Role of Nantes in the slave trade

Last updated

18th century view of Nantes port from l'ile Gloriette, attributed to Nicolas Ozanne. Vue du port de Nantes prise de l'ile Gloriette.jpg
18th century view of Nantes port from l'île Gloriette, attributed to Nicolas Ozanne.
Reconstruction of the steerage of a slave-ship featured in the "Les Anneaux de la Memoire" exhibition at the Chateau des ducs de Bretagne in Nantes (1992-1994). Anneauxmemoire92 sceno entrepont.jpg
Reconstruction of the steerage of a slave-ship featured in the "Les Anneaux de la Mémoire" exhibition at the Château des ducs de Bretagne in Nantes (1992–1994).

The Nantes slave trade resulted in the deportation, from the late 17th to the beginning of the 19th century, of more than 500,000 black African slaves into French ownership in the Americas, mainly in the Antilles. With 1,744 slave voyages, Nantes, France, was the principal French slave-trading port for the duration of this period. The Slave Trade was explicitly encouraged by the royal family and described by the church as an "ordinary occupation." [1]

Contents

The town was the last centre for slave trade in France, until the abolishment of the practice in 1831, with the prohibition of the slave trade. [2]

Context

The transatlantic slave trade, between Europe and America, deported 12 to 13 million Africans, the majority of those from the end of the 17th century onwards. In 1997, the historian Hugh Thomas claimed that 13,000,000 slaves left Africa as a result of the slave trade, of which 11,328,000 arrived at their destination, over 54,200 voyages. [3] Every large European port was involved in the slave trade, although to varying degrees. English ports were at the forefront; with 4,894 expeditions departing from Liverpool and 2,704 from London.

Metropolitan France launched around 4,200 slave-ships and finds itself third place amongst slave-trading nations, after Great Britain and Portugal. [4] The town of Nantes alone organised 1,744 expeditions, or 41.3% of the total for France. The following towns, in order of importance, together made up 33.5% of French slave voyages: Bordeaux, La Rochelle and Le Havre. [5]

The importance of Nantes in the slave trade can be explained as very important: the town benefits from its proximity with Lorient, the home of the French East India Company, which allowed the supply of Indiennes and money cowries, which were highly appreciated by slave merchants. [6] This situation compensated for the shallow draft of the Loire estuary, which was limited to eleven feet and so allowed only for ships at a maximum of 150–170 tonnes in fully loaded conditions to reach Nantes. The Gironde estuary, however, had a draft of 14 to 16 feet, as a result of which 250 vessels could reach Bordeaux, a port situated far from the major routes between London and the Po Valley, capable of exporting the riches offered by the Aquitaine Basin. [7] Nantes entered the slave trade relatively late, in 1707. The ship-owners found the triangular trade much more profitable than direct trade, which consisted in undertaking journeys between Europe and the Americas, as at the turn of the 17th century the port dealt mainly in interregional and European trade (encompassing the Iberian Peninsula, the British Isles and the North Sea), of which the majority of the traffic dealt in traditional commerce, in use since the medieval period, with products such as flour, wine and salt. [8]  

Timeline of the slave trade in Nantes

Beginning

The first ship in Nantes to be utilised in the slave trade was most likely the Hercule in 1707, launched by the compagnie du Sénégal and belonging to the Montaudouin family. [8] [9]

Then, after a 4-year pause (between 1707 and 1711), traffic began again in 1712 with 7 ships. Over the following 15 years the number of slave-ships launched increased:

Annual number of slave-ships launched from Nantes

171317151716171717181719172017211722172317271728
142021112920161124610

From the 1730s onwards, the tonnage of Nantes slave-ships was constantly growing, going from a little over 1,000 tonnes in 1735 to 6,000 tonnes in 1740. [10]

1740 to 1752

The years which followed were much more chaotic: the War of the Austrian Succession, in which France participated, hindered maritime commerce – which was, at the time, the main battleground for the Anglo-French rivalry. Therefore, the tonnage of slave-ships in Nantes was extremely low, never surpassing 500 tonnes, during the three years of the conflict (1745, 1746 and 1747). The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, signed in 1748, allowed a gradual increase in commercial activity again, with more than 1,000 tonnes passing through the port. The following year, however, this tonnage reached a record number of 9,000 tonnes. [10]

The years 1750 and 1751 saw a lull in activity, due notably to the fact that ship-owners in Nantes were waiting to discover the results of their post-war investments. [11] A slave-ship's voyage through a system of triangular trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas generally took between 14 and 18 months. [8]

1752 to 1763

As reassured ship-owners saw, over the years 1752, 1753 and 1754 their tonnage surpassed 5,000 tonnes. This was considered a period of strong commercial activity, as from 1735 to 1759 this number would only be exceeded five times. In 1755, trade slowed and reached only 3,000 tonnes, before completely crashing between 1756 and 1763 as a result of the Seven Years' War, during which the English first captured Gorée and Saint-Louis in Senegal, principal centres for gathering African slaves coming from across the continent, and then Guadeloupe in 1759. [8]

1763 to 1793

The signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763 allowed trade in Nantes to re-establish itself to a high level of activity, even if the 699 expeditions organised during the following 30 years would represent less than half of the French slave trade as a whole during this period, whereas Nantes had accounted for over 50% before the conflict. From then on until the first abolition of slavery in 1793, this share would continue to fall. 

Nantes' share of traffic in the French slave trade
PeriodPercentage
of trade from Nantes
[12]
1763–176649.3%
1767–177142.5%
1772–177834.4%
1783–178934.3%
1789–179336.1%

This loss of market-share is explained by several factors, notably: 

However, even if the number of slave voyages fell from an average of 29 per year (between 1763 and 1766), to 22.2 (between 1767 and 1771) and 20.6 (between 1772 and 1778, i.e. the beginning of the American Revolutionary War), the overall tonnage fell more slowly (from an average of 3,954 tonnes per year between 1763 and 1766, to 3,556 tonnes between 1772 and 1778), which means that while ship-owners in Nantes deployed less ships, they used vessels with a greater capacity. The average capacity of a slave-ship went from 140 tonnes after the Seven Years' War, to 175.5 tonnes between 1772 and 1778.

After American independence, 32 ships were launched on average per year between 1783 and 1788, making 193 ships departing from Nantes during this period, against 116 from Bordeaux, 111 from Le Havre and 75 from La Rochelle. During the first two years of the French Revolution, 89 slave-ships were launched from Nantes (46 in 1789 and 43 in 1790). Between 1789 and 1793, the port of Nantes accounted for 36.1% of slave trade traffic with 152 ships: as much as the output of their main rivals, Bordeaux and Le Havre, put together.

During the same period, the number of slaves transported by Nantes ships numbered 200,000. These slaves were taken mainly from the Gulf of Guinea (principally the region of Calabar, on the south east coast of what is now Nigeria) and the "Angola coast" (now part of Angola and the Republic of the Congo [14] ), [15] numbered as follows :

Number of slaves transported by Nantes slave-ships [16]
PeriodNumber of slaves
1763–176632,300
1767–177133,854
1772–177835,161
1783–178855,932
1789–179338,361

Nantes traders were not only capable of adapting to market conditions in both America and Africa, but were also capable of changing the point of sale according to competition. It was, nevertheless, in Saint-Domingue that they sold the majority of their human cargo. Making use of a network of relations across the island, it became the exclusive domain of Loire slave traders. Cap Français (now Cap-Haïtien) and Port-au-Prince were the main points of sale and welcomed, respectively, 30 and 25% of Nantes slave-ships. The latter dealt with 46.8% of the supply of provisions to Port-au-Prince, 60.7% in Léogâne, 64.7% in  Cayes and  81.6% in Saint-Marc. [17]

The August 1793 decree for the abolition of slavery put an end to all slave trade activity across all French territory for nine years.

1802 to 1830

The re-establishment of slavery by Napoléon Bonaparte in 1802, revived slave trade activity for 15 years (accounting for 70% of national trade, with more than 300 expeditions), [18] however, this was achieved illegally, as the French Royal Navy fought successfully against illegal traffickers throughout the 1820s until the prohibition of the trade in 1831 which eventually led to the definitive abolition of slavery instigated by Victor Schlœlcher on 27 April 1848.

Economic effect

The 18th century undeniably marked the peak of Nantes trade and the town's development which saw its population double, rising from 40,000 to 80,000 inhabitants over the course of the century [19]

Maritime trade

Naturally, the trade's greatest impact was on port activity, even if transatlantic ships (including not only slave-ships, but those involved in direct trade with the American isles, and Privateers) never accounted for more than 25.4% of the total tonnage entering Nantes port in 1772. [20]

Triangular trade also stimulated the rise of "direct" trade between Nantes and the islands, as at the end of their circuit the slave traders themselves only brought back the commodities derived from the sale of slaves in "plantation colonies", such as sugar and coffee, therefore requiring other ships to come from Nantes and load up the surplus. [8]

Commodities brought back to Nantes port from the colonies were varied: sugar, coffee, cotton and indigo were unloaded on the new Fosse quay which from then on took over the majority of port-activity from the former "port au Vin" (now the Place du Commerce). These products were resold with substantial profits, whether to fuel the interior French market or to supply the burgeoning local industry. [21] Sugar (mainly raw or brown sugar, destined for the national market) was, by far, the most greatly imported product in Nantes, amounting to 22,605,000 lbs in 1786, making up 60.8% of the total value of imported merchandise. [22]

The commercial activity produced by triangular trade generated the success of maritime commerce within the kingdom of France and with the rest of the European continent. As a result, the tonnage directed towards foreign ports increased from 8,352 tx in 1702, to 30,428 tx in 1772 (a ratio of 1:3.6), while the tonnage delivered to French ports during the same period passed from 32,276 tx to 61,686 tx (1:1.9), [23] making Nantes therefore the first port of French commerce</ref>.

Industry

The slave trade increased the wealth of great merchant and ship-owning families, which they invested in as much in agricultural land, in property (in hôtels particuliers or Lustschloss), as in the growing industry which developed alongside traditional artisanal industry. [24] As a result, in 1775, no less than 17 factories were in business in the city. [25]

Triangular trade throughout the 18th century also benefited the development of Shipbuilding. The 18th century was marked by notable growth in the size of Nantes boatyards, which expanded from 3,230 m2 (34,800 sq ft) at the turn of the century, to 50,067 m2 (538,920 sq ft) in 1780, [26] as these became the first French merchant ship builders. [27]

Memorial

See also

Notes and references

  1. Nantes Opens Memorial to Slave Trade DER Siegel. April 24, 2012
  2. "Nantes, la traite négrière et l'esclavage".
  3. Cf. Hugh Thomas, "La traite des Noirs, 1440–1870", éd. R. Laffont pour la traduction française, Paris 2006, pp.870–871 : "Statistiques approximatives". See also the note dedicated to these statistics, pp. 933–935, where the author retraces the succession of estimations since 1950.
  4. Mettas, Jean; Daget, Serge (1984). Répertoire des expéditions négrières françaises au XVIIIe siècle. L'Hartmann. p. 972.
  5. http://hgc.ac-creteil.fr/spip/La-traite-des-Noirs-en-30 Académie de Créteil : La traite des Noirs en 30 questions par Éric Saugera
  6. Vindt, Gérard; Consil, Jean-Michel (June 2013). "Nantes, Bordeaux et l'économie esclavagiste – Au XVIIIe siècle, les villes de Nantes et de Bordeaux profitent toutes deux de la "traite négrière" et de l'économie esclavagiste". Alternatives économiques . 325: 17–21.
  7. Meyer 1977, p. 117
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 "L'esclavage à Nantes". outremer44.free.fr.
  9. Meyer 1977, p. 136
  10. 1 2 Michon 2007 , p. 6
  11. Michon 2007 , p. 7
  12. Weber , p. 26
  13. Weber , p. 27
  14. Michon 2007 , p. 7
  15. "La traite à la " côte d'Angole "". histoire-image.org. 29 April 2007.
  16. Michon 2007
  17. Michon 2007 , pp. 37–38
  18. Traite négrière à Nantes – 150 ans d’une histoire noire
  19. Michon 2008, p. 75.
  20. Michon 2008, p. 76.
  21. Leroux 1984 , p. 55
  22. Meyer 1977 , p. 139
  23. Michon 2008, pp. 76-78.
  24. Leroux 1984 , p. 57
  25. Meyer 1977 , p. 194
  26. La construction navale sur le site du conseil général de Loire-Atlantique.
  27. Bruno Cailleton, La construction navale et civile dans l’amirauté de Nantes au XVIIIe siècle, Hérault Cholet 2000 in site du Maillé-Brézé.

Bibliography

Related Research Articles

Transport in France Overview of the transport in France

Transportation in France relies on one of the densest networks in the world with 146 km of road and 6.2 km of rail lines per 100 km2. It is built as a web with Paris at its center. Rail, road, air and water are all widely developed forms of transportation in France.

History of Senegal Aspect of history

The history of Senegal is commonly divided into a number of periods, encompassing the prehistoric era, the precolonial period, colonialism, and the contemporary era.

Nantes Prefecture and commune in Pays de la Loire, France

Nantes is a city in Loire-Atlantique on the Loire, 50 km (31 mi) from the Atlantic coast. The city is the sixth-largest in France, with a population of 309,346 in Nantes and a metropolitan area of nearly 973,000 inhabitants (2017). With Saint-Nazaire, a seaport on the Loire estuary, Nantes forms one of the main north-western French metropolitan agglomerations.

Lorient Subprefecture and commune in Brittany, France

Lorient is a town and seaport in the Morbihan department of Brittany in North-Western France.

Nouadhibou Commune and town in Dakhlet Nouadhibou Region, Mauritania

Nouadhibou is the second largest city in Mauritania and serves as a major commercial centre. The city itself has about 118,000 inhabitants expanding to over 140,000 in the larger metropolitan area. It is situated on a 65-kilometre peninsula or headland called Ras Nouadhibou, Cap Blanc, or Cabo Blanco, of which the western side has the Moroccan city of La Güera. Nouadhibou is consequently located merely a couple of kilometres from the border between Mauritania and Morocco. Its current mayor is Elghassem Ould Bellali, who was installed on 15 October 2018.

Swedish slave trade

The Swedish slave trade mainly occurred in the early history of Sweden when the trade of thralls was one of the pillars of the Norse economy. During the raids, the Vikings often captured and enslaved militarily weaker peoples they encountered, but took the most slaves in raids of the British Isles, Ireland and Slavs in Eastern Europe. This practice lasted in the 6th through 11th centuries until formally abolished in 1335. A smaller trade of African slaves happened during the 17th and 18th centuries, around the time Swedish overseas colonies were established in North America (1638) and in Africa (1650). It remained legal until 1813.

<i>Asiento de Negros</i> Spanish licence for monopoly of the slave trade in exchange for a loan

The Asiento de Negros was a monopoly contract between the Spanish Crown and various merchants for the right to provide African slaves to colonies in the Spanish Americas. The Spanish Empire rarely engaged in the trans-Atlantic slave trade directly from Africa itself, choosing instead to contract out the importation to foreign merchants from nations more prominent in that part of the world; typically Portuguese and Genovese, but later the Dutch, French and British. The Asiento did not concern French or British Caribbean but Spanish America. The 1479 Treaty of Alcáçovas divided the Atlantic Ocean and other parts of the globe into two zones of influence, Spanish and Portuguese. The Spanish acquired the west side washing South America and the West Indies, whilst the Portuguese obtained the east side washing the west coast of Africa - and also the Indian Ocean beyond. The Spanish relied on African slave labour to make their American colonial project possible, but now lacked any trading or territorial foothold in West Africa, the principal source of slave labour. Thus the Spanish were reliant on Portuguese slave traders for all their requirements. The contract was usually obtained by foreign merchant banks who cooperated with local or foreign traders, specialized in shipping. Different organisations and individuals would bid for the right to hold the asiento.

Gorée Commune darrondissement in Dakar Region, Senegal

Île de Gorée is one of the 19 communes d'arrondissement of the city of Dakar, Senegal. It is an 18.2-hectare (45-acre) island located 2 kilometres at sea from the main harbour of Dakar, famous as a destination for people interested in the Atlantic slave trade although its actual role in the history of the slave trade is the subject of dispute.

Slavery in the British and French Caribbean Slavery in British and French possessions in the Caribbean

Slavery in the British and French Caribbean refers to slavery in the parts of the Caribbean dominated by France or the British Empire.

Society of the Friends of the Blacks

The Society of the Friends of the Blacks was a French abolitionist society founded during the late 18th century. The society's aim was to abolish both the institution of slavery in the France's overseas colonies and French involvement in the Atlantic slave trade. The society was founded in Paris in 1788, and remained active until 1793, during the midst of the French Revolution. It was led by Jacques Pierre Brissot, who frequently received advice from British abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, who led the abolitionist movement in Great Britain. At the beginning of 1789, the Society had 141 members.

Port of Le Havre Port in France

The Port of Le Havre is the Port and port authority of the French city of Le Havre. It is the second-largest commercial port in France in terms of overall tonnage, and the largest container port, with three sets of terminals. It can accommodate all sizes of world cruise liners, and a major new marina is being planned. Le Havre is linked to Portsmouth, England, by Brittany Ferries.

<i>Duc du Maine</i> (slave ship)

Duc du Maine was a slave ship that on June 6, 1719 brought the first African slaves to Louisiana. She had carried them from Senegambia.

Les Anneaux de la Mémoire

The Shackles of Memory Association is a non-profit association registered under the Law on Associations of 1901, whose aim is to bring closer to the general public the history of the slave trade, slavery and their modern consequences, in order to promote new partnerships on a fair and respectful basis, between the societies of Africa, the Americas and Europe.

<i>Passage du milieu</i> 1999 docudrama

Passage du milieu is a 1999 docudrama directed by Guy Deslauriers about the trans-Atlantic voyage of black slaves from the West Coast of Africa to the Caribbean, a part of the triangular slave trade route called the Middle Passage. It portrays the transportation of slaves from Senegal to the sugar plantations of Martinique and the miserable and often fatal conditions on board the slave ship. The script is by Patrick Chamoiseau based on a scenario by Claude Chonville. It was a Martinique-Senegal-France co-production and was screened at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival.

The Société française pour le commerce avec l'Outre-mer (SFCO) is a French investment company, formerly a trading company. It has its origins in the Gradis merchant house established in 1685 and headed by members of the Gradis family.

Maritime history of the Channel Islands

The Channel Islands are a group of islands off the coast of France. The largest island is Jersey, followed by Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, and a number of smaller islands, islets and rocky outcrops. The islands were separated from mainland Europe with rising sea levels in the Neolithic period; thereafter maritime activity commenced.

Antoine Vincent Walsh, was an Irish shipowner and slave trader, operating in Nantes, France; whose family were exiled Jacobites.

Jean Pâris de Monmartel

Jean Pâris de Monmartel was a French financier. He was the youngest of the four Pâris brothers, who were financiers under Louis XIV and Louis XV. At the height of his fortunes he had 370,000 livres invested in the powerful Société d'Angola, set up to deal in the Atlantic slave trade, managed by Antoine Walsh, the richest and most famous of the Irish of Nantes.

The expression ‘’Irish of Nantes’’ denotes a community formed in the 17th century and of great importance in the 18th century. It was originally composed of Jacobite political refugees fleeing the violence of Britain's revolutions, particularly the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This community eventually extended to the ports of Bordeaux and La Rochelle as well as to the Colony of Saint-Domingue.

Modeste Testas

Al Pouessi, baptized Marthe Adélaïde Modeste Testas and known under the name of Modeste Testas (1765-1870) was an Ethiopian woman who was born circa 1765, who was enslaved, purchased by Bordeaux merchants and subsequently freed after living on three continents. One of her descendants is a former president of Haiti, François Denys Légitime.