The Atlantic Trade and Africa: The Portuguese, the Spanish & the Dutch – Parts 1 & 2 | EV & N – 294 & 295

Part 1

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The first two hundred years of the African slave trade were dominated by the Portuguese, the Spanish and the Dutch.  While the Portuguese initiated the trade around the Cape of Good Hope to Asia, the Dutch came to dominate the spice trade to the East and the slave trade in West Africa and the Americas over the course of the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries.  At first the trade in African slaves was conducted through Iberian ports, but after 1530 that began to change, and the “triangular” trade from African directly to the western hemisphere began to become established.

Part 2

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In Africa the Portuguese had reached southwards along to African coast with official encouragement from Prince Henry “the navigator.”  They reached the Gold Coast by 1471 and built the Castle São Jorge da Mina (St. George of the Mine) on the shore by 1482.   Known today as Elmina Castle this structure represents the first trading post built on the Gulf of Guinea, and it still stands today as the oldest European building in existence south of the Sahara.  In subsequent decades and centuries it represented a major trading entrepôt on the Gold Coast.  In 1637 the Dutch seized it from the Portuguese and added to their possessions all the other Portuguese posts on the Gold Coast by 1642.

Further research on the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch trading practices during the first two hundred years of the Atlantic trade system is now needed and would add significantly to an emerging international understanding of the slave trade.  A detailed study of digitized maps from the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch sources could be combined with an in-depth study of the historical ethno-botany of this early trading period to learn about the provisioning of ships for the Middle Passage.  These studies could be combined with a systematic research program for the selective forensic archaeology of the slave castles themselves to yield rich new understandings of this important early phase of the Atlantic slave trade.

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