Exploitation of the Atlantic
Discuss the Exploitation of the Atlantic through a trade system. Who were the major players in terms of an Atlantic trading empire? What at first began with the Portuguese as kings of trade eventually spread to other major nations…WHY and HOW? What types of goods were essential in creating trading empires and producing exploitation of Africans, Native Americans, and colonists (think sugar and fur and more…)? How did trade create and destroy relationships between indigenous cultures and peoples and European colonists and trading companies? Again, how were natives used, or were they, during trade negotiations and deals?
Portuguese sailors, because of their proximity to the north west coast of Africa, were the first to begin large scale exploitation of the west African coast. Muslim traders would bring goods and slaves for trade to the coastal ports where they were then sold to the sailors. Prior to 1942 Columbus had sailed much of the Eastern Atlantic between Iceland and Africa. They pushed their exploration farther down the coast in search of Slaves, gold, spices and ivory. Colonizing the Azores, Madeira and Canary Islands, these islands soon were a source for the importation of sugar cane. Fortified trading posts were built by the Portuguese along the west African coast and trade continued with the Muslims (Francis).
How it works
Africans – The Muslim’s had been supplying the European market with African gold, spices, ivory and slaves for years, and the trade with America was predominantly one way with the importation of goods, so the vessels were dead heading to the America’s, transporting slaves allowed the ships masters to make a profit in both directions. Ships would sail from Europe to Africa, where slaves would be purchased and then brought to the America’s where the ship would return with goods to Europe. The profit of the slave trade and development of vessels specifically designed to maximize the number of slaves carried, increasing the profit margin by transporting larger numbers packed tightly into ships. The slaves were treated worse than cattle or other livestock would be treated, with many dying during the crossing. The slave traders mind set were described in Grosfoguel and Mielants paper when they wrote “Africans were characterized by Las Casas as not only ‘people without religion’ but also ‘people without soul’” (3). Believing that the Africans were a subhuman species and therefore it was not immoral to enslave them, dell them or even kill them.
Native Americans – the population was decimated from diseases unknown to the Americas before like measles and smallpox. Those native Americans that survived often headed inland or were forced labor for the European colonists. The Aztec race was essentially destroyed by the Portuguese exploitation of Brazil and the Spanish conquest of the remainder of central America. In the north, trade with the indigenous people was open and the trade of animal furs, food and other goods was common.
Colonists – Molasses was imported from the west indies and turned into rum, which could then be exported along with fish, textiles and artisan goods. Ship building was dominated by New England (by the 1770 one third of the British fleet had been built in New England), Probably due to the availability of old growth lumber and relatively inexpensive production costs.
How did trade effect the relationships between the indigenous cultures/peoples and the European colonists / trading companies: As the colonization of the America’s continued, America was soon to become a player in the trade game. the North being predominantly English and some French colonies (Quebec being the largest), while the South (Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and much of the Caribbean) were settled by the Spanish. British expansion along the eastern seaboard, the west Indies and development of large-scale agricultural production (sugar cane being the most profitable crop) provided a need for more labor.
To increase their market share and control over the colonies, the navigation acts passed in 1651 gave Brittan the advantage in growing trade with their colonies by prohibiting trade with other countries. Although it did increase the British trade with the colonies, it also gave rise to smuggling and probably was a major contributor to the revolution and declared independence from Brittan.
The Spanish held a monopoly on trade with their colonies until the peace of Ultrecht in 1713 gave an economic advantage to England, allowing for a limited trade from Spanish America by non-Spanish vessels. The British navy grew and during the French and Indian war, Brittan captured Havana, emphasizing the need for the Spanish navy to be expanded or risk domination by the British. Spain additionally allowed American vessels to enter and trade in Spanish ports directly to decrease British expansion.
Native Americans had developed their own economy, where trading between tribes and diplomacy existed. They were essentially stateless, sharing the land and benefitting from its bounty. With their religion predominantly based on nature, they were more in touch with their world and less concerned with the formation of cities and industry. The European settlers that colonized the north east were welcomed by the indigenous people and trade in furs and hides for Wampum was common. The natives probably felt that the European settlers with their firearms would be a deterrent to attack by their enemies. They openly shared with the colonists. In exchange we gave them deadly diseases, alcohol, firearms and a religion that was in opposition to their prior beliefs, a recipe that helped to destroy the many proud nations that had shared the land for centuries. Most nations were forced to meet the demands of the European countries, forming alliances with the settlers where they lived. The Iroquois attempted to maintain a neutral stance between the French and British but ended up joining the French against the British. After the French and Indian war, the French presence was greatly diminished, and the Iroquois lost their powerful ally.
Atlantic World Piracy. Think of Wesley (Dread Pirate Roberts) or Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean). How to contemporary portrayals of piracy and pirates reflect both reality and entertainment? In this regard how is our collective memory formed by these images? But, in the end who truly were the Atlantic Pirates? Were they psychopathic marauders or men (and women) attempting to carve out economic opportunities and doing so through one of the most democratic institutions in the world…Atlantic Piracy? Please explain this answer with examples and consider the story of Daniel Collins to help you. How does one become a pirate and why would one want to be a pirate in the Atlantic? What was life like onboard a pirate ship and why did these men and women become considered “enemies of all mankind?”
The modern depiction of Pirates is one full of romance and excitement, with the adventurous men sailing the high seas in search of their fortunes and their nights filled with Rum, women and song. How much of what we see portrayed is truth? How much is some writer’s fantasy or imagination? The life of a sailor was a difficult one, even on a modern warship as an officer. The risk of illness or injury was ever present. The sea is often referred to as an unforgiving mistress, and with good reason, there is always risk of a rogue wave, a shifting sandbar or rock to run aground on, the possibility of severe storms and risk of getting lost, just to name a few. Today we have the advantage of GPS, radio, engines, desalination and refrigeration, not to mention modern plumbing. Sailors would set out on a journey of months, not hours, and the trip from the ivory coast to the Bahamas was at the least 65 days (assuming an average speed of 5 knots).
Without all of the modern conveniences, the ships would need to make a stop in the Canary Islands to re-provision and then take advantage of the prevailing winds and currents to the west indies and Caribbean islands (still a 27 day journey). The life of an ordinary sailor was a difficult one. Pirates shared the life of a sailor, but also were constantly being hunted for the bounty on their heads. British, Spanish and Portuguese naval vessels would actively hunt down the pirates to bring them to justice or kill them in the act of capture. The King George 1 of Brittan went so far as to offered full pardon to any pirate that surrendered himself to the local governor in an attempt to slow the frequency of piracy and further increased the hunting down of pirates, offering a significant reward for the capture of known pirates. (Lab Queen). It is ironic, that the golden age of piracy was started by England when they issued letters of mark to privateers authorizing the piracy of Spanish and Portuguese ships.
The trade routes that developed minimized the time to cross, allowed for the ships to resupply, but also made them predictable. Although the capture of a slaver, the slaves would probably be of little value to a pirate, the ship itself could be of tremendous value. A fleet of ships would be a much more imposing force, and also increase the chance of being victorious in a battle on the high seas. Captain Bartholomew Roberts captured 11 slavers of the coast of Africa without any resistance (the crews were ashore dealing with the cargo and slaves). Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, wreaked havoc on the Caribbean capturing numerous ships, and even raided Charleston South Carolina. Ships laden with gold, diamonds and other cargo would be worth a great deal. Pirates would often take a ship at sea and then press the crew into service or sailing them to (pirate friendly) ports where they could sell off the cargo, refit the ship or both. Other times ships would be stripped of their valuables and other supplies and either scuttled or otherwise disabled to prevent them from chasing the pirates. The numerous small islands and hidden ports in the Bahamas and Caribbean islands made an ideal spot for pirate games.
The pirates of the colonial times varied as much as the criminal element of today does. Some were more civilized and peaceful than others, more honorable pirates would limit their plundering to vessels of a foreign country, and many were given commissions, acting as state sponsored privateers, attack enemy ships and plunder at will. This would offer many pirates an opportunity at legitimacy. The closest thing I can think of to the pirates of the golden age is the 1% motorcycle gangs of today. They operate on their own set of principals and work together for the club. There is much secrecy about their activities and criminal enterprises, they tend to be exuberant celebrators and often violent beyond the societal norm, they are not necessarily bad people. The original Hells Angel MC was started by a group of World War II veterans that felt they didn’t belong to society after coming home.
They missed the comradery and brotherhood that forms in combat and wanted to regain that feeling of belonging. Riding a motorcycle tends to lead to a freedom and independence, combine that with a group of brothers and you have a very tempting group for someone feeling lost. Fast forward to today and they have morphed into a worldwide presence, arguably a criminal enterprise with a good public relations department. They do many charitable events and donate to many worthy causes, yet much of the illegal firearms and drug distribution in this country can be connected to the larger clubs that feel they are outside the law (In Search Of History: Hell’s Angels). They tend to behave in their neighborhoods (helps to keep the neighbors and police from paying too much attention to them), similar to the pirate colonies described in Daniel Collins account, some motorcycle clubs can be unpredictable and brutal to outsiders, while others are just friends that share a love of the open road and an occasional bug or two in your teeth.
- Atlantic Economy. (2005). In J. M. Francis (Ed.), Iberia and the Americas: culture, politics, and history. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. Retrieved from http://vlib.excelsior.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/abcibamrle/atlantic_economy/0?institutionId=1649
- “”In Search Of History: Hell’s Angels.””. A & E Home, 2005.
- Grosfoguel, R. and Mielants, E. (2006) ‘The Long-Durée Entanglement Between Islamophobia and Racism in the Modern/Colonial Capitalist/Patriarchal World-System: An Introduction’, Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, 5(1) (Fall): 1–12.
- Nimako, Kwame, and Glenn Frank Walter Willemsen. The Dutch Atlantic: Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation. Pluto Press, 2011.
- Queen Lab. “”Did You Know Pirates Were Granted A Pardon? | Queen Anne’s Revenge Project””. Qaronline.Org, 2019, https://www.qaronline.org/blog/2017-09-05/did-you-know-pirates-were-granted-a-pardon.