "quilombos" in the region of Palmares and numbered about 6,000 in total - 5,000 on the river alone. They often "detached Parties to steal Negroes from the Dutch and the Portuguese" then retreated to "caves in the woods and mountains" where they lived in companies of "50 or 100 together."
In the midst of all this, there was a Smallpox epidemic "of which many died". On top of that, there was also heavy rain and flooding followed by a "plague" of worms which damaged crops.
Furthermore, Ogibly writes...
The Sugar-Mills likewise stood still for want of Negroes, which the Distemper had for the most part destroyed, and the Sugar-Canes rotted in the Ground.
Grave Maurice, the Dutch governor of Brazil, reported to the Dutch West India Company, through his secretary, on the conditions in Brazil "and to request such things as were wanting there."
The WIC was essentially the equivalent of a modern multinational corporation with jurisdiction over Dutch colonial interests in the Western Hemisphere, including their trans-Atlantic business ventures, or the their stake in the international slave trade. Other such companies existed for the Spanish, Portuguese, and English.
These companies branded slaves with their logos before they left for the New World to keep track of "their inventory" as noted by WIC merchant Willem Bosman in 1700:
A burning iron with the arms and name of the Company's, lies in the fire, with which ours are marked on the breast.
One victim of this process, Mohammah G. Baquaqua, who was taken to Portuguese Brazil in 1845, described it as such in his memoirs:
[a] man went around with a hot iron, and branded us, the same as they would the heads of barrels or any other inanimate goods or merchandize.
The Cadiz Slave Company operated throughout the Caribbean on behalf of Spain. Sometimes, these companies conducted business with other European nations.
The British South Sea Company supplied the Spanish colonies with African slaves. Several monarchs served in the position of governor. Queen Victoria was one of them.
Uncommon bird's-eye plan of Recife and environs with emphasis on the Dutch fortifications by Caspar Barelaeus, circa 1647 (Credit: Rabbel's Warehouse)
The Portuguese colonists were expecting a shipment of slaves from any one of these companies.
As if on cue, 'Agents' arrived at the Brazilian city of Recife.
from the King of Congo, who brought as a Present to Grave Maurice, two Hundred Negroes, A Golden Collar and Pot, besides many Negroes for the West-India Company. These Agents desired Aid against the Duke of Sonbo, who treacherously Plotted to drive the King out of the Congo; which Plot was discovered by scattered Letters, Signed by the Governors and Bishops at Loando a little before Loando was taken by the Hollanders.
In return, Maurice gave the two "strong and black Men".
a Long Velvet Coat Laced with Gold and Silver Lace, a Silk Coat and Scarf, and a Beaver Hat with a Golden Edging.
You can view an old photograph of de Castro's portrait on display in the National Archive of the Netherlands' collection here.
Ogilby writes that the men were
very active, and having Grim countenances; they danced after a strange manner...their strength was such, that they were able with ease to carry each of them two hundred thirty five Pound weight: their Ornamentals consisted of Elephants Tails.
It would be hard to tell that this was the same group by the looks of them.
Inscriptions on the back of these paintings identify the figures by name. According to the National Gallery of Denmark, these were made by Dutch Artists Albert Eckhout (1610 - 1665) and Jaspar Beckx (1627 - 1647) around 1643.
The delegation traveled first to Dutch Brazil and then to the Netherlands "in search of allies" "to resolve a territorial dispute in their home country."
In 1654 Johann Moritz [governor of Nassau, Bahamas] gave these paintings to the Danish King Frederik III. The paintings were exhibited at the Royal Kunstkammer ["cabinet of curiosities"] alongside other paintings and objects relating to the colonies.
Maurice is quoted as saying that "Loando belonged to the West-India Company." (Apparently, so did Dutch Brazil.) However, the Congolese requested that the Dutch stay out of the ensuing struggle. The Dutch were soon forced out of the city by the Portuguese.
In 1680, the King of Congo, Dom Alvarez II, offered his sworn enemies' province of Sogno and two gold mines to the Portuguese if they would help him defeat the then Count of Sogno, Dom Daniel da Silva. He used to route the Portuguese away from his mines, knowing their greed could cost him his kingdom. This were really just another group of Africans in his domain who refused to submit to the authority of his kingdom. For Alvarez to leave the continent to find someone who could help him, this king was clearly one desperate African.
While the Portuguese scored the people of Congo a solid victory, a new Count of Sogno retaliated with an utter annihilation of the Portuguese army.
Still, Europe was not done doing business there by a long shot.
The evangelist John Wesley records that "Charles the Fifth, then King of Spain, determined to put an end to Negro slavery; giving positive orders that all the Negro slaves in the Spanish dominions should be set free."
This would not stop the European slave trade, either.
England was just getting started.
After a king near Elmina came to the English sailor John Hawkins in 1568 begging for help in defeating an enemy kingdom (and threw in a line about free slaves), Hawkins and his crew "assaulted the town." They were victorious.
Now we had obtained between four and five hundred Negroes, wherewith we thought it somewhat reasonable to seek the coast of the West Indies, and there, for our Negroes...we hoped to obtain...some gains.
They would leave Guinea in three weeks - the good ship Jesus (on loan from the Queen) and its disciple Solomon,well stocked.
Spain was first on the scene of colonial competition in the New World (with Columbus). English, Dutch, and French settlements proliferated throughout the 1600s. Denmark joined in. Laws were made to suppress African settlers. Views about "natural slavery" became more commonplace. Indentured servitude for Africans gave way to hereditary and lifetime sentences. In the English colonies, John Casor became the first person of African descent to be declared a slave for life under a former enslaved African, Anthony Johnson.
In the Antilles islands, Nutt wrote that there were 80,000 Negroes and 50,000 Europeans in 1676. A Smallpox epidemic left 70,000 Negroes and 25,000 English residents in 1691.
Even after all European powers finally outlawed trans-Atlantic slave trading, ships would continue to bring a substance called "shook" to the West Indies from the United States to make molasses barrels and then pick up slaves in Africa to work the sugar fields.
Against much protest by Columbus, it was decreed on April 10, 1495 that from then on, all ships would depart from Cadiz, undergo inspections, and two-thirds of all the gold brought from the New World would be surrendered to the Spanish Crown.
Any subject of the kingdom was granted full permission to settle in Hispaniola, subject to these terms.
In 1525, Peter Martyr d'Anghiera wrote in a letter to the Archbishop of Cosenza, Italy:
Between the Indies and Spain, between Spain and India, the ships go and now come back more frequently than mules loaded with luggage, who go from one fair to another.
By the late 16th century, the silver from the Spanish colonies in the Americas accounted for one-fifth of Spain’s total budget. This enabled them to finance wars.
the profit of the Negro-Trade amounted yearly to sixty six Tons of Gold. ... The Spanish King had yearly above fifteen thousand Negro's from [Angola] to employ in his American Mines.
"The blacks are removed from their country and sent to the mines of Santo Domingo" by Theodore de Bry, 1594 (Source: Akg-Images)
There was a Gold Rush in 1690s Brazil, which lasted into the mid-18th century. The Portuguese crown levied a 20% tax on gold exports and in 1701, the number of slaves per shipload was restricted to 200. Yet, ships carrying as many as 700 Africans were landed in the ports, ranchers fought off patrols, and naval officers were payed off.
England became a major player in the slave trade.
By the late 18th century, the profits from all of these exploits had trickled across the United States and Europe.
And yet, there was always a scramble for more - more land, more slaves, and more freedom to have more. For those in the way of "progress", the cost was more blood.
The combined effect of the social, economic, religious, and political activities in medieval Europe was the kindling of a fire that we know of today as the "Age of Exploration". This fire would burn across the entire earth, spreading rapidly from west to east and back again until there was nothing left to consume.
Now all of that was a long time ago, right? That couldn't possibly have any bearing on the present. All of these people are long gone. There is not even a shred of evidence that remains to identify one way or another the impact of this past history on American society as we know it now. It couldn't possibly define your experiences and mine today living in the western hemisphere, right?