America’s reckoning with its history of slavery has accelerated in recent months following Charlottesville, Civil War monument debates, and the general tension in race relations the United States is experiencing. In timely fashion, the last known slave ship was purportedly been discovered last week in Alabama, sparking interest in the Atlantic slave trade. The slave trade is often glossed over in Black History Month in favor of subjects such as the Civil Rights movement, Jim Crow, etc., (understandably so), however few topics can paint a more vivid picture of the global socio-economic and human impact slavery created.
Below, we have included links to titles related to the Atlantic slave trade in our collection, within a timeline¹ for context. Though the timeline only provides brief snapshots and events of the 19th century slave trade—a time when nations began to push for the abolition of slavery in earnest—these titles in our collection provide in-depth, scholarly analysis of this time in America’s history.
For an in-depth look of the slave trade before the 19th century, we suggest these two titles: The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census by Philip D. Curtin (University of Wisconsin Press) and The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas by David Eltis (Cambridge University Press).
1800 The United States begins to penalize Americas who serve voluntarily on slave ships trading between two foreign countries.
- For a study of the state of the slave market in Louisiana at this time: Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Market by Walter Johnson (Harvard University Press).
1803 Denmark bans slave trade.
1807 Britain bans the Atlantic slave trade and the United States passes legislation to ban the slave trade to begin the following year.
- For a brief history of Britain’s slave trade: Sinews of Empire: A Short History of British Slavery by Michael Craton.
1819 The United States and Spain renew commercial agreements in the Adams-Onis Treaty. Congress stiffens laws against U.S. participation in the slave trade. Britain patrols West African coast for illegal slave ships.
1820 The United States declares slave trading an act of piracy, punishable by the death penalty. The U.S. Navy attempts to regulate the slave trade on the West African coast but the attempt ends after four years, after which the U.S. recalls the navy ships.
- For a comparison of the slave trade of countries including the U.S., England, France, Portugal, Cuba, and Brazil: The Middle Passage: Comparative Studies in the Atlantic Slave Trade by Herbert Klein (Princeton University Press)
1824 Great Britain and the United States negotiate a treaty recognizing the slave trade as piracy and agree to work together to suppress it. But the U.S. Senate undercuts the treaty’s force in a series of amendments and Britain refuses to sign.
1825 The Supreme Court hears the case of the Antelope— a slave ship seized by the U.S.—and issues a unanimous opinion declaring the slave trade a violation of natural law. But 39 of the original 281 slaves are returned to ship’s owners.
- For an investigation into the running of a slave ship:The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade by Robert W. Harms (Perseus Books Group)
1833 Britain passes the Abolition of Slavery Act, emancipating slaves in the British West Indies to begin August of the following year.
1836 Portugal bans the slave trade.
- For an analysis of the voyage and the way capitalism drove the entire enterprise: Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade, 1730-1830 by Joseph Calder Miller (University of Wisconsin Press)
1860s Though the Atlantic slave trade was abolished over a 30-year period ending with Portugal’s 1836 ban on slave trading, legal abolition did not end the still profitable trade. It continued illegally well into the 19th century. The Clotilda, the last known slave ship, sneaked slaves into Mobile, Alabama in the summer of 1860.
- For more about the Clotilda and the slave trade after it was deemed illegal by the U.S.: Dreams of African in Alabama: the Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America by Sylviane Diouf (Oxford University Press).
Video Courtesy of Al.com
Taking a hard look at America’s history with slavery helps provide context to a lot of the issues around race the United States is dealing with right now. Learning about it is difficult and painful but it is incredibly necessary and cannot be glossed over. Black History Month is a great platform to expand your understanding of African American History outside what is usually taught in classrooms.
- See “Timeline of Atlantic Slave Trade” (ABC News 2017) for complete timeline.
- “File:Adams onis map.png“, created by Citynoise, Wikipedia Commons. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.