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Financing the Luso-Atlantic Slave Trade, 1500–1840

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Collective Investment Practices from Portugal to Brazil

image of Journal of Global Slavery

Between 1500 and 1840, ships under Portuguese colors embarked more than 5 million enslaved men, women and children from the coasts of Africa. Despite its position as the preeminent slave trading empire in the Atlantic World, no studies have systematically traced the evolution in maritime investment practices in Portugal and its American colonies which propelled this massive forced transportation of captive Africans. Beginning with Portuguese merchants’ earliest forays into Atlantic trade, on the West African island of Cabo Verde in the fifteenth century, maritime cargoes were collectively owned through the distribution of small shares. Drawing on medieval Mediterranean precedents, these collective, legally constructed partnerships opened early transoceanic trading opportunities to a diverse group of traders, colonists, and mariners, creating a decentralized mercantile trade which diffused profits throughout slave trading communities. Slaving merchants in Salvador da Bahia adopted this collectivist model of investment by the early eighteenth century, converting commercial disadvantages into a prosperous and durable trade which wove together the economic interests of a heterogeneous cross-section of Salvador’s inhabitants—including merchants, their families and slaves, and mariners—within the business of slaving. This article traces the persistence of this financial strategy, and argues that it enabled the longevity of the transatlantic slave trade in Salvador.

Affiliations: 1: Amherst College


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