The international slave-trade from Africa to the New World was banned by England in 1807, America in 1808, Spain, Sweden and France followed, and Portugal by 1836. By then some 12.5 million Africans had been stolen from their homes and transported, almost 10% dying en-route.  Of these, the vast majority went to Caribbean islands, in possession of England, France, Spain, and the Dutch Republic; enormous numbers went to Brazil, under control of the Portuguese.  Only 338,000, according to modern reckoning, were landed in the United States, the enormous majority in Virginia, North, and South Carolina.

Prohibiting the slave trade, however, was not the same as ending slavery itself; the buying and selling of human beings within nations, continued and grew in many nations including, enormously, the United States.

As the tobacco and cane growing soil in the original slave-holding colonies was exhausted, and “the west” opened up beyond the Alleghenies and Appalachians –today’s Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi– and particularly after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the rich soil and new strains of cotton created a tidal wave of land speculation, planting, and harvesting; all depending on slave labor.

Some one million slaves were force-marched in coffles, necks and wrists chained, from the southern coastal American states to the interior, between 1809 and 1865.  This second middle passage, as it is now called, and the wealth it brought to great cotton plantation owners, professional slave-traders, and all the trade that depended on it –sailing ship, river boats, guards, store owners– is the story told by Edward E Baptist in his excruciating and vitally important The Half Has Never Been Told (2014) .  In fact, it might have been titled, the one millionth that’s never been told.

Continue reading »