This article focuses on the historiography of abolition and antislavery. Abolitionism is an idea, articulated through language that emerged in the eighteenth century and propelled people to act. It ultimately changed the world. People came to believe that God had endowed all humans with the inalienable right to be free and that slavery was an intolerable evil that must be abolished. Most scholars agree with this basic definition of abolitionism. But they have long disagreed about its significance and the process by which the idea led to action and political change. The discussion covers the age of gradual abolitionism (1770s–1820s), gradual abolition in the British Caribbean and French Caribbean, the age of immediate abolitionism (1820s–1860s), the French abolition movement, and the road to civil war and emancipation in the United States.
Robert W. Slenes
This article reviews scholarship on the history and historiography of slavery in Brazil. Brazil possessed a more varied slave economy with a much larger sector producing for the internal market than scholars had previously thought. The already large slave population of Minas Gerais increased dramatically from 168,543 in 1819 to 381,893 in 1872. Minas Gerais consisted of an intricate mercantile system based on slave labour that not only supplied foreign markets with hides, tobacco, and the products of a revived mining and incipient coffee sector, but also satisfied the domestic demand of Minas and of the rapidly growing Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo plantation complex for cheese, hogs, cattle, and homespun cotton cloth. An elite group of merchants in the ports — often descendants of representatives of Portuguese mercantile houses who had married into large landowning and slaveholding families — came to dominate Brazil's trade with Africa as well as its coastal commerce.
Matt D. Childs and Manuel Barcia
This article reviews scholarship on the history and historiography of slavery in Cuba. In the sixteenth-century, Africans crossed the Atlantic and accompanied Diego Velésquez and other Spanish conquistadors in the first expeditions sent to subjugate Cuba. Africans served in post-conquest Cuba as enslaved assistants to powerful military and political officials or as domestic servants. During the nineteenth-century heyday of plantation slavery, Cuban social and political life centred on the master-slave relation. Foreign capital and foreign political pressure — British abolitionism and United States annexationism, for example — began to shape Cuban slavery beyond the contours of Spanish colonialism alone. The transatlantic slave trade lasted longer to Cuba than to any other New World slave society with final abolition coming only in 1867.
K. Russell Lohse
This article reviews scholarship on the history and historiography of slavery in Mexico and Central America. Slaves (and people of African descent generally) played a far greater role in both Mexico and Central America than previously assumed or acknowledged. Although a minority of the population in most areas, black and mulatto slaves provided the bulk of the workforce in several key colonial industries. Even as a small minority of labourers, slaves often occupied critical roles in production as skilled workers and supervisors. By the late seventeenth century, creoles outnumbered Africans in Mesoamerica, and by the mid-eighteenth century, most slaves in the region were mulattos. By then, the recovery of the Indian population and the phenomenal growth of the mestizo and free mulatto populations throughout Mexico and Central America gradually eliminated the need for slave workers in most regions. Abolition in the 1820s resulted not just from the growth of the free population, nor from the commitment of creole patriots to Enlightenment ideals, but in part from the slaves' own efforts at liberating themselves.
John J. McCusker and Russell R. Menard
This article offers an overview of the rise of African slavery in English America. Several propositions are useful in ordering the historical record. The most important is that transitions to African slavery in the several colonies of England's emerging empire can be better understood if Britain's Atlantic world is approached as a single if imperfect and fragile labour market, and if variations in the composition of the workforce among colonies and within particular colonial regions over time are approached through a focus on the supply and demand for labour.
Stewart R. King
This article reviews scholarship on the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804). The revolution stands as the only one in history to have destroyed a society in which slaves performed almost all productive labour and constructed on top of the rubble a nation-state in which slavery was prohibited. This unique phenomenon resonated throughout the transatlantic world, with repercussions in the imperial capitals of western Europe and throughout every slaveholding region in the Americas. The revolution inspired slaves with pride and the hope of ultimate deliverance and freedom, and it encouraged advocates of liberty in Europe. Perceptions of the revolution over the ensuing two centuries have been coloured by racial attitudes and by the subsequent experience of independent Haiti. In the last half century, scholars have rediscovered the Haitian Revolution. New data and new methods have advanced understanding of the social and cultural circumstances of the revolution and its preconditions.
Francisco A. Scarano
This article reviews scholarship on the history and historiography of slavery in Spanish Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. Santo Domingo, the Spanish colony that became the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, its island neighbour to the east, rank as two of the Western hemisphere's most racially mixed societies. Historical factors related in one way or another to slavery account for the high degree of racial admixture. Both countries experienced enslavement and the Atlantic slave trade intensely in the sixteenth century. This was followed by a long period of economic declension during which slave imports were low and the exploitation of slave labour fell into relative obsolescence. In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, virtual economic autarchy in both colonies allowed for greater rates of miscegenation than in almost every other New World society significantly influenced by the institution of slavery.
This article reviews scholarship on the history and historiography of slavery in the Spanish South American Mainland. The history of African slaves on the South American mainland began with the Spanish conquistadors in the early sixteenth century. Already present in the West Indies and Mexico following the Spanish conquest and settlement of those areas, slaves now became involved in the expansion of Spanish rule southward. Small numbers accompanied the conquistadors along the Pacific coast. While most of the African slaves and slaves of African descent who participated in the conquest were soon freed, thereby establishing the roots of a growing and important free coloured population, thousands more arrived in their footsteps. In the process, the role of the African slave changed significantly. Initially, the majority of the slaves had been retainers and servants of the conquistadors who used some of the looted wealth of the Incas to acquire what was essentially an expensive status symbol. And while the slave as status symbol remained a constant throughout the history of slavery in Spanish South America, the vast majority of the new imports were destined to occupy far more demanding and onerous positions as manual labourers and domestic servants.