Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

The Atlantic Slave Trade from Angola: A Port-by-Port Estimate of Slaves Embarked, 1701-1867

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

The Atlantic Slave Trade from Angola: A Port-by-Port Estimate of Slaves Embarked, 1701-1867

Article excerpt

Angola served as the principal source of slaves for the Americas in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These slaves embarked from ports controlled by the Portuguese, who had established a strong presence in West Central Africa since the sixteenth century, and from ports dominated by African polities, located mostly north of Luanda, capital of the Portuguese colony in Angola. Estimates of the number of slaves leaving the region usually focus on the two principal Portuguese ports of embarkation, Luanda and Benguela. These estimates rarely provide information on the number of slaves leaving African controlled ports such as Cabinda, Molembo, and the Congo River. This paper will use Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database to correct this imbalance by providing a port-by-port estimate of slaves leaving West Central Africa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.1

The Voyages Database is a website that hosts the most complete database of slaving voyages available to the public. It has sufficient information to build port-by -port estimates of the number of slaves embarked from Angola between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These estimates provide a more complete picture of the size and evolution of the slave trade from Angola, which will in turn help historians measure the impact of the trade on Africa and the Americas. The database has information on 7,839 voyages that carried or attempted to carry slaves from West Central Africa and calculates the number of captives shipped between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries at approximately 4,441,900 slaves. The methodology used to generate these estimates is available in print as well as in the website itself and it is well accepted within the academic community. Briefly, this methodology compares shipping records to summaries as well as other official and unofficial reports and usually accepts the most reliable or complete number of slaves transported per year by each national carrier and according to each region of embarkation and disembarkation.2 In addition to not providing the number of slaves carried by port of embarkation, the website overestimates a segment of the trade from West Central Africa.

The first estimates of slaves leaving Angola were based on Portuguese records of captives embarked from Luanda and Benguela. In 1944, Edmundo Correia Lopes estimated the number of slaves leaving Angola based on travelers' accounts, the slave trade contracts issued by the Portuguese government, which specified the number of captives that the contractor was supposed to deliver annually from Angola to Brazil; the tax revenue collected from slaves embarked from Luanda and Benguela, reports of Portuguese colonial officials stationed at these ports for the years 1804-1820, 1823-1825, 1828-1829 and 1833; and on statistics of the illegal slave trade for the years 1840-1847 compiled by British naval officers and published in Brazilian periodicals of the nineteenth century.3 In 1949, Mauricio Goulart used several of these documents to generate his own estimates of slaves disembarked in Brazil from Angola. Additionally, he used two lists of slaves embarked from Luanda and Benguela that he found in the Brazilian National Library, in Rio de Janeiro. These lists provide an annual breakdown of slaves embarked by age categories for the years 1734-1800 for Luanda and 1758-1800 for Benguela.4 In 1969, Philip Curtin used Goulart' s numbers to generate his well-known census of the transatlantic slave trade. However, Curtin supplemented Goulart' s figures on the Portuguese slave trade with data on the British and French slaving activities in Angola, providing thereby the first comprehensive estimate of slaves carried from the coast of West Central Africa.5

Despite Curtin' s efforts, historians continued to focus on the Portuguese branch of the slave trade from Angola. In 1966, David Birmingham published new numbers of slaves embarked from Luanda and Benguela in the eighteenth century. …

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