Between 1500 and 1840, ships under Portuguese colors embarked more than 5 million enslaved men, women and children from the coasts of Africa. Despite its position as the preeminent slave trading empire in the Atlantic World, no studies have systematically traced the evolution in maritime investment practices in Portugal and its American colonies which propelled this massive forced transportation of captive Africans. Beginning with Portuguese merchants’ earliest forays into Atlantic trade, on the West African island of Cabo Verde in the fifteenth century, maritime cargoes were collectively owned through the distribution of small shares. Drawing on medieval Mediterranean precedents, these collective, legally constructed partnerships opened early transoceanic trading opportunities to a diverse group of traders, colonists, and mariners, creating a decentralized mercantile trade which diffused profits throughout slave trading communities. Slaving merchants in Salvador da Bahia adopted this collectivist model of investment by the early eighteenth century, converting commercial disadvantages into a prosperous and durable trade which wove together the economic interests of a heterogeneous cross-section of Salvador’s inhabitants—including merchants, their families and slaves, and mariners—within the business of slaving. This article traces the persistence of this financial strategy, and argues that it enabled the longevity of the transatlantic slave trade in Salvador.
Herbert S. KleinThe Atlantic Slave Trade (New York: Cambridge University Press1999) 79. Thomas notes that firms that dealt in the slave trade often did not specialize in it only mounting a handful of voyages and then turning to other branches of overseas commerce. Hugh Thomas The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade 1440–1870 (New York: Simon and Schuster 2013) 301.
Ibid. 59. Manolo G. FlorentinoHomens de grossa aventura: acumulação e hierarquia na praça mercantil do Rio de Janeiro (1790–1830) (Rio de Janeiro: Arquivo Naciconal, Orgão do Ministério da Justiça1992) and Manolo Florentino and João Luís Ribeiro Fragoso O arcaísmo como projeto: mercado atlântico sociedade agrária e elite mercantil no Rio de Janeiro c.1790–c.1840 (Rio de Janeiro: Diadorim 1993).
On 14 February1750the Concelho Ultramarino or metropolitan Overseas Council attempted to break the hold of a handful of merchant families on the slave trade by requiring each merchant house to reduce its holdings to one ship and distribute the remainder to other traders. They included Manoel Alves de Carvalho and Associates Captain Jacomé José de Seixas and associates Joaquim Ignacio da Cruz and associates who each owned three ships Manoel Fernadez dos Santos Maya and D. Thereza de Jesus Maria widow of Manoel Fernandez da Costa who respectively owned two and Antônio Cardozo dos Santos João da Cunha Andre Marques Captains Bento Fernandez Galliza João Lourenço Velloso Antônio da Cunha Pereira Domingos Luiz da Costa and João da Cruz de Moraes who each owned one slaving ship. In addition one third of the cargo capacity of large ships and one fourth on smaller ships would be devoted to the “men of trade and the other inhabitants of this town [Salvador da Bahia]” while the remainder of the cargo would be divided among “the owners and whatever they concede to the officers and sailors of the same vessels.” Pierre Verger Trade Relations Between the Bight of Benin and Bahia from the 17th to the 19th Century (Ibadan Nigeria: Ibadan University Press 1968) 81.
E. Ashtor“The Jews in the Mediterranean Trade in the Later Middle Ages,”Hebrew Union College Annual55 (1984): 159–178161; Julie Lee Mell Religion and Economy in Pre-Modern Europe: The Medieval Commercial Revolution and Jews (PhD dissertation University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill 2007) 183–234; Harris “The Institutional Dynamics of Early Modern Eurasian Trade” 611–612.
See David WheatAtlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean 1670–1640 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press2016) 15–17 81–93 108–118 and Alex Borucki David Eltis and David Wheat “Atlantic History and the Slave Trade to Spanish America” American Historical Review 120 no. 2 (2015): 433–461 447–448.
François Sieur Le FrogerA Relation of a Voyage Made in the Years 1695 1696 1697 to the Coasts of Africa the Streights of Magellan Brasil Cayana and the Antilles or Caribby Islands (London: M. Gillyflower; W. Freeman, M. Wotton, J. Walthoe; and R. Parker1698) 109.
In July1774for instance Captain Jozé Bernardo of the Company ship Nossa Senhora da Gloria e São Joaquim travelled from Paraíba carrying licenses which grossly under-reported the tonnage of goods aboard the ship. While the charrua carried over one thousand arrobas of sugar owned jointly by the officers and crew members the navigational licenses on board only declared one hundred and eight arrobas of sugar. The Intendant and Deputy Intendant of the Company complained of the “scandalous abuse” of cargo licenses and also declared that it was in the Company’s interest to regulate and moderate the amount of goods that mariners could legally carry on the Company ships on which they labored. Arquivo Nacional Torre do Tombo hereafter ANTT Companhia Geral de Pernambuco e Paraíba Livro 383 Copiador de Pernambuco 39.
Emma ChristopherSlave Ship Sailors and Their Captive Cargoes 1730–1897 (New York: Cambridge University Press2006) 23–24; Marcus Rediker The Slave Ship: A Human History (London: John Murray Publishers 2007) 230; Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age (Boston: Beacon Press 2005) 24.