Portuguese Explorers took every opportunity of kidnapping Moors on Saharan Coast

“During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the great inducement that brought Europeans to the West Coast of Africa was not merely the trade in gold, ivory, camwood, and pepper, but it was first and foremost, slaves. Liberia, however, for reasons which will be shown, suffered perhaps less than most parts of the West African Coast, the adjoining district of the Ivory Coast having even greater immunity. Nevertheless, it was the slave trade that indirectly gave birth to Liberia as a recognized state, and it is, therefore, necessary to treat it to some extent as part of Liberian History. Negro slaves were used by the Ancient Egyptians, and from Egypt, in later days they were sent to Rome and to the Byzantine Empire.”
“Carthage also procured Negroes for the Roman galleys, possibly from Tripoli. Under Islam, however, the modern trade in Negro slaves as we know it really began. The Arab wars of conquest in the Egyptian Sudan and along the East African Coast, and Arab and Berber raids across the Sahara Desert from North Africa to the regions of the Niger,rapidly led to the dispatch of Negro slaves to Southern Persia, Western India, the coast of Arabia, Egypt, the whole of North Africa, and most parts of the Turkish Empire.”
“Negro slaves were occasionally imported into Italy as curiosities during the Middle Ages. The early Portuguese explorers sent out by Prince Henry at first took every opportunity of Kidnapping the Moors whom they met on the coast of the Sahara, and these people were dispatched as slaves to Portugal. Prince, Henry, however, came in time to realize the iniquity of this proceeding and its bad policy on the part of a nation which at that time was aspiring to colonize and rule Morocco.”
“He, therefore, ordered that they should be given a chance of ransoming themselves. One of these Moors explained that he was a nobleman by birth and state that he could give five or six Negroes for his own ransom and another five for the freedom of those amongst his fellow captives who were also men of position. The result was that Antao Goncalvez, their captor, on returning to the Rio de Oro, received ten Negroes, a little gold-dust, a shield of ox hide and a number of ostrich eggs as ransom.”
“The Portuguese learned in this way that by pursuing their journeys father south they might come to a land where it was possible to obtain “black Moors” as slaves. It was already appreciated that the Negro as a captive was a far more tractable and manageable person than anyone akin to the white man in race. Consequently, during the first hundred years of their African exploration, the Portuguese picked up Negroes by purchase from the Fula and Mandingo chiefs of Senegambia, and also by kidnapping them occasionally on the peninsula of Sierra Leone and on the Liberian Coast. They traded for them on the Gold Coast, in the Congo and Angola countries.”
“These slaves were mostly sent to Portugal as curiosities, quite as much as for domestic service. Care was generally taken to have them baptized and even to a certain extent educated. Meantime, North and South America had been discovered and the West India Islands settled by Spaniards. As early as 1501, only nine years since the West Indian Islands had been discovered by Christopher Columbus, it was found that the wretched inhabitants of the Antilles were dying out under the treatment of the colonizing Spaniards. In 1502, therefore, it was decided to export from Spain and Portugal to the West Indies some of the Negro slaves who had been reached converted to Christianity.”
“By 1503 there were already quite a number of Negroes in Hispaniola (Hait–San Domingo). In 1510 the King of Spain (Ferdinand) dispatched more Negro slaves, obtained through the Portuguese from West Africa, to the mines in the island. The celebrated Bartolomeo de las Casas, Bishop of Chiapa in Hispaniola, came to Spain in 1517, to the court of the young King-Emperor Charles V., to protest against the wicked treatment which the West Indian indigenes were enduring at the hands of the Spaniards.”
“As a remedy he proposed that the hardier Negroes of West Africa should be imported directly into the West Indies, to furnish the unskilled labor for which the native Americans were unsuited by their constitution. Charles V. had, however, already anticipated this idea, and a year or two previously had granted licenses to Flemish courtiers to recruit Negroes in West Africa for dispatch to the West Indies. One of these patents issued by Charles gave the exclusive right to a Flemish courtier named Lebrassa to supply four thousand Negroes annually to Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamacia, and Puerto Rico.”
“This Fleming sold his patent to a group of Genoese merchants, who then struck a bargain with the Portuguese to supply the slaves. But the trade did not get into full swing till after the middle of the sixteenth century, when, amongst others, the English seaman John Hawkins took up a concession for the supply of Negroes from Guinea to the West Indies. He mad in all three voyages, the first of which was undertaken in 1562. He obtained his slaves first from the rives between the Gambia and the confines of Liberia, visiting Sierra Leone amongst other places.”
“One the last of these journeys he was accompanied by Drake. (afterward Sir Francis), then a mere youth. They probably touched at the Liberian coast for water on their way to Elmina, where two hundred slaves were obtained by joining a native king in a raid. The coast of Liberia was not so much ravaged by the slave trade as were the regions between the Gambia and Sierra Leone, the Dahome or Slave Coast, the Niger Delta, Old Calabar, Loango, and Congo. Perhaps in all the ravages which the over-sea slave trade brought about, the Niger Delta and the Lower Congo suffered the worst.”
“What damage was done to the coast of Liberia seems to be chiefly attributed to the English, who had already begun to visit that coast at the close of the sixteenth century, and were very busy there all through the seventeenth, The French traveler Villault de Bellefonds mentions repeatedly in his writings the damage the English did on the Grain Coast (Liberia) in attacking the natives for little or no cause, and in carrying them off as slaves.”
“In fact, a slang term, “Panyar (from the Portuguese Apanhar, to seize, catch, kidnap), had sprung up in the coast jargon to illustrate the English methods. Even English travelers such as William Smith (who went out as a surveyor to the Gold Coast early in the eighteenth century) admit that the English had become very unpopular on the Gold Coast, owing to these aggressions on the natives; and William Smith and his companions endeavored to pass as Frenchmen when they visited Eastern Liberia and the Ivory Coast, ‘because of the bad name the English had acquired.”






Moorish Bondage in the Early Modern Atlantic World

The perspective of other Englishmen in Spain’s Atlantic world reinforces the idea that slavery was both commonplace and not especially controversial. Over the course of the sixteenth century, several hundred Englishmen spent some time as permanent or temporary residents in Spain and its American colonies. Well-placed Englishmen, particularly in the seaport towns of southwestern Europe, routinely witnessed African slaves rowing in the galleys or Venetian gondolas, serving as personal servants at royal and papal courts, or toiling among the laboring poor. English visitors to the court of Francis I may even have noticed, or heard rumors about, the young African woman with whom he shared a bed.”  


“Some Africans were placed on a sale in Bordeaux in 1571, but they were ultimately released by the French government on the grounds that slavery did not exist in France. Slavery may have been rare enough in France for some people to believe that little piece of fiction, but there could be no doubt about slavery’s legality on the Iberian Peninsula. A Flemish humanist, upon his arrival in Portugal in 1535, remarked that Moors and sub-Saharan Africans were present in such large numbers that “in Lisbon there are more men and women slaves that free Portugese.” Shocked, he declared that upon his arrival “in Evora I thought that I had come to some city of evil demons: everywhere there were so many blacks whom I so loathe that they may just be able to drive me away from here.” 

“Increasingly, over the course of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it was becoming difficult for European observers to ignore the fact that sub-Saharan Africans and their descendants were becoming an ever more important and ever more visible part of the population of southern Europe. Englishmen were especially familiar with Iberian slavery because, in the wake of Anglo-Spanish alliance during the 1490s, English merchants cultivated extensive trade networks in the coastal cities of the Iberian Peninsula, or those places where African slavery was most common. Robert Thorne, a wealthy Lond merchant-tailor and son of a Bristol merchant, resided in Spain during the 1520s. Upon his death in 1532, Thorne’s inventory showed an enormous personal estate, including “a house and slaves in Sevyle [valued at] 94(?).” 

“Ten years earlier, another English resident, Thomas Malliard, left four slaves to his Spanish mistress. Thorne and Malliard were among the small number of English merchants who not only lived in Seville but also were reputed to be active participants in the emerging Atlantic slave trade. Malliard may have left just a few slaves to his mistress, but executors identified fourteenth slaves in his possession in the weeks before his death in 1522. Thorne also bought and sold slaves for profit; he and an associate sold thirteenth slaves in 1531 to the Welsers, an Augsburg family of merchants and bankers. Like another Englishmen, Thomas Bridges, who had bought and sold Africans during the 1510s in Seville, Malliard and Thorne demonstrate the early willingness of English merchants to adapt themselves to local circumstances and their eagerness to take advantage of local markets, including the market in slaves.”

“Slavery was common in sixteenth-century Seville; notarial records indicate the presence of more than 5,000 slaves in the city between 1501 and 1525. A 1565 census recorded the presence of 6,327 slaves of a total population in excess of 85,000. A few of these individuals were Muslims and Canary Islanders, but most were sub-Saharan Africans. Indeed, throughout the sixteenth century, Africans routinely constituted anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of the population of Iberian coastal cities. This trade inevitably attracted the attention of the local English merchants, like William Fowler of Radclife and others, who tried to benefit from the system however they could (which could be difficult because legal participation in the African slave trade required a special license). Nonetheless, during the early sixteenth century, English merchants possessed some influence. One group of English merchants received corporate privileges in San Lucar from the Duke of Medina Sidonia in 1517 and subsequently created the Andalusia Company in 1530. Being English did not prevent certain individuals from benefiting from ill-gotten gains.” 

“According to Richard Hakluyt, English merchants had also been involved with trade to the Canary Islands during the sixteenth century. Thomas Midnall and William Ballard took up residence in San Lucar and Andalucia, respectively, as early as 1526, from where they maintained a relationship with merchants in the Canary Islands, including the Englishman Thomas Nicholas who composed a description of the islands and native peoples, the Guanches, which Hakluyt published in his collection. Even more significant was the “divers’ voyages to the Iles of the Canaries” conducted by John Hawkins during the mid-sixteenth century. According to Hakluty, it was there that Hawkins, “by his good and upright dealing,” gathered information about the West Indies from the local inhabitants and was assured “that Negroes were very good merchandise in Hispaniola” and that they “might easily be had upon the coast of Guinea.” When Hawkins made his first slave trading voyage in 1562, he once again stopped at Teneriffe, “where he received friendly entertainment.” 

“Evidence of active English involvement in either slavery or the slave trade in the Spanish Empire is sparse, but the activities of these few individuals suggest that some influential Englishmen possessed exceptional knowledge and experience. Perhaps no one demonstrates the links between English and Spanish society during the era more than Roger Bodenham. Bodenham participated in several voyages into the Mediterranean in the 1550s and subsequently settled in Seville where he married a Spanish woman and started a family. As a merchant, Bodenham participated in the Barbary trade and transatlantic enterprises that involved slavery. The tables were turned when those risky ventures eventually landed Bodenham in the hands of Moorish privateers who sold him, along with nine other Christians, on the Cadis slave market where he was fortuitously ransomed by a friend who just happened to recognize him in this moment of crises. Bodenham did more than trade for his own personal profit, however; he also had important connections in the Elizabethan court, where he sent useful commercial and political information until he departed Spain in 1586. As Bodenham’s case demonstrates, there were important physical and intellectual connections between Spain’s Atlantic world and that of the English.”

“The lessons that Africans could be bought, owned and sold as slaves therefore not lost on early modern Englishmen, decades before they were making much of an effort to profit from the practice. At the same time, few Englishmen could not have failed to notice that sub-Saharan Africans were neither the most despised group within the Iberian social order that place was generally reserved for either Jews or Moriscos–nor where they necessarily always held in bondage. Although Africans routinely found their way to Spain and Portugal as slaves, it was not difficult for slaves to become ex-slaves through manumission or self-purchase.” 

The Catholic Church generally applauded manumission and Iberian society had a long tradition of incorporating diverse peoples into the larger social order. The association between blackness and slavery, though palpable, was far from absolute on the Iberian Peninsula. As early as 1474, Ferdinand and Isabella appointed a man of African descent named Juan de Vallodolid, more popularly called “El conde negro,” to be a judge and an official leader of Seville’s African community. Freedmen also formed a religious brotherhood and operated a hospital to serve the African community in Seville. In 1472, a group of free Africans in Valencia received a license to form a religious brotherhood, which they named the cofradia of Nuestra Senora de Gracia. Skin color did not necessarily limit the ability of African peoples to coexist with Europeans and Moors as free people on the peninsula.” 

“Not surprisingly, then, free Africans could be found throughout Spanish America, especially in the main urban centers and coast enclaves, Africans had been present in the main urban centers and coastal enclaves, Africans had been present in America from the beginning of European colonization in the 1490s. By all accounts, African mariners sailed with Christopher Columbus in the 1490s and African soldiers aided Heran Cortes and other conquistadores in their New World exploits. Many of the earliest African peoples in Spanish America were ladinos, or individuals who had already lived in the Iberian world for a number of years. Their numbers were small during the first half of the century, as African slavery became more routinized, slave traders transported another 40,000 slaves across the Atlantic. Increasingly, these new arrivals–bozales shipped to Spanish America directly from Africa contributed to the Africanization of the local population. Enslaved Africans therefore lived and worked very visibly in the Americas during the sixteenth century, particularly in those places that interested English observers the most-the Caribbean islands, central Mexico, and the gold mining region of northern South America.” 

Source: Slaves and Englishmen: Human Bondage in the Early Modern Atlantic World By Michael Guasco