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Review: Volume 32 - The Slave Trade

Review: Volume 32 - The Slave Trade

This book gives an overview of the trans-Atlantic slave trade from its sixteenth century beginnings until its final absolution in the nineteenth century. It covers the main countries involved and explains the inner workings of the trade and the developments that made it easier and more profitable as the centuries passed. On the human level, this book uses the stories of the enslaved, often in their own words, to try to convey the horrors endured by these victims. Finally, it details the fight against slavery both by politicians such as William Wilberforce and by the military might of the Royal Navy.


A masterful survey of the origins, development, nature, and decline of the trade in African men, women, and children, drawing heavily on original sources. Thomas (Conquest: Montezuma, CortÇs and the Fall of Old Mexico, 1994, etc.) argues that, while the practice of slavery was widespread in Europe even during the Middle Ages, it was the Portuguese, as their explorers began to establish trade in Africa in the 1440s, who turned an intermittent habit into a large and sophisticated business. Most other seafaring European nations- -including the Spanish, English, and Dutch—soon followed. Drawing heavily on journals, state documents, business ledgers, and memoirs, Thomas is able to trace in astonishing detail how the business was run, who financed it, and what their profits were, and to explain the complex and profitable interactions of merchants and governments in the trade. Because Thomas is so thorough, there are numbers of surprises here, including the details of the longstanding collaboration of some African rulers with the slave trade. It's also startling to discover that, according to Thomas, approximately one in every ten slave ships experienced a slave rebellion—and that a few were even successful. The sailors in the trade, Thomas notes, were treated horribly themselves: The mortality rate of Dutch crews, for instance, hovered at about 18 percent, while on average about 12 percent of the Africans being transported died at sea. While this is primarily an economic and political history, Thomas does not slight the suffering of the slaves, nor the widespread corrupting effect of the trade on the nations involved in it. He concludes with a vivid history of the long struggle of the abolitionists, beginning in the 18th century, to make the trade illegal. Grim but consistently gripping history, told with clarity and a meticulous attention to detail, this is likely to become the standard reference on the economics of the slave trade.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1997

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Review: Volume 32 - The Slave Trade - History

by Ana Lucia Araujo (New York City: Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2017)

From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, the labor of millions of enslaved Africans generated tremendous wealth for an elite community of slave owners, slave traders, and political rulers in Europe, West Africa, and Atlantic societies. Simultaneously, formerly enslaved individuals and their descendants petitioned for compensation, recognition, and material support, known today as reparations.

The controversy surrounding reparations&mdashabout whether national governments owe apologies for transatlantic enslavement, material support for generational disadvantages of racial discrimination, or financial payments to formerly enslaved persons&mdashspans three centuries.

Ana Lucia Araujo&rsquos Reparations for Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Transnational and Comparative History chronicles the history of the reparations debate by exploring the demands of abolitionists, formerly enslaved individuals, activists, and international organizations for reparations from post-slave societies across the Atlantic, particularly in the United States, Brazil, and Cuba.

Araujo&rsquos history offers a compelling review of the rationales made for reparations payments, the historical actors who made such claims, and historical events that motivated their political demands. This is not a book about policy proposals for addressing the legacies of enslavement, but rather a historical analysis of the debates surrounding it.

While Atlantic slavery spans centuries, the use of the term &ldquoreparations&rdquo to describe ex-slave grievances is relatively new. The term gained popular use after Germany issued financial payments for damages caused by World War I. Enslaved persons, abolitionists, activists, and politicians previously used many other terms, such as &ldquoredress, compensation, indemnification, atonement, repayment, and restitution,&rdquo to convey the same idea.

American Anti-Slavery Society, 1837

Araujo&rsquos history of reparations claims begins with a discussion of transatlantic slavery. Across three centuries, millions of enslaved Africans were kidnapped and captured during wars and slave raids in West Africa, subjected to treacherous overland travel from the African interior to coastal slave ports, and then held in the treacherous holds of slave ships. Successive generations of enslaved people born in the colonies of the present-day United States, Brazil, Cuba, and Colombia, experienced racial exclusion and economic deprivation specifically because of their heritage as enslaved persons.

Simultaneously, immense wealth circulated among rulers of African ethnic empires, European slave traders, and wealthy colonial slave holders. Transatlantic slavery complemented other trading in commodities such as beer, ivory, and gold. Enslavers generated profits not only from unpaid wages to enslaved Africans but also from revenue gained from highly valuable goods such as sugar and cotton.

No post-slavery nation has issued financial reparations to enslaved persons or their relatives to date, yet slave holders across Atlantic societies received financial compensation for the loss of wages due to decline of the slave trade.

Perhaps the most visible insurrection of Africans in the nineteenth century Atlantic world, the Haitian Revolution, resulted in the formation of an independent African nation (Haiti) in 1804. However, in exchange for formal recognition of its independence in 1825, Haiti agreed to issue reparations to cover financial losses incurred by France from the time of Haiti&rsquos independence.

Likewise, the government of the United Kingdom compensated slaveowners after the abolition of slavery in British colonies, and those payments only ended in 2015.

During the Reconstruction Era (1865-1877) in the United States, formerly enslaved persons petitioned for newfound citizenship rights rather than reparations for unpaid labor. In the late nineteenth century, Congress considered several bills to establish financial compensation for formerly enslaved persons. They all failed.

The largest and most substantial organization to work for financial reparations was the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association, founded in 1897. Two African Americans led the organization: a formerly enslaved abolitionist, Callie D. House, and minister and educator Isaiah H. Dickerson.

Callie House (1861 &ndash 1928)

Callie House explained her motivation thus: &ldquoWe the Ex-Slave feel that if the government had a right to free us she had a right to make some provisions for us as she did make it soon after our Emancipation she ought to make it now.&rdquo

As the members of the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief Association drew greater attention to the need for ex-slave reparations, the Association faced increasing opposition from federal officials who sought to undermine the operations of the Association. Among federal techniques was the disruption of mail correspondence between the Association and its members.

The Association faced ongoing lawsuits alleging the financial impropriety of its leadership. In 1917, Callie House was convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to one year in prison. House&rsquos imprisonment prompted the decline of the Association as the remaining organization branches focused on African American mutual aid rather than reparations claims.

In Cuba and Brazil, countries with much higher concentrations of African citizens, no parallel organization for national reparations developed during this period. In the 1880s, Cuba and other French and British Caribbean territories such as Martinique or Guadeloupe, gradually abolished the slave trade. The post-slavery economy generated immense competition among freed Afro-Cubans and immigrant populations of Spanish and Chinese laborers. Not granted financial compensation and lacking marketable skills, many Afro-Cubans secured marginal wages that prevented access to land ownership and long-term economic viability.

During the 1960s, the local contexts of reparations movements varied widely. In Cuba, a 1959 revolution instituted land reforms that increased black land ownership. During the Civil Rights era in the United States, African Americans focused primarily on gaining legal rights rather than petitioning for reparations. In Brazil, the displacement of João Goulart by a military coup suppressed the reparations debate until 1985.

During the 1980s, international organizations advocated for the formal recognition of enslavement and its effects, pressuring post-slave societies to rectify the historical abuses suffered by enslaved persons and their descendants. Amid domestic and international demands for reparative aid, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which authorized financial reparations to Japanese American victims of internment during World War II.

International cooperation in the reparations debate reached its apex at the 2001 United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance. At this gathering, a coalition of human rights groups, attorneys, and activists drafted reparations claims that addressed the wide-ranging effects of discriminatory behavior over the years.

Araujo concludes her study by emphasizing that reparations claims call attention to the historical horrors of enslavement and the tangible legacies of slavery. Throughout the text, she underscores that reparations campaigns made by formerly enslaved Africans in the Atlantic were largely unsuccessful.

Other aggrieved communities in the Americas and Europe received material, financial, and symbolic reparations. However, drawing attention to this differential outcome does not explain why the reparations demands made by enslaved Africans and their descendants were rejected or why, in many cases, post-slavery societies tend to avoid confronting the legacies of enslavement.

Reparations for Slavery and The Slave Trade is an insightful and expansive history of enslavement that reveals the interconnected nature of the Atlantic world from the origins of enslavement to the present day.

Was Enslavement New to Africa?

Africans had been enslaved and traded for centuries—reaching Europe via the Islamic-run, trans-Saharan, trade routes. Enslaved people obtained from the Muslim-dominated North African coast, however, proved to be too well educated to be trusted and had a tendency to rebellion.

Enslavement was also a traditional part of African society—various states and kingdoms in Africa operated one or more of the following: total enslavement in which enslaved people were considered to be the property of their enslavers, debt bondage, forced labor, and serfdom.

Enslaved review – Samuel L Jackson presents a brutally poignant history of the slave trade

T his year has seen a proliferation of freshly commissioned shows examining racism in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Enslaved (BBC Two, Sunday), however, predates the death of George Floyd, and would surely have been prominently screened regardless of this year’s events. After all, it has a bona-fide superstar presenter in Samuel L Jackson, alongside Afua Hirsch of the Guardian and investigative journalist Simcha Jacobovici.

Clearly aware that there have already been numerous slavery documentaries, this four-part series seeks to tell a different story by uncovering new evidence. Full of wide, breathtaking aerial shots of the rivers and coastline of west and central Africa, where the slave trade flourished, it tracks the slave ships’ journeys from Africa to Brazil, the US, the Caribbean or, says Jackson, “the bottom of the ocean”. Up to 1,000 slave ships are thought to have ended up as wrecks. Using new diving technology to locate and examine some of these sunken ships, the series aims to offer a fresh perspective.

It begins with Jackson tracing his family tree back to his great-grandfather, the last in his family to be born a slave. A DNA test suggests his lineage goes back to Gabon, on the Atlantic coast of central Africa. He travels to the region and discovers that there remains a grim record of the brutal trade. African captives, as they waited to board the ships on the shores of the Iguela lagoon, were given nothing but oysters to eat. To this day, there remain huge piles of these shells, discarded by the men and women processed at this spot. Up to four metres high and covering a mind-boggling 2,500 acres, these oyster islands are a stark reminder of hundreds of thousands of lives destroyed, in a trade that shipped 12 million Africans across the Atlantic. “Today, it’s a tropical paradise, but 200 years ago it was a hell on Earth,” Gabon’s environment minister, Lee White, tells Jackson.

Jackson discovers that ivory was also taken from Africa, with elephant tusks loaded alongside the human cargo to boost profits even further: a reminder that, at its heart, slavery – although underpinned by white supremacist beliefs – was driven by extreme, unchecked capitalism, rather than racism alone. Indeed, although the standard way to transport Africans was to cram them in as tightly as possible, in some slave ships they were allowed more space, and even allowed to exercise occasionally. Not out of humanity, of course: the healthier the human cargo looked on disembarkation, the higher the price it would fetch. Emaciated bodies did not sell well.

Jackson and Hirsch travel to Elmina Castle in Ghana, the first trading post on the west African coastline, built by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Thirty more followed. The pair enter one bleak, bare stone chamber in this huge, white-walled construction and, looking out of a narrow passage to the sea, realise it is the “door of no return”. The opening would have led straight on to the ships bound for the Americas. Once Africans passed this point: “It was the end of life as they knew it.” In the middle of the fort’s courtyard, Hirsch spots a church. Somehow, she notes, the traders thought this holy site was compatible with the brutal trade that went on around it.

This part of the show is interesting and informative, and the star power of Jackson would, you would hope, be enough to bring in a new audience to this subject. But, where it might leave viewers a little confused is in the extensive coverage it gives to the diving mission. Yes, the shipwreck evidence does add a fascinating new element. And the divers who search for it (from the Divers with Purpose group) are certainly brave and do great work. But the extended clips of their exploits that intersperse the documentary look not only at their aims, but at their detailed conversations, their machinery, their technical decision-making. Interesting up to a point – like the “How we made it” section at the end of David Attenborough’s Planet Earth documentaries. But instead of being the dessert once you have enjoyed the main meal, it runs in parallel, constantly interrupting the flow – as if a malfunctioning TV remote keeps switching you to a Jacques Cousteau documentary.

Given the heart-rending human tragedies told by Jackson and Hirsch, it feels indulgent to spend so much time on what is, ultimately, the retrieval of an ancient elephant tusk from the seabed, connected though it is to the slave ships.

Perhaps it is all about expectation. The title, Enslaved, will attract those who wish to know more about the trade and its inhumanities, without the extended diving dramas.

Last word to Hirsch, though. She is told of the science that went into the positioning of the triangular sails of tall ships – a 15th-century innovation that harnessed the wind’s power, enabled the ships to sail the oceans at speed, and helped turn the looting of Africa into a business. Hirsch observes: “You think of pioneering technology as a positive thing, but it’s just heartbreaking that Europeans saw this as an opportunity to really embark on their most evil project.”

5: Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

The Atlantic slave trade began in 1442 when African captives from the Senegal river were taken to the port of Lagos in southern Portugal and sold as slaves. After the Spanish reached the Americas in 1492, the direction of the trade became trans-Atlantic. The trade ended in 1866, when the last voyage crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Cuba.

The Atlantic slave trade was a significant part of the historical experience of West African peoples throughout this period. It influenced political change, religious practice, farm production, and other aspects of daily life. It was also a main cause of the growing European presence in West Africa and it influenced the global connections which many West African rulers developed over the course of these four centuries.

Most areas of West and West-Central Africa were influenced by the Atlantic slave trade in this period, as well as what is now Mozambique. There were many different phases of the Atlantic slave trade. Some of the most important were the following:

1) 1442-1492: The first fifty years saw the trade almost solely from Senegambia to Portugal, Seville, and other ports in Spain and Portugal.

2) 1492-1575: The Spanish arrival in the New World under Columbus saw the beginning of a change. In this era, the trade in enslaved persons remained quite low, as Europeans were more interested in gold. Most Africans going to the New World came from Senegambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Sierra Leone, often via the Cape Verde islands [which were a Portuguese colony already]. There was a growing trade from ports of Kongo and Angola, mainly to the sugar plantations which had been founded on the island of São Tomé.

3) 1575-1640: In 1575, the Portuguese founded a colonial fort city at the harbour of Luanda, in Angola. This undermined the Kingdom of Kongo, since the major currency used in Kongo was the nzimbu shell, which was found at Luanda – by seizing Luanda, the Portuguese had in effect seized the bank of Kongo. Meantime, in Brazil, the number of sugar plantations near the colonial capital of Salvador da Bahia was growing, while the Native American population declined. This saw the volume of the slave trade increasing, especially from Angola it also remained significant from the Greater Senegambia region, but was not yet important elsewhere in West Africa.

4) 1640-1675: This was a very important period. It was in these decades when the Dutch, English and French began to compete in earnest with the Portuguese for the slave trade, opening their own fortress-factories, especially along the Gold Coast, at Calabar and Bonny in the Niger Delta, and further south at Loango. Meanwhile droughts in Senegambia and the effects of decades of war in Angola saw population declines there. By 1675, the old Brazilian connection to Angola was changing, and Brazilian traders in Salvador opened a direct trading link with the Yorubà and Ajà rulers around Hueda, Dahomey, and Lagos.

Cape Coast Castle (Ghana) in 2017, courtesy of Eric Nana Kesse.

5) 1675-1700: This period saw the consolidation of the trade in these ports, and the expansion to areas which had hitherto been unimportant in the trade, especially Benguela in southern Angola and the Gold Coast [owing to the population decline around Luanda, Benguela had grown in importance for the Brazilians, and developed a direct link to Rio de Janeiro in the 18 th century].

6) The long 18 th century (c. 1700-1807). This was the century which saw by far the largest number of enslaved Africans taken in European and New World ships to the Americas. Almost every region of Atlantic Africa was affected. Areas which saw a particular expansion included Sierra Leone [shaped in part by the rise of the theocracy of Fuuta Jaalo in Guinea-Conakry, and the slaving wars led by this polity] the Gold Coast [influenced by the rise of the Asante empire in the 18 th century, and the switch from gold exports to enslaved persons] Loango [in what is now Congo-Brazzaville] and Benguela.

7) The era of abolition (1807-1865). The British parliament passed an Act to Abolish the slave trade in 1807, though Denmark had been the first European nation to do this in 1792. However the 19 th century was still very significant in the slave trade, with the major slave trading nations being from the New World, especially Brazil, Cuba, and the United States of America. The areas worst affected by this time were Angola and Mozambique. The loss of the South in the American civil war (1861-65) and pressure from England on Brazil saw the atmosphere change, and the slave trade ended in 1865 [Brazil had finally ceased direct slave trading in 1851].

Plan of the Slaver ‘Vigilante’. The Brig ‘Vigilante’ was a French slaver captured in the River Bonny, at the Bight of Biafra, on April 15th, 1822. She departed from Nantes, in France, and carried 345 slaves from the coast of Africa, but she was intercepted by anti-slave trade cruisers before sailing to the Americas and taken to Freetown, Sierra Leone, 1822, Affaire de la Vigilante, batiment négrier de Nantes (Paris, 1823), following p. 8, http://slavevoyages.org/resources/images/category/Vessels/1

When considering this chronological overview of the slave trade, some important factors should be noted, though of course there are many others of great relevance:

1) Historians have often emphasised what they call a “triangular trade”. Ships would leave Europe with textiles, manufactured goods made of copper and iron, cowries, alcohol and weapons would sell these in Africa, and travel to the New World with a cargo of enslaved persons and then exchange these for colonial produce (sugar, coffee, tobacco, etc.). However there was also often a direct trade from the Americas, especially from Brazil, Cuba, and the United States.

2) The effects of the slave trade became especially important from around 1675 onwards. Until then, it was mainly Greater Senegambia that was affected in West Africa.

3) Historians often disagree as to the impact of the slave trade on West African societies. Some aspects of history are worth noting, and were relevant to the slave trade, especially:

:- Migration of communities to better-defended areas such as hilltops, forests, creeks

:- Development of buildings and town designs which saw good defences and a maze of streets this made it hard for hostile outsiders to find their way out.

:- Formation of powerful armies and states this was also the case of course in Europe, where the growth of organised armies and states also depended on economies connected to the slave trade

:- Changes in religious practice some shrines required offerings of goods which could only be acquired through trade, and kings’ association with the trade and with shrines made people in some areas more willing to adopt other religions, such as Islam and Christianity.

The www.slavevoyages.org database is a powerful tool for historians who want to understand the quantities of Africans forcibly embarked on slave ships by Europeans. Historians have been systematically collecting evidence on the trans-Atlantic slave trade since the 1960s. Computing technology enabled them to gather and compare data for different aspects of the slave trade more easily. An international team of historians decided to create www.slavevoyages.org, a database giving details about each voyage recorded in newspapers, trade ledgers, ships’ logs and the different sources still available at the end of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first century. These sources are written in multiple languages and are disseminated over three continents. This collaborative database is constantly updated and remains a work in progress.

This database is an excellent tool to analyse the number of slaves captured between 1514 and 1866 and gives the estimate of around 12,500,000 Africans who embarked on slave ships.

Volume and direction of the trans-Atlantic slave trade from all African to all American regions , www.slavevoyages.org

The database is an excellent tool to learn about:

  • the number of Africans who died during the Middle Passage. The number of slaves who embarked on slave ships (around 12,500,000) is substantially larger than the number of Africans who arrived as slaves in America (around 10,700,000). Historians were able to conclude that mortality rates on slave ships were extremely high.
  • the number of enslaved Africans for every slaving voyage out of a total number of 36,000. Details about the slaves themselves are sometimes vague and we rarely know their gender, age or names.
  • the chronological phases of the slave trade. The database contains exact dates for many voyages. As a result, historians are now able to analyse the fluctuations of the transatlantic slave trade year by year.
  • The seasonal patterns for the slave trade. Sailors followed precise patterns which corresponded to the navigation conditions of the Atlantic ocean but also to the supply of African coasts and demands of American ports.
  • the ports where enslaved Africans were shipped to America. Historians were able to determine the exact location where the slaves embarked but the database does not provide the slaves’ region of origin because many of them were actually enslaved inland.
  • the identity of the slave-traders and their ships. In many cases, it is possible to determine the port where they sailed from. The database enables us to determine which traders, ports and countries benefited the most from this lucrative trade.
  • the number of slave revolts on European ships. Historians were able to show that there were African riots on one ship out of ten.
  • the destination of the ships. Many sources mention where the slaves disembarked and were sold. It does not mean that the slaves could not be sold again after their arrival in America.

However, the database has also been criticised:

  • The database does not give details about the nature of the slave trade itself.
  • Nor does it give the reasons behind the trans-Atlantic slave trade or the consequences it had on African societies.
  • In many cases, the data is not accurate and some researchers have found notable differences with the original documents which contained the data.
  • In addition, some historians criticise the database for reproducing the ideas of the slave traders themselves, in treating slaves as statistics, and because the documents used to produce it were all written by slave traders.

West African Resistance to the Slave Trade

One of major factors that led to the abolition of the slave trade in West Africa was West African resistance. West Africans resisted slavery in four major ways:

1. The resistance by everyday West Africans on West African soil

2. The resistance of the West African ruling elite

3. The resistance of West African abolitionists abroad

4. Overt resistance by West African slaves en route to, and in, the New World

A number of West African people kept out of slave trade, refusing to negotiate with Europeans at all. For instance, the Jola of Casamance (Senegal), and the Baga (modern Guinea)—who were unbeatable in battle—did not participate in the slave trade.

Other West Africans devised short and long-term mechanisms to resist the slave trade including:

a) Resettling to hard-to-find places.

In the Sokoto Caliphate (Nigeria), the landscape of mountains, caves, underground tunnels, and marshes was cleverly used by the inhabitants for protection. They reinforced these, by building ramparts, fortresses, other architectural devices, and planting poisonous thorny bushes and trees. The peoples of southern Togo, central and northern Cameroon used mountain ranges to hide away from slave traders.

b) Building fortresses and fortifications to protect people against the slave trade.

The people of Gwolu (Ghana) built a protective wall to guard against slave raiders. Their Paramount Chief Koro Liman IV describes the walls:

I am standing in front of the inner wall of the Gwolu protective wall, which protected the great Gwolu from slave raiders and encroachments into Gwolu city in ancient times. We have two walls and this is the inner wall.

In ancient times when slavery was rampant, our great, great, ancestor King Tanja Musa built the wall to ward away slave raiders and slave traders from coming into Gwolu to enslave our people.

The reason we have the inner and outer wall is that between the two walls we had ponds and farms, so that the inhabitants would be protected from being kidnapped by slave raiders.

First, there was only the inner wall. Then they realized that people who went to farm, find firewood, and fetch water were kidnapped by slave raiders. The king found it necessary to construct a second wall and that is why it is a two-walled city. And I know that in the whole of Ghana there are only two such walls.

c) Evolving new, more rigid styles of leadership.

The Kayor and Baol of Senegal aristocracy utilized mechanisms of domination and submission for their own protection by imposing new forms of habitat and land occupancy which functioned to shield the powerful.

d) Transforming the habitat and the manner in which land is occupied.

In Ganvié city (Dahomey), people built small towns on stilts on the edge or middle of Lake Nokoué. This allowed them to see approaching raiders. The city of 3,000 homes, was founded in the 16th century by Tofinu people. In the Tofinu language, Ganvié means, “we are saved.” The people built it as a refuge from Dahomey kingdom slave raiders. The lake was too shallow for European slave ships to anchor, and religious custom prevented the Fon of Dahomey from venturing across water to capture them.

The Musugu of Southern Lake Chad built dome-shaped houses, with material made of clay mixed with animal dung, dry grass, and water. These dome shaped houses, when seen from afar, looked like termite nests and created a camouflage from the slave raiders.

e) The creation of maroon societies in the Upper Guinea Coast.

f) Secret societies, women’s organizations, and young men’s militia redirected their activities toward the protection and defense of communities.

In Igboland, Nigeria, for instance, Olaudah Equiano indicates that he had undergone military training, including shooting and throwing javelins in order to become a member of local militia.

g) Children were turned into sentinels throughout West Africa.

h) Venomous plants and insects were turned into allies.

In northern Cameroon and Chad for instance, fences were created from branches of thorny and poisonous trees, and these provided effective defense against slave raiders. The people also used thorny plants to reinforce the rock walls.

The peoples of present-day Chad Republic adopted new agricultural methods to fight the slave trade. They stopped planting millet and sorghum which made them particularly vulnerable to slave raiders because these were grown in large cleared fields, visible to passersby, and signaling the presence of farmers. Moreover, the crops demanded considerable care during growing season. Thus, the people stopped growing sorghum, relying more on hunting and gathering. They also started cultivating manioc or cassava. Manioc was particularly well suited, because the tubers were buried deep within the grounds, the foliage could be chopped off, thus requiring little or no attention.

i) Priests created spiritual protections for individuals and communities.

This happened throughout Igboland, Nigeria. For instance, the Idoha community of Nsukka, eastern Nigeria, created the Efuru goddess who served to protect the community against the actions of slave raiders.

j) Resources were pooled to redeem those who had been captured and held in factories along coast. People of the Futa Jallon (Guinea’s northern border with Senegal) were known to have adopted this strategy.

k) Individuals and states traded people to access guns and iron for better weapons to protect themselves. For instance, the Balanta of Guinea Bissau defended themselves by producing and selling their captives in order to obtain guns and iron bars which they needed to forge powerful weapons and tools.

l) Some free people attacked ships and burnt down factories.

For instance, in the 17th and 18th century, written records document at least 61 attacks on ships by land-based West Africans. There were several conspiracies, and actual revolts by captives which erupted in Goree Island. One such revolt, resulted in death of governor and several solders.

When all else failed, men and women revolted in barracoons and aboard ships. In Sierra Leone, for instance, people sacked the captives’ quarters of slave trader John Ormond and the level of the fortification of forts and barracoons attests to European distrust and apprehension.

West Africans also revolted on slave ships. Crews of several slave ships were killed in the Gambia River, while many enslaved West Africans either jumped overboard or let themselves starve to death.

2. Resistance of African ruling elite

a) In the 1530s, the King or Oba of Benin saw that slave trafficking was draining his kingdom of male manpower. He therefore banned sale of slaves, but, kept domestic slaves. By 1550, there was no slave trade in Benin. Pepper and elephant tusks became the main exports. Even up to the 17th century, the Kings of Benin still refused to cooperate with European slavers.

b) In 1670, King Tezifon of Allada rejected French request for permission to establish a trading post in his territory. Hear his clear-sighted statement:

You will make a house in which you will put at first two little pieces of cannon, the next year you will mount four, and in a little time your factory will metamorphosed into a fort that will make you master of my dominions and enable you to give laws to me.

c) The 1670s Muslim leader and reformer, Nasr al-Din, denounced slavery to the people of Senegal. This resulted in Marabout war and the Toubenan movement (from word tuub, meaning to convert to Islam), whereby the sale of slaves to Christians was banned, thus, undermining the French trade in slaves.

d) In 1724, King Agaja of Dahomey attacked his Ouidah and Ardrah neighbors to stop trade in slaves.

e) In 1787, the Almamy of Futa Toro forbade the passage of slaves for sale through his domain. At the time, several French ships were waiting in anchor in Senegal for slaves to board. The French, as result, were not able to fill ships with human beings. They thus sent presents to the Almamy to appeal to him to rescind his order. The Almamy returned all gifts presented to him, declaring that all the riches of the Senegal company would not divert him from his design. Traders therefore had to stay away from Almamy’s vicinity on Senegal River and look for another route to coast.

3. Resistance of West African Abolitionists Abroad

Many West African abolitionists were campaigning against the slave trade in Britain or in the Americas. As freed slaves, their personal experience leant poignancy to their arguments. Two ex-West African slaves, Oladauh Equiano and Ottobah Cugaono, were involved in the 18th century abolitionist movement in England. Both wrote books in 1780s publicizing the evils of the slave trade.

Quobna Ottobah Cugoano (John Stuart), was a Fante, born in present day Ghana, and captured at age of 13. He wrote, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Humbly Submitted to the Inhabitants of Great Britain by Ottobah Cugoano, a Native of Africa. The book was published in 1787. In it, he argued eloquently and passionately for an immediate end to slave-owning and trading.

. . . kings are the minister of God, to do justice, and not to bear the sword in vain, but revenge wrath upon them that do evil. But if they do not in such a case as this, the cruel oppressions of thousands, and the blood of the murdered Africans who are slain by the sword of cruel avarice, must rest upon their own guilty heads.

He also proposed that the British naval squadron should patrol the West African waters in order to suppress the trade. It would take the British another 30 years before Cugaono’s idea was put into practice.

Olaudah Equiano (Gustavus Vassa) was an Igbo of eastern Nigeria. His first name Olu uda, means, loud voice, and his surname Equiano is a short form of Ekwe anyi ino (someone who does not agree to stay). Equiano’s family was from Essaka, Iseke in present-day Olu Division, Igboland. He published a bestseller in which he offers a vivid and detailed account of his life from early childhood to enslavement. The Interesting Narrative of the life of Oluadah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African was published in 1789.

This produced copious perspirations, so that the air soon became unfit for respiration, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died, thus falling victims to the improvident avarice, as I may call it, of their purchasers. This wretched situation was again aggravated by the galling of the chains, now become insupportable and the filth of the necessary tubs, into which the children often fell, and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable.

Portrait of abolitionist Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745 – 1797), by Daniel Orme (c. 1766 – 1832). CC0 1.0

4. Overt resistance by West African slaves en route to, and in the New World

Revolts aboard ships were common. Therefore, sailors had to be heavily armed and constantly on guard. Once in the Americas and Caribbean Islands, West Africans resisted their bondage. They seized every opportunity to escape. Some formed maroon societies, including the biggest maroon society of all, Palmares, in Brazil.

During the Haitian Revolution of 1791 in St Domingue (Haiti), over 400,000 enslaved Africans rose up against, and killed, their white French masters to establish the Republic of Haiti in 1804. They were led by Toussaint L’Ouverture who originally hailed from West Africa.

Haitian Revolution – Battle of San Domingo, also known as the Battle for Palm Tree Hill, by January Suchodolski (1844), marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons.

In mainland North America, there were a number of prominent revolts as well, including, the 1831 Nat Turner Revolt and the treks to freedom led by Harriet Tubman and her Underground Railroad.

Reparations to Subjugated Societies

Reparation is an idea that seeks for compensatory payment to suppressed group of people in a society. Most societies across the globe had fell victim of some sort of subjugation from more powerful societies/class. One can talk of situations like Colonialism, the Jewish Holocaust in the Second World War, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (TAST) among others. After the Suppressed have been able to liberate themselves from the shackles of such conditions, there is always a quest for reparation. This form of reparation can be in kind or materialistic. The most known and controversial of them of is the reparation for slavery in Africa the argument is that some form of compensatory payment needs to be made to the descendants of Africans who had been enslaved as part of the TAST.

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade which led to displacement of Africans into the New World had commoditized humans rather than other trading items like gold and ivory among others as goods. Africans were taken by European merchants across the Atlantic Ocean after the discovery of the New World to provide the needed labour power in plantations. This trade had devastated African society at home and in the diaspora as well. African slaves were obtained through warfare, kidnapping and as sale product from the market among other sources. These slaves suffered severe conditions through the Middle passage, on the plantation system and psychological trauma after emancipation. It is based on these injustice against slaves and their descendants in the Americas that African-Americans and members of the Caribbean diaspora are increasingly questing for reparation.


Reparation for harm caused Africans both home and the diaspora as the result of the slave trade need to be considered with care. Because, the slaves suffered all sort of humiliation in the plantation system and subsequent segregation policies directed toward them, particularly in the United States, Brazil, and in the Caribbean. The nature of slavery in the New World disallowed slaves to own property. As a result, life after the emancipation was almost as the same as living in slavery. In line with this, the descendants of the former slaves in the diaspora need to be compensated sufficiently in order for them to rehabilitate themselves, especially as to this day they suffer the economic and social consequences of the enslavement of their ancestors, through the prison system, inequality of access to healthcare and education, and relative poverty compared to those not descended from the enslaved.

Also, Africans at home equally suffered the consequences of the slave trade and need reparation as well.

· For instance, resourceful human power was taken away to the New World to the detriment of the homeland. This extracted valuable labour power which could have gone in to developing African economic systems, and contributed to economic disempowerment.

· The desire for slaves by the Europeans plugged the continent into war, as guns and gun powder was introduced to the indigenous Africans to wage war against one another. This had led to displacement of people and loss of life and property. It also helped to create a predatory state model which may influence some modern problems in the continent.

Henceforth, reparation for the slavery needs to encompass both the homeland and the diaspora.


Compensation through Money: The former slaves in the New World especially in the US demanded some sort of money after the liberation in order to alleviate themselves to a better condition.

Compensation through Housing: The slaves after being liberated were stranded. No place to live, hence, they demanded provision of housing facilities to accommodate themselves.

Compensation in Kind: Various countries and institutions have apologised for their involvement on the deadly slave trade across the Atlantic Ocean. On June 18, 2009, the Senate of the US passed a resolution apologizing for the institution of slavery and all sort of discrimination against the Black race.

Nevertheless, reparations have not been fully granted, and not all slave trading nations have apologised for the slave trade. Questions to be resolved may include:

:- Who will make payments – direct descendants of known slave traders, or the states which allowed the slave trade?

:- Who will receive the payments – is it best for this money to be allocated according to class boundaries (which might prove longstanding effect of the slave trade) or to the governments of postcolonial states?

:- What role might there be for companies who benefited from the slave trade, should they also be paying compensation? A good example would be the Tate & Lyle Sugar Company, derived from Caribbean sugar plantations who founded the Tate Museums in London.

Toby Green, Vincent Hiribarren and Nwando Achebe

Allen, Robert L. “Past due: The African American quest for reparations.” The Black Scholar 28, no. 2 (1998): 2-17.

Bittker, Boris I. The case for Black reparations. Beacon Press, 1973.

Block, Walter. “On reparations to Blacks for Slavery.” Human Rights Review 3, no. 4 (2002): 53-73.

Brooks, Roy L. Atonement and forgiveness: A new model for black reparations. University of California Press, 2004.

Brooks, Roy L., ed. When sorry isn’t enough: The controversy over apologies and reparations for human injustice. NYU Press, 1999.

Davis, Adrienne D. “The Case for United States Reparations to African Americans.” Human Rights Brief 7, no. 3 (2000): 2.

Dawson, Michael C., and Rovana Popoff. “Reparations: Justice and greed in Black and White.” Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 1, no. 1 (2004): 47-91.

Epstein, Richard A. “The Case Against Black Reparations.” BUL Rev. 84 (2004): 1177.

Feagin, Joe R. “Documenting the costs of slavery, segregation, and contemporary racism: Why reparations are in order for African Americans.” Harv. BlackLetter LJ 20 (2004): 49.

Feagin, Joe R. Racist America: Roots, current realities, and future reparations. Routledge, 2014.

Fullinwider, Robert K. “The case for reparations.” (2000).

Hughes, Graham. “Reparations for blacks.” NYUL Rev. 43 (1968): 1063.

Magee, Rhonda V. “The Master’s Tools, From the Bottom Up: Responses to African-American Reparations Theory in Mainstream and Outsider Remedies Discourse.” Virginia Law Review (1993): 863-916.

Ogletree Jr, Charles J. “The Current Reparations Debate.” UC Davis L. Rev. 36 (2002): 1051.

Ozer, Irma Jacqueline. “Reparatins for African Americans.” Howard LJ 41 (1997): 479.

Posner, Eric A., and Adrian Vermeule. “Reparations for slavery and other historical injustices.” Colum. L. Rev. 103 (2003): 689.

Robinson, Alfreda. “Corporate Social Responsibility and African American Reparations: Jubilee.” Rutgers L. Rev. 55 (2002): 309.

Robinson, Randall. The debt: What America owes to blacks. Penguin, 2001.

Thompson, Janna. “Historical injustice and reparation: Justifying claims of descendants.” Ethics 112, no. 1 (2001): 114-135.

Westley, Robert. “Many billions gone: Is it time to reconsider the case for Black reparations.” BCL Rev. 40 (1998): 429.

King Agaja of Dahomey, the slave trade, and the question of west African plantations: The embassy of Bulfinch Lambe and Adomo Tomo to England, 1726�

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Erasing Slavery

Saidiya Hartman’s story of retracing the routes of the Atlantic slave trade in Ghana is an original, thought-provoking meditation on the corrosive legacy of slavery from the 16th century to the present and a welcome illustration of the powers of innovative scholarship to help us better understand how history shapes identity. But the book is also — this must be stressed — splendidly written, driven by this writer’s prodigious narrative gifts. She combines a novelist’s eye for telling detail (“My appearance confirmed it: I was the proverbial outsider. Who else sported vinyl in the tropics?”) with the blunt, self-aware voice (“On the really bad days, I felt like a monster in a cage with a sign warning: ‘Danger, snarling Negro. Keep away’ ”) of those young writers who have revived the American coming-of-age story into something more engaging and empathetic than the tales of redemption or of the exemplary life well lived, patterned on Henry Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglass.

Hartman’s main focus in “Lose Your Mother” is shaking up our abstract, and therefore forgettable, appreciation for a tragedy wrought on countless nameless, faceless Africans. She makes us feel the horror of the African slave trade, by playing with our sense of scale, by measuring the immense destruction and displacement through its impact on vivid, imperfect, flesh-and-blood individuals — Hartman herself, the members of her immediate family she pushes away but mulls over, the Ghanaians she meets while doing her field work and the slaves whose lives she imaginatively reconstructs from the detritus of slavery’s records.

Her own journey begins in the stacks of the Yale library, where as a graduate student she came across a reference to her maternal great-great-grandmother in a volume of slave testimony from Alabama. Her excitement at finding a sign of her family’s past was undercut by her great-great- grandmother’s brief reply when asked what she remembered of being a slave: “Not a thing.” Hartman, while “crushed” to hear so little of her ancestor’s voice, turns negation into possibility, into all that can be communicated by such reticence: “I recognized that a host of good reasons explained my great-great-grandmother’s reluctance to talk about slavery with a white interviewer in Dixie in the age of Jim Crow.” Years later, after Hartman had begun work on this book, she returned to those interviews and could find no trace of the reference. She scoured the library for misshelved volumes, reread five surrounding volumes, reviewed her early notes but never found that paragraph imprinted in her memory, “the words filling less than half a page, the address on Clark Street, the remarks about her appearance, all of which where typed up by a machine in need of new ribbon.”

Hartman’s desire to know about slavery is thwarted at every turn: by grandparents who refuse to talk about the subject, by parents and a brother who urge her to stop brooding about the past and get on with her life, by the Ghanaians she encounters who either avoid the topic of slavery entirely or make it into a generic tourist attraction, and above all, by the huge gaps she encounters in her archival work, as the vanishing act of her great-great-grandmother’s testimony illustrates. Hartman’s response to what she calls the “non-history” of the slave fuels her drive “to fill in the blank spaces of the historical record and to represent the lives of those deemed unworthy of remembering.”

Hartman, the author of “Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America,” selects Ghana because it provides a vivid backdrop against which to understand how people with families, towns, religions and rich cultural lives lost all traces of identity. Ghana had “more dungeons, prisons and slave pens than any other country in West Africa,” she notes. “Nine slave routes traversed Ghana. In following the trail of captives from the hinterland to the Atlantic coast, I intend to retrace the process by which lives were destroyed and slaves born.” But Hartman, who “dreamed of living in Ghana” since college, is also interested in the country’s more recent centrality in the Pan-African movement since its independence in 1957, when the first president, Kwame Nkrumah, opened up the country to members of the African diaspora, creating a Ghana whose slogan was “Africa for Africans at home and abroad.”

In contemporary post-Nkrumah Ghana, Hartman confronts her own sense of pure Generation X despondency: “I had come to Ghana too late and with too few talents. I couldn’t electrify the country or construct a dam or build houses or clear a road or run a television station or design an urban water system or tend to the sick or improve the sanitation system or revitalize the economy or cancel the debt. No one had invited me. I was just . about as indispensable as a heater in the tropics.”

No one will talk to her directly about slavery. It’s old news for those progress-minded people focusing on Ghana’s many current social and economic woes, and it’s too painful for others who want to avoid the collective guilt of remembering the ways Africans in the former Gold Coast facilitated the slave trade. As the Ghanaian poet Kofi Anyidoho says, “We knew we were giving away our people, we were giving them away for things.”

By the end of her stay in Africa, Hartman faces the fact that she hasn’t found “the signpost that pointed the way to those on the opposite shore of the Atlantic.” She has had to rely primarily on her imagination in reconstructing the lives of particular slaves. But just as she gleaned something in her great-great-grandmother’s refusal to engage, she hears something beyond “the story I had been trying to find” in a small, walled town in the interior, one of the few places where the slave raids had been resisted: “In Gwolu, it finally dawned on me that those who stayed behind,” the survivors of the slave trade, “told different stories than the children of the captives dragged across the sea.”

The Windy History of Penny Lane: The Beatles, the Slave Trade and a Now-Resolved Controversy

Was Penny Lane named after a notorious slave trader? The history of a Beatles landmark explained.

Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

The signs for Liverpool’s Penny Lane are often decorated with graffiti: names, dates, well wishes to the Beatles who immortalized the street in their 1967 hit. This month, though, the scrawlings changed: the word “Penny” eviscerated with black paint and “racist” scrawled above the signs. An old theory linking the street to a notorious slave trader had resurfaced due to the protests surrounding the police killing of George Floyd &mdash and a cadre of local historians discovered that their research was now thrust into the public eye.

“[Me and a group of historians] have been working on this since about 2010 together &mdash if not slightly earlier individually,” tour guide and local historian Richard MacDonald tells Rolling Stone. “It’s been an academic debate, really. So it’s a bit of a surprise to us all, to be honest we’re sort of taken aback. We’re not used to this larger media interest in the names of streets going back to this, you know, 17- and 1800s &mdash it’s not the usual thing that makes the news.”


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Penny Lane road signs were vandalized amid a heated debate about the history of the name and its potential ties to slavery. https://t.co/OFRNhNfSkB

&mdash Twitter Moments (@TwitterMoments) June 12, 2020

Following the graffiting of the signs, though, Liverpool&rsquos Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram made international news after proclaiming the famed street name may be changed if there was evidence it was named after 1700s slave trader James Penny. &ldquoIf it is as a direct consequence of that road being called Penny Lane because of James Penny, then that needs to be investigated,&rdquo Rotheram said. &ldquoSomething needs to happen and I would say that sign and that road may well be in danger of being renamed.&rdquo

Enter MacDonald and other historians, who have been researching the area for more than 10 years and claim there is no connection between Penny Lane and the slave trade. According to the historian, the earliest mention of the lane was from the 1840s, when it was listed as Pennies Lane. In maps going back to the 1700s, it was merely an unnamed country road. Meanwhile, James Penny died in 1799 &mdash plus, he already had a street named after him: Arrad Street, named for his birthplace in Ulverston, Cumbria.

“Penny Lane about that time would have been a fairly rural country lane,” MacDonald says. “So that struck me. It would be very off that a lane in the middle of the country would be named after somebody in the same way that prestigious streets in the town center would.”

Several streets in Liverpool are named for slave traders, however, which fueled the idea that the Beatles song namesake could have been connected to James Penny. In 2006, local counselor Barbara Mace called for all slavery-related street names in Liverpool to be changed. “My proposal is to rename several of the streets in the city center which are named after the more notorious slave traders and replace them with the names of people who have done something positive,” she told the BBC.

Pressure mounted to change Penny Lane’s name when Stephen Guy, a press officer for National Museums, Liverpool, suggested that it was named after the slave trader when discussing the upcoming opening of Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum. In a later press release he wrote: &ldquoI confess to helping to raise awareness about the sinister origins of perhaps Liverpool&rsquos best-known thoroughfare. Penny Lane &mdash immortalized by the Beatles&rsquo song &mdash is probably named after notorious slave trader James Penny. Like other byways named after people, Penny or his family either owned land in the area or had strong associations with it.&rdquo (Guy did not respond to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.)

The reaction from Beatles fans and historians was decidedly negative &mdash due both to the area’s significance to John, Paul, Ringo and George and also the dearth of evidence that the lane was associated with the slave trade. David Bedford, author of Liddypool: Birthplace of the Beatles and Liverpool resident, is quick to interject when the media discuss the possible link. Having done extensive research on the area and its famous former residents, he extolls the significance of Penny Lane.

“I started realizing the importance of the area I’ve lived around Penny Lane for over 30 years now,” he tells Rolling Stone. “I realized this isn’t just a little song about a place that they Beatles remembered &mdash when they say it’s in their ears, in their eyes, this was their childhood. Everything comes back to Penny Lane. Unless you come to the area and see it for yourself, you don’t get the full significance of it.”

In the end, no streets were renamed instead, plaques explaining the history of their names were installed. The International Slavery Museum, however, did include Penny Lane in an exhibit of streets named after slave traders. That is, until last week, when interest in the street name boiled over once more, impelling to the museum to dig into its research. The results delighted Bedford &mdash and no doubt Beatles fans the world over.

On June 19th, Executive Director of Museums & Participation Janet Dugdale posted a statement proclaiming that Penny Lane has no connection to the slave trade: “After speaking with Liverpool slavery historian Laurence Westgaph, Tony Tibbles, our Emeritus Keeper of Slavery History (also former Director of Merseyside Maritime Museum) and historian and blogger Glen Huntley, we have concluded that the comprehensive research available to us now demonstrates that there is no historical evidence linking Penny Lane to James Penny. We are therefore extending our original review and setting up a participative project to renew our interactive display.”

In short, the Penny Lane street sign will no longer be a part of the display. &ldquoI am delighted to hear that the International Slavery Museum has reviewed the historical research that has been carried out and confirmed what we had been saying, that there is no evidence to link James Penny with Penny Lane,” Bedford says. “This will be a relief to Beatles fans and the local tourism industry, but it also means that the Slavery Museum can continue with the excellent work they do to educate, inform and help us learn from history.&rdquo

Still, the newfound attention on Liverpool and its history has had a positive effect. “It’s still been a good debate to have,” says Mike Doran, communications manager for the Liverpool City Council. “Just today [June 19], the mayor to the city [Joe Anderson] announced a commission into racial inequality. We already had a task force looking into how the city would look into its slavery connections since January. [Penny Lane] has caused international and national interest because of the Beatles, but the debate that it’s stimulated has made people sit up and actually revisit what they did and what they didn’t know about Liverpool and its connections to the slave trade.”

Dugdale echoed that sentiment in her statement: “At National Museums Liverpool we welcome discussion and debate even when the conversation is uncomfortable. Engaging with public history gives us a strong sense of purpose. Being a safe place to reflect, review and respond is an important role for museums in society.”

As for why Penny Lane is called Penny Lane remains a mystery. “One of the major problems we’ve got is that it’s almost impossible to say exactly why it was named Penny Lane,” the historian MacDonald says. “It’s one of the things about history &mdash quite often, when you go back that far, when you go back [200] or 300 years, you’re very unlikely to get solid answers to almost any question, because we just don’t have the records. And, you know, why would somebody record the name of a country lane?”

Review: Volume 32 - The Slave Trade - History

The American Anti-Slavery Almanac for 1838, Vol I, Nr 3. By The American Anti-Slavery Society 1838 Isaac Knapp, Boston.

First published in 1836 by the American Anti-Slavery Society, the American Anti-Slavery Almanac was an attempt to bring awareness about slavery to nineteenth-century America. This 1838 issue focused particularly on slavery in the South, with the often graphic images (see below) serving to show many Northerners the extent of the horrors for the first time. The almanac, which consists of the expected information and dates, also includes writings on the subject of slavery emphasising its un-Christian nature, noting the horrific treatment of the slaves as well as the injustice of children being separated from their families. Although the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves had passed in 1807, the slave trade did not end until after the Civil War. See more editions of the Almanac from other years here on the Internet Archive.

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