The Spanish Conquest in America: and its Relation to the History of Slavery and to the Government of Colonies: Volume I

“As to the Canary islands “Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, Genoese, Normans, Portuguese, and Spaniards of every province (Aragonese, Castilians, Galicians, Biscayans, Andalusians) have all made their appearance, in these islands.* The. Carthaginians are said to have discovered them and to have reserved them as an asylum in case of extreme danger to the state. Sertorius, the Roman general, who partook the fallen fortunes of Marius, is said to have meditated retreat to these “islands of the blessed,”…

“We learn that Prince Henry had conversed much with those who had made voyages in different parts of the world, and particularly with Moors from Fez and Morocco, so that he came to hear of the Azenegues, a people bordering on the country of the negroes of Jalof. Such was the scanty information of a positive kind which the prince had to guide his endeavors. Then there were the suggestions and the inducements which to a willing mind were to be found in the shrewd conjectures of learned men, the fables of chivalry, and, perhaps, in the confused records of forgotten knowledge once possessed by Arabic geographers. The story of Prester John, which had spread over Europe since the Crusades, was well known to the Portuguese prince. A mysterious voyage of a certain wandering saint, called Saint Brendan, was not without its influence upon an enthusiastic mind. Moreover, there were many sound motives urging the prince to maritime discovery, among which a desire to fathom the power of the Moors, a wish to find a new outlet for traffic, and a longing to spread the blessings of the faith, may be enumerated.”

“In the course of Prince Henry life he was three times in Africa, carrying on a war against the Moors; and at home, besides the care and trouble which the state of Portuguese court and government must have given him.”

“A contemporary chronicler AZURARA, whose work has recently been discovered and published, tells the story more simply, and merely states that these captains were young men, who after the ending of the Ceuta campaign, were as eager for employment as the prince for discovery, and that they were ordered on a voyage having for its object the general molestation of the Moors, as well as that of making discoveries beyond Cape Name.”

“In 1442, the Moors whom Antonio Goncalvez had captured in the previous year promised to give black slaves in ransom for themselves, if he would take them back to their own country; and the prince, approving of this, ordered Goncalvez to set sail immediately, “insisting as the foundation of the matter than if Goncalvez should not be able to obtain so many negroes (as had been mentioned) in exchange for the three Moors, yet that he should take them; for, whatever number he should get, he would gain souls, because they (the negroes) might be converted to the faith, which could not be managed with the Moors. Goncalves obtained ten black slaves, some gold dust, a target of buffalo hide, and some ostriches’ eggs, in exchange for two of the Moors, and, returning with his cargo, excited general wonderment on account of the color of the slaves. These, then, we may presume, were the first black slaves that made their appearance in the Penninsula since the extinction of the old slavery.” * BARROS does not say of what race these slaves were, but merely calls them” almas.” Faria v Sousa gives them the name of”Moors,” a very elastic word. I imagine that they were Azenegues.”

“In 1444, a company was formed at Lagos, who received permission from the prince to undertake discovery along the coast of Africa, paying him a certain portion of any gains which they might make. This has been considered as a company founded for carrying on the slave-trade. The expedition accomplished, successfully attacking the inhabitants of the islands Nar and Tider, and to bring back about two hundred slaves. Prince Henry awarded Lancarote large honors for this and received his own fifth of the slaves. We have an account from an eye-witness of the partition of the slaves brought back by Lancarote, which, as it is the first transaction of the kind on record, is worthy of notice, more especially as it may enable the reader to understand the motives of the prince, and of other men of those times. “
“From Ca da Mosta the reader at once learns the state of things with regard to the slave-trade. The Portuguese factory at Arguim was the headquarters of the trade. Thither came all kinds of merchandise, and gold and slaves were taken back in return. The “Arabs” of that district (Moors the Portuguese would have called them) were the middlemen in this affair. They took their Barbary horses to the negro country, and “there bartered with the great men for slaves,” getting from ten to eighteen slaves for each horse. They also brought silks of Granada and Tunis, and silver, in exchange for which they received slaves and gold. These Arabs, or Moors, had a place of trade of their own, called Hoden, behind Cape Blanco. There the slaves were brought, “from whence, Ca da Mosto says, they are sent to the mountains of Barka, and from thence to Sicily, part of them are also brought to Tunis, and along the coast of Barbary, and the rest to Argin, and sold to the licensed Portuguese. Every year between seven and eight hundred slaves are sent from Argin to Portugal. Before this trade was settled,” says Ca da Mosto, “the Portuguese used to seize upon the Moors themselves (as appears occasionally from the evidence that has before referred to), and also the Azengues who live father toward the south; but now peace is restored to all, and the Infante suffers no farther damage to be done to those people. He is in hopes that by conversing with Christians, they may easily be brought over to the Romish faith, as they are not, as yet, well established in that of Mohammed, of which they know nothing but hearsay.” 

From Al-Andalus to the Americas 13th-17th Centuries

The military dimension of the commercial companies was not limited to the control of colonies and the imposition of monopolies but was also a crucial factor in the transport and control of slave contingents. Despite the innovations introduced by Atlantic slavery (the plantation system, the lack of Ranson mechanisms), rightly pointed out by Adela Fabregas, it is not possible to deny the connection between captivity in the medieval Mediterranean and the Atlantic slave trade.

The conquest of Ceuta in 1415 may be seen as a symbolic landmark of the sequence; although this episode laid the foundations for the Portuguese expansion in Atlantic Africa, it is still closely connected with the flow of Mediterranean slaves towards Valencia, where large numbers of captives taken were sold. Antonio de A. Mendes regards this episode as “the first mass deportation of human beings in modern times,” making it clear that this would have been possible without the participation of the Florentine and Genoese mercantile companies. 

Later, when the Portuguese Crown extended its manhunts to the south, it not only transplanted the slave managing model used in the Maghreb to sub-Saharan Africa but entrusted this task to Italian agents. From 1510 onwards, Dutch financiers also participated in these activities and contributed to redirecting the flow of slaves towards the Atlantic plantations. Mendes’s chapter thus emphasizes the connections between the Portuguese expansion in Morocco, the beginnings of the slave trade in Senegambia and the growing use of slaves in the Atlantic islands with the beginning of the sugar economy around 1525.  The fact that commercial companies shared so much with others which were more clearly military in character underlines the idea that all these associations were to some extent based on the Christian discourse on fidelity (fidelitas).

Source: From Al-Andalus to the Americas (13th-17th Centuries) – Destruction and Construction of Societies.

Shakespeare Studies, Volume 31 edited by Leeds Barroll, Susan Zimmerman


“The English, lagging behind for about half a century, cashed in on the slave trade as early as the 1480s. Various records kept in several Spanish archives disprove the received view that the English as a slaving nation was late coming in the 1550s.  Moors and Mooresses of Morocco constituted colonial targets only for the Portuguese and the Spaniards, they were also victims of the English who bought the captured slaves at the slave markets of Andalusia. The trade with enslaved Moroccans led to a serious depopulation of the coastal regions of Morocco.” 

The Anglo-Moroccan merchants made the painful discovery that they were interacting with Moroccan Muslims not from an overwhelming position of strength, but from a position of near impotence and vulnerability. The centralized rule of the Saadian sharifs had infused a sense of nationhood into the Moroccan tribes, and its mercantile policy, relying on exports to European countries, was conducted on Morocco’s own terms. Thus the English merchants were often at the mercy of the Moroccan sultans and their marabouts. The sultans dictated the fiscal terms of the trade and the marabouts banned the export of saltpeter and the famous Barbary horses. It is true that the trade had unilaterally been pioneered, in chronological order, by the Genoese, Portuguese, French and English merchant adventurers who had the advantage of the superior sailing technology of ocean-going vessels, but once the trade had been established, the sultans, on the whole, gained the upper hand.” 

Source: Shakespeare Studies. Columbia: 2003.Vol. 31


“The first Englishmen to settle along the Christian/Muslim or Hispano/African border were the merchants stationed in Seville, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Huelva, Cadiz, and Valencia. Their early encounters with the Moors in Andalusia and across the Straits of Gibraltar were the result of a concerted campaign launched by their company’s expansionist commercial policy. A shroud of silence has been cast over the history of early English slave-holding in Spain by Gordon Connell-Smith’s study of the English Andalusia Company. It is time to recognize as a historical fact that the majority of the English merchants resident in Andalusia–I mention only some of the prominent figures such as Robert and Nicholas Thorne, the geographer Roger Barlow, and Thomas Mailliard–were slave owners. Alfonso Franco Silva, the medievalist of the University of Cadiz, has provided ample evidence that some of them were also slave dealers.” 


“Malliard’s inventory, drawn up after his death on 29 August 1522 by his English business partners and executors Robert Thorne, Thomas Bridges, and Roger Barlow, list sixteen slaves, among them three Moroccan Moors, five Mooresses, four mulattoes (“loros”), and five negroes. The Mallards must be ranked among the leading slave owners in the Iberian Peninsula considering that the average number of slaves owned by the landed nobility was fifteen.” 

English trade with Morocco was a natural extension of the existing trade established by the Andalusia company in Spain and in the Levant. Individual voyages can be traced as far back as the 1520s or 1530s when Roger Barlow visited Agadir, which then was still in the hands of the Portuguese. Regular trade, however, began after the Portuguese had withdrawn from Agadir and Safi in 1541, and it increased after 1549 when Charles V forbade Spanish merchants to trade with North Africa, Morocco included, which by them had emerged as an independent sovereign state under the Saadian sharifs. The following years until 1603 were a period of experimentation when the merchants sought the ideal form into which the trade should be cast.” 

“Trade was maintained by the Barbary merchants for more than a generation without control or regulation. Then in 1585, under the pressure of the earl of Leicester, it was subjected to the control of a regulated company. Leicester saw in the Barbary Company a vehicle for selling strategic goods, munitions, iron, lead, tin, timber, and oars for the professional army and navy of Ahmad al-Mansur. The monopoly of the Barbary Company came to an end in 1597 when the trade reverted to its former freedom, giving way to uncontrollable deregulation, damaging rivalry, and fraudulent practices; its demise caused heavy losses among the English merchants.” 

Source: Shakespeare Studies. Columbia: 2003.Vol. 31 pg. 89.”