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9-08-2015, 18:29

Trade and colonies in the Caribbean

While the Indian Ocean was primarily dominated by two powers, the Caribbean – the fi rst site of extensive European colonialism outside of Europe – was contested by many. Columbus claimed the entire area for Spain, but many islands had only small, weakly defended settlements. By the middle of the sixteenth century English and French ships began to smuggle all types of goods to Spanish settlements, and English and French privateers attacked Spanish ships. The religious wars in the sixteenth century gave Protestant captains an excuse to engage in more formal attacks on Catholic Spanish settlements, though often these were ruses; captains threatened, Spanish governors acquiesced, and then both sides engaged in trade. After 1610 or so such “attacks” grew less frequent, and smugglers went back to work, their jobs made easier by the establishment of Caribbean colonies by many nations, which shortened smuggling routes and enhanced opportunities to make a profi t from contraband goods or differential tariff policies. During the seventeenth century, England, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, and even the tiny Baltic duchy of Courland (in present-day Latvia) all established their own colonies or took over Spanish colonies on the Caribbean islands and the north coast of South America. Often two countries set up tiny rival colonies on the same island, which were easily – and often – destroyed by hostile forces. The sovereignty of many colonies changed frequently; the tiny island of Sint Maarten/St. Martin, for example, changed hands at least sixteen times before it was fi nally divided between the Dutch and the French. The earliest challenges to Spanish control came on the north coast of South America, where England, France, and the Netherlands all established settlements where they hoped to grow tropical crops for export and provide safe havens for ships from their own country. From these bases, military expeditions to take over the highly profi table Portuguese settlements in Brazil were launched. Several French invasions failed, but in 1630 Dutch troops conquered the northeastern part of Brazil, and continued to expand their holdings southward. At the time Portugal and its empire were ruled by the Habsburg kings of Spain, and the Netherlands was engaged in its long fi ght against Habsburg domination which ended with the Thirty Years War. Thus military actions in Brazil were motivated in part by Dutch aims in Europe, as well as the fi nancial opportunities offered by Brazilian sugar plantations. Spanish troops were busy fi ghting in Europe, so few could be sent, and the Dutch conquered much of Brazil. After the successful Portuguese revolt against Spain in 1640, local Portuguese settlers rebelled against the Dutch, and Brazil reverted to Portugal in 1654. The Dutch then established larger settlements further north, and also captured the English colony of Surinam, later known as Dutch Guiana, which became the largest Dutch colony in the Americas by 1800. As in Brazil and many Caribbean islands, Surinam’s prosperity rested on sugar planted and harvested by slaves; by 1800, more than 90 percent of the population of the colony consisted of enslaved Africans. Much of the area was low-lying coastal plains, like the Netherlands itself. Using skills they had perfected in Europe, Dutch engineers directed slave labor in massive drainage projects that increased the total amount of cultivable land signifi cantly. Landowners then oversaw the planting of cotton, coffee, and cacao along with sugar. Many of these goods passed through the port established by the Dutch on the small island of Curaçao, on their way to the Netherlands and then the rest of Europe. As Batavia was in the East Indies, Curaçao became a center for ship-building and ship repair in the West Indies, and a place where sailors could fi nd captains who needed crew. Dutch activities in the Americas began as a series of independent ventures, but in 1621 a West Indian Company (WIC) modeled on the already very successful VOC was chartered by the States General, and given monopoly trading privileges and the right to act as a government. Because the Netherlands was at war with Spain at the time, the WIC also had a clear military mission, which made investors hesitant to risk their money. WIC ships did capture the Spanish silver fl eet once, and shareholders got a 50 percent dividend that year, but in general the WIC was a fi nancial disaster. It was never able to gain a monopoly on sugar the way the VOC did on spices, and it was unable to control the activities of private merchants, not even those who were Dutch. Despite a huge payment from the VOC enforced by the Dutch government, the WIC went bankrupt in 1674. It was reorganized with new directors, but no longer had military forces or an offi cial monopoly on anything, becoming instead simply the administrator of Dutch colonies in the Americas. VOC-run colonies in the East Indies operated very effi ciently with only a small Dutch population, but the WIC’s fi nancial diffi culties led many in the Netherlands to suggest that increasing the number of Dutch settlers might be a way to make American colonies more profi table, or at least allow them to survive. The WIC granted what were termed patroonships to individuals; patroons got economic and juridical rights over a piece of land, and in return they were expected to bring in settlers. Thus many Dutch colonies were largely in private hands, though this system never accomplished its original aim of attracting more settlers. The fi rst French colony in this area, Cayenne (later called French Guiana), was established in 1604 on the mainland, but it never became very important economically. The core of French holdings, and France’s most important overseas settlements, were islands in the Caribbean, some taken from indigenous Caribs, some from the Spanish, and some that had been largely unpopulated. Among these was the western coast of the large Spanish-held island of Santo Domingo. Spanish colonists had brought in cattle, some of which escaped and, as in Argentina, multiplied into large herds. Like any abundant natural resource, these cattle attracted people seeking to exploit an opportunity, in this case men who lived by selling leather and meat smoked on wooden frames called boucans to the many ships that passed by. These settlements of boucaniers , or buccaneers as they came to be known in English, were lawless and violent places where men – and a very few women – of varying ethnic backgrounds mixed. In the later seventeenth century, the French began to exert some control over this western part of Santo Domingo, giving it the equivalent French name of Saint-Domingue. They slowly transformed Saint- Domingue – which later became Haiti – into the most profi table slave plantation colony in the Caribbean. Wealthy planters established huge plantations with several hundred slaves, irrigation systems, and new types of processing machinery. Other French holdings in the Caribbean experienced a similar transformation. In the middle of the seventeenth century farms worked primarily by white indentured servants grew tobacco, with the colonies themselves poorly run by a series of shortlived chartered companies. Indentured servants were young men, often quite poor, who worked a set period of years for a landowner in exchange for their passage; their terms of service were often set by a contract. (The word “indentured,” meaning “toothed,” comes from the fact that the edges of a contract written in duplicate on one sheet, were then torn or cut in an uneven jagged pattern; each party was given half the sheet, so that only authentic contracts could be fi tted back together properly.) They were, at least in theory, protected from overexploitation by the local legal authorities. By the end of the century, however, large plantations worked by enslaved Africans had been established on many islands. Former indentured servants remained as overseers, went back to France, drifted into other sorts of employment, or a lucky few became large landowners themselves. Within a century these colonies produced half of Europe’s sugar and coffee, allowing France to maintain a favorable balance of trade, and spurring production in France of certain types of goods for the colonies, especially cloth. That cloth supplied clothing for the Africans who were brought into Saint-Domingue in such numbers that France became the second-largest slave-trading nation after Britain. The French military took over direct control of the colonies from the chartered companies. Colonists were expected to serve in militias, a task they resented and often avoided, and were expected to send all their products to France, a task they also often avoided by smuggling goods directly to other colonies or to Britain or the Netherlands. Louis XIV’s desire for centralized control extended to the Caribbean, and in 1685 he issued the Code Noir (“Black Code”), which among its many provisions prohibited Jews from living in French colonies, forbade the practice of any religion other than Roman Catholicism, regulated relations between masters and slaves, and declared that the legal status of children would follow that of their mother, not their father. (Later in the same year Louis extended the religious clauses to France itself, revoking the Edict of Nantes and outlawing Protestantism.) Many of its provisions were regularly ignored, however, as slaves were undernourished and tortured, and masters refused to baptize their slaves or teach them Christianity. The Code Noir set harsh punishments for slaves who ran away, but allowed people over the age of twenty to free slaves that they owned. Some slaves were manumitted, especially women who were the sexual partners of white men, along with their children, and slowly the population of free black and mixed-race people grew. Estimates of the population of the French Caribbean in 1789 include about 56,000 whites, perhaps as many as 700,000 slaves, and 23,000 free blacks and persons of mixed ancestry. Some of these “free people of color,” as they came to be known, became increasingly wealthy, owning property and slaves. They also wore French clothing, purchased French furniture, and adopted other aspects of French culture, a process white colonists disparagingly called francisation , sometimes translated as “Frenchifi cation.” Offi cials increasingly regarded free people of color with suspicion, and in the later eighteenth century passed restrictive laws regarding their economic and legal position.

SOURCE 36 The Code Noir

Louis XIV issued the extensive Code Noir in March of 1685, and two years later it was offi cially registered in Saint-Domingue. The prologue captures Louis’s understanding of his role as monarch. Louis, by the grace of God, King of France and Navarre, to all present and to come, greetings. Since we [Louis is speaking in the royal “we” here] owe equally our attention to all the peoples that Divine Providence has put under our obedience, we have had examined in our presence the memoranda that have been sent to us by our offi cers in our American islands, by whom having been informed that they need our authority and our justice to maintain the discipline of the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman church there and to regulate the status and condition of the slaves in our said islands, and desiring to provide for this and to have them know that although they live in regions infi nitely removed from our normal residence, we are always present to them … we say, rule, order, and wish that which follows. I We wish and intend that the edict by the late King of glorious memory our very honored lord and father of 23 April 1615 be enforced in our islands, by this we charge all our offi cers to evict from our Islands all the Jews who have established their residence there, to whom, as to the declared enemies of the Christian name, we order to have left within three months from the day of the publication of these present [edicts], or face confi scation of body and property. II All the slaves who will be in our Islands will be baptized and instructed in the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman religion … III We forbid any public exercise of any religion other than the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman; we wish that the offenders be punished as rebels and disobedient to our orders… VI We charge all our subjects, whatever their status and condition, to observe Sundays and holidays that are kept by our subjects of the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman religion. We forbid them to work or to make their slaves work on these days from the hour of midnight until the other midnight, either in agriculture, the manufacture of sugar or all other works … VIII We declare our subjects who are not of the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman religion incapable in the future of contracting a valid marriage. We declare bastards the children born of such unions … XII The children who will be born of marriage between slaves will be slaves and will belong to the master of the women slaves … XIII We wish that if a slave husband has married a free woman, the children, both male and girls, will follow the condition of their mother and be free like her, in spite of the servitude of their father; and that if the father is free and the mother enslaved, the children will be slaves the same … XV We forbid slaves to carry any weapon, or large sticks, on pain of whipping and of confi scation of the weapon to the profi t of those who seize them … XVI In the same way we forbid slaves belonging to different masters to gather in the day or night whether claiming for wedding or otherwise, whether on their master’s property or elsewhere, and still less in the main roads or faraway places, on pain of corporal punishment … XXII Each week masters will have to furnish to their slaves ten years old and older for their nourishment two and a half jars … of cassava fl our or three cassavas weighing at least two-and-a-half pounds each or equivalent things, with two pounds of salted beef or three pounds of fi sh or other things in proportion, and to children after they are weaned to the age of 10 years half of the above supplies … XXV Each year masters will have to furnish each slave with two outfi ts of canvas … XXXIII The slave who will have struck his master or the wife of his master, his mistress or their children to bring blood, or in the face, will be punished with death. XLII The masters may also, when they believe that their slaves so deserve, chain them and have them beaten with rods or straps. They shall be forbidden however from torturing them or mutilating any limb, at the risk of having the slaves confi scated … XLIII We enjoin our offi cers to criminally prosecute the masters, or their foremen, who have killed a slave under their auspices or control, and to punish the master according to the circumstances of the atrocity … LIX We grant to manumitted slaves the same rights, privileges and liberties enjoyed by persons born free; desiring that they merit this acquired liberty and that it produce in them, both for their persons and for their property, the same effects that the good fortune of natural liberty causes in our other subjects. (English translation by John D. Garrigus, Jacksonville University. Printed by permission.) Like Dutch colonies, many British Caribbean colonies were established during the Thirty Years War when Spanish troops were busy fi ghting in Europe, and like French colonies, many fi rst used white indentured servants to raise tobacco or cotton. Changes in agriculture, the disruptions of the Civil War era, and religious differences led some people to immigrate voluntarily through indenture contracts, while others were forced into service. Opponents of Cromwell’s actions in Ireland and Scotland were sometimes transported to the Caribbean, as were vagrants, debtors, and those found guilty of minor crimes; servants and other poor people were also occasionally “Barbadosed,” a slang term for being kidnapped and taken to the colonies. As in the French Caribbean, the introduction of sugar created a much larger demand for labor than indenture contracts or even kidnapping could supply, however, and African slaves, supplied by merchants from many countries, met this need. Sugar could only be produced profi tably on a large scale, so wealthy planters often bought out their neighbors, then turned the actual running of the plantation over to those same individuals or men in their families, now hired as overseers. Many poorer whites eked out a living through hunting, raising a few crops and animals, fi shing, and doing the few odd jobs available. The wealthy planters called them “redlegs” because of their sunburned skin. (The American term “redneck” may also come from the sunburned skin of poorer whites who worked outdoors in the southern colonies, though an alternative derivation is the red scarves worn by Scottish opponents of the Church of England, some of whom emigrated to those same colonies.) Groups of colonists also moved from one island to another, establishing new colonies or taking over those of other countries. British troops took part of Spanish Jamaica in 1655, for example, and a few years later held the whole island; later British Jamaicans established a colony for timber in the area of Spanish Central America called the Mosquito Coast (now part of Nicaragua and Honduras). Such actions spurred return raids, with settlements and plantations burned and slaves captured. Beginning in the 1670s, hundreds of British colonists from Barbados settled in Carolina, where they built plantations growing rice and indigo, also using African slave labor. In the eighteenth century, local confl icts and international disputes continued. The Seven Years War brought a reshuffl ing of territories between France and Britain, and the War of American Independence brought further changes. British colonists were forbidden to trade with the newly independent Americans; though much smuggling continued, it proved diffi cult to fi nd substitutes for the large amounts of grain that the American colonies had provided to feed slaves and other Caribbean residents. There was famine on several islands, sometimes made worse by hurricanes that were common in the area, and yellow fever killed many immigrants. Wealthy planters and their families spent more and more time in England, where life was more secure, and there were far more schools, cafés, clubs, and other institutions of the newly emerging “public sphere” than were available in the colonies. Despite these problems, however, the British West Indian “sugar islands” were quite prosperous at the end of the eighteenth century, and the absentee landlords gathered in London were effective in making sure that national policies did not interfere with this. Although the colonies of the Caribbean and northern South America were often at war with one another, their basic economic and social structures were very similar; most were based on plantation slavery, or on providing plantation economies with goods that they needed. African slaves had actually arrived in the Americas as early as 1502, though there were few in the early decades of colonization, as the Spanish and Portuguese hoped their labor needs would be met by indigenous peoples. When death due to disease and exploitation made this impossible, the importation of African slaves increased. Estimates of the slave trade suggest that about 75,000 slaves left Africa for the Americas before 1580, and during the same period, around 225,000 people left Europe, mostly from Spain and Portugal. From 1580 to 1700, the proportions were very different; estimates vary, but perhaps a million people left Europe for the Americas, while a million and a half to two million people were taken from Africa. In the eighteenth century, as the demand for tropical crops increased, the proportion grew even more skewed; somewhere between two and a half and fi ve million people were taken from Africa, while less than a million left Europe. Taking all the years of the slave trade together, around 40 percent of the slaves went to Brazil, another 40 percent to the Caribbean, and the remaining 20 percent to the rest of the Americas. Somewhere around 4 percent went to North America, where higher reproductive rates among slaves allowed the maintenance of the system without a large constant infl ux from Africa. In the sixteenth century the Portuguese dominated the slave trade, while in the seventeenth century the Dutch, French, and English joint-stock companies all carved out set routes and areas in which they were supposed to have a monopoly. As with other goods, however, slaves were regularly smuggled in and out of islands and ports. Laws regarding slavery in Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Dutch colonies were, like many other legal issues, based loosely on Roman law, which allowed slaves to be manumitted and forbade masters to kill them. Colonies further developed their own codes based on metropolitan directives and decrees such as Louis XIV’s Code Noir, but also on local customs and needs. By the eighteenth century, for example, slaves in Spanish America were allowed to purchase their own freedom through the coartación ; as long as they offered a fair price, their masters were supposed to free them. Britain had never adopted Roman law, nor was there much consideration of slavery in common law, so that each British colony devised its own laws and legal precedents. Though the Code Noir and other laws regarding slavery set harsh punishments for slaves who ran away and for anyone who aided them, many did attempt to escape. Most were probably returned, but runaway slaves, called maroons , formed villages and settlements in mountains, swamps, jungles, and other frontier areas beyond the reach of colonial authorities. Some of these communities grew so large that they were the actual governing power in certain areas, and colonial offi cials occasionally made treaties with them just as they did with other neighboring states. Maroons were often central fi gures in slave revolts, which began in the sixteenth century and continued throughout the time of plantation slavery. Most revolts were brief, local, and small, though a few spread more widely. Fear of slave revolts was ever present, heightened by sensationalist stories that spread by word of mouth, letters, and printed accounts of plots uncovered, weapons gathered, and owners threatened. Fear of revolt was also intensifi ed by simply looking around, for by the end of the eighteenth century the vast majority of the Caribbean population, no matter which European state controlled the colony, were slaves from Africa.

 

 

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