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date: 04 July 2022

Abstract and Keywords

During the era of the Anglo-American slave trade ca. 1610–ca. 1810, music itself offered few opportunities for immense financial gain. By contrast, the slave trade (transatlantic, intra-coastal, and local) and the use of slave labor (not just on plantations but also in manufacturing, small businesses, and domestically) provided profits to owners who put some of that surplus into fostering musical activities such as purchasing lessons, instruments, and scores; subscribing to opera and concert seasons; hiring musicians; and even buying a musical prodigy—Muzio Clementi—from his father in Rome. In addition to considering the opportunities afforded individual owners and families by slave-derived wealth, this chapter brings to the fore theories of the commercialization of consumption, capitalism, and the development of empire. It points to the use of slave-related products such as ivory on musical instruments. It demonstrates how significant slavery’s investors were to the establishment of the Royal Academy of Music in London, the first opera company to be chartered as a business. It identifies professional and amateur musicians who were slave owners. These previously unknown or disregarded links between slavery and the musical world of the nascent British empire are laid bare for the first time.

Keywords: music, British empire, slave trade, slave labor, profits of slavery, capitalism, ivory, Caribbean, North America, Handel

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