The Atlantic System & Africa 1550-1800

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The Atlantic System &
Africa 1550-1800
The Atlantic System: moved goods and wealth, as well
as people and cultures, around the Atlantic.
Africa: impact varied by region, where several major
kingdoms dominated the continent
After 1650 sugar plantations, African slaves, and
European capital made these islands a major
center of the Atlantic economy
 Before 1650 English colonies prospered first
because of greater support from home gov’t,
grew tobacco
 Competition with VA tobacco made the switch to
sugar easy when the Dutch introduced it to Brazil
 The Dutch West India Company monopolized the
sugar trade and became essential to the slave
trade
 By the 1680s sugar was the major crop from the
New World and the slave trade grew as a result
 Why Africans? Not better suited, not just
prejudice, but mostly economical.
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Plantations in the West Indies
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Sugar production required only simple tools, but was
a factory as well as a farm; took lots of land
(Jamaica)
Environmentally responsible except when overusing
land, deforestation, upset of food chain
Most islands were 90% slave, ruled by a small
plantocracy (a few rich men)
Profitability of plantations depended on how much
work was extracted from slaves
Slave men outnumbered women
Overwork and poor nutrition led to infertility and low
life expectancy (23 for males, 25.5. for females)
1/3 of slaves died from seasoning, or new diseases
Plantations then increased purchases of slaves, who
increasingly wanted to run away
18th Century Plantation Life
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Capitalism-a system of large financial
institutions-banks, stock exchanges, trading
companies-reduced risks and increased
profits
Banks: the central capitalist institution
mercantilism-how European states promoted
their citizens’ overseas trade and gain capital
in precious metals; discouraged trade with
foreigners
Citizens were strongly discouraged from
trading with foreigners
Capitalism and Mercantilism
Restrictions on trade caused a war
between Dutch, French, and English;
Dutch lost and the Dutch West India Co.
went bankrupt.
 Less competition meant England and
France could end their monopoly and
open up trade; high tariffs on foreign
goods kept colonists loyal
 The Dutch turned to Asia for trade
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Chartered Companies
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A clockwise trade network: Europe, Africa,
across the Atlantic to Americas, back to
Europe
Europe to Africa: metal, hardware, guns
traded for gold, timber, slaves
Slaves from Africa to Americas: the Middle
Passage
Colonial goods to Europe: crops, timber,
cheap products
European interests dominated this system–
provided the capital and the consumers
The Atlantic Circuit
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On the Atlantic coast (Gold Coast and Slave
Coast) Europeans were always more interested in
trade than in colonization
Royal African Company lasted 80 years; 40 %
profits made from gold & ivory, 60% from slaves
African merchants who sold slaves for European
goods were picky about what they traded
They mostly wanted textiles & guns, later
tobacco and rum from the Americas
African governments made Europeans follow
African trade rules, preventing colonization
Dahomey: a large kingdom that rose in the
1720s, dependent heavily on firearms for it’s
great armies.
Effects on Africa
• densely populated interior had no large states with powerful
princes on the coast for trading.
• most slaves came from kidnapping because of a lack of POWs
Bight(Bay) of Biafra
C &C with previous relationship with Islam
Prior to late 1700s Europe had two
permanent colonial areas: Portuguese in
Angola and Dutch East India Company’s
Cape Colony at the tip of the continent
(tied to Indian Ocean trade)
 North Africa: Muslim by C.E., sub-Saharan
Africa learned of Islam through trade
gradually; during 1500s was annexed to
Ottomans, the Sahara still left alone
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Africa’s European contacts
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Was pushing its kingdom into the Sahara
from the south
Descended from Mali kingdom and like it,
drew wealth from trans-Saharan trade, ruled
by Muslims
Challenged by Morocco (NW), lost in 1591
For two centuries Moroccans extracted many
slaves and goods
Weakened the trans-Saharan trade in
western Sudan
Hausa trading cities in central Sudan
attracted caravans with textiles, hardware, &
weapons
Songhai Empire of West Africa
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Large # of slaves went to Islamic north and
Middle East but not as much as on the
Atlantic
Most African slaves in Islamic world were
soldiers and servants (contrast to Americas);
soldiers often more trusted than native ones
Also unlike the Americas, the majority of
African slaves were women entertainers,
concubines, & servants
Trans-Saharan slave trade had a much higher
proportion of children than Atlantic trade
Muslims were not always strict adherents to
the no Muslim slaves rule
Slavery in Islamic World
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Muslim vs. European effects
#s: Between 1550 and 1800 8 million Africans
were exported on the Atlantic, and 2 million on
the Islamic trade
Effects: 1) sub-Saharan Africa’s population
remained large. 2) places like the Slave Coast
lost significant populations. 3) ability to recover
lost population was related to proportion of
reproductive women
Angola supplied more slaves over time than
anyone else, but from vast areas
African imports in this trade were minimally
influential in the local economies
Europe won out economically, while Ottomans
and Africa begin a major decline
Comparing the two influences
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