Exodus Village: Return of the African Diaspora


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This constitutes a shift from the pre picture drawn by Joseph Miller, where caravans of slaves marched from regions as distant as the Zambezi River. The ultimate origins of the recaptives is important not just for African history, but for anyone interested in the influence of Africa on the Americas and in the making of the Atlantic world. Well over half, or 45, of the group for whom it is possible to trace African origins was on its way to Cuba at the time of their detention. There is no reason why the cultural backgrounds of these Africans should have been any different from the coerced migrants whose transatlantic voyage was not interrupted by a naval cruiser.

Any conclusions that can be drawn from the pool of recaptives will hold for the larger group that completed the transatlantic voyage as intended. Having sketched out the size and origins of the recaptive diaspora we should now track what subsequently happened to them. As Table A.


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Indeed the great majority of those on board captured vessels experienced a voyage that was little different in mortality and morbidity from those that were sold into the slave markets of Brazil, Cuba, or the French Caribbean. A voyage from, say, Bonny to Sierra Leone after capture could take almost as long as a voyage from Bonny to the eastern Caribbean. The first column of numbers shows initial arrivals in each region while the second displays the subsequent relocation of the liberated Africans into shown by a plus sign and out of shown by a minus sign each region.

But the second column certainly lacks the precision of the first. One major exception to this statement, however, is Sierra Leone. Many of the recaptured Africans originated from the area surrounding the British colony and simply opted to return home. All but three of the first group and twenty of the runaways were native to Sierra Leone and the surrounding areas.

If even half of this number opted to subsequently leave the colony then the 15, departures from Sierra Leone in Table A. A comparison of upper and lower panels in Table A. Sierra Leone took in more than the rest of the Atlantic world combined, and of those carried to the Americas, most disembarked in the major plantation regions outside the US. Just as they had dominated the slave trade, British, Brazilian, and Spanish territories also received most of the Liberated Africans who initially landed in the Americas.

This pattern becomes even more pronounced when we allow for the subsequent movement of recaptives after their disembarkation.

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Column 2 of Table A. There were three types of secondary movement: one, as already noted, resulted from recaptives attempting to go home, and flowed from Sierra Leone to other parts of Africa; a second essentially followed the path of the transatlantic slave trade and went from Sierra Leone and St Helena to the British Caribbean including British Guiana ; a third redistributed the recaptives from one part of the Americas to another, usually from Brazil and Cuba to again, the British West Indies. Thus, Sierra Leone was easily the largest ultimate as well as initial destination of Liberated Africans.

But the British Caribbean was easily the second largest. Adding initial arrivals and relocated individuals together, the British Caribbean received probably 55, recaptives compared to a net influx into Sierra Leone of approximately 60, Agents for these colonies lobbied aggressively for immigrants in the aftermath of British abolition of slavery, especially after the premature expiry of the apprenticeship period in From to almost all 31, Liberated Africans who left St Helena and Sierra Leone at least by sea went to one of these three colonies.

Nine hundred came to the Bahamas from Cuba, and several hundred others were sent south to Patagonia from Buenos Aires in the late s. Plantation agriculture can explain nothing of these last three cases. How much volition there was in any of these movements is of central interest.

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More broadly, what was the status of Liberated Africans after they emerged from the legal process triggered by their interception? Scholars can point easily enough to examples of recaptives laboring for others in an apparently permanent slave-like dependence, as in Antigua, Tortola, or in Rio de Janeiro. At the other end of the spectrum were settlements or villages in which recaptives engaged in subsistence agriculture, mainly in Sierra Leone.

Generalizations are indeed a challenge.


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Our analysis counterposes the expectations of those responsible for the detention of the slave vessels with the likely expectations of the Liberated Africans themselves. Africans who became recaptives, and Europeans trying to suppress the slave trade could agree that freedom meant the absence of slavery. Beyond this, however, there was no consensus on what terms of labor should replace slavery.

At a deeper level the motives behind section VII were the same as those behind the poor law, the truncated apprenticeship that followed slavery in British territories from , and various devices such as head taxes and restrictions on land use that were to evolve in the non-settler parts of all European Empires in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Section VII was both harbinger of and a link between domestic and overseas policies toward labor.

The intention in all cases was to extract more labor service from people than they would have been prepared to volunteer, even with higher wages but with as little as possible overt compulsion. By the early nineteenth century, British elites were convinced of the superiority of free labor.

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They wanted employers and a contented though subservient laboring population instead of slave owners and slaves, and an environment where fear of want had replaced dread of the lash. Slave owners, however, were more likely to see apprenticeship as a way of prolonging slavery.

Other countries followed the British lead. A Portuguese decree issued in in the aftermath of the Anglo-Portuguese slave trade abolition treaties adopted the above provisions, and while the Brazilian slave trade abolition act specified that all recaptives should return to Africa, this never in fact happened and there, too, most emancipados served out fourteen-year terms.

The term of the apprenticeship varied from seven to fourteen years, with presumably age having a major influence on individual terms. A disproportionate share of the newcomers worked for and participated in church missions thanks to the US government subsidizing the indentures. This no doubt helps explain why US settlers in Liberia generally welcomed the new arrivals, but some of the new arrivals, ironically, ended up working in the small sugar cane sector that appeared briefly in mid-century Liberia. It is difficult to know how the , Africans felt about any of this. The English working class was perhaps not much different given that Chartists in the s organized a lottery, the winners of which would receive a small farm.

And mid-century US workers viewed wage work as a step toward acquiring land in the west. Whereas today's migrants move to improve incomes, for long-distance voluntary migration in the early modern period gaining access to new land resources was paramount, or, put another way, access to conditions that might give the migrant more control over his or her own life.

We might assume that the goals of Liberated Africans after violent removal from their native societies were not much different. Recaptive responses examined in more detail below make clear that many were unhappy with their new status, as well as the enslaved condition that they had recently left behind. It seems safe to say that there was nothing in the various slave trade abolition acts that met their aspirations with the single exception that for the most part they would not become chattel slaves and were provided with food and shelter for varying periods.

The court agreed and indeed they do not appear in the register.

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Examining all the Liberated African data together establishes that which side of the Atlantic the recaptive disembarked had a major impact on African abilities to shape their post-disembarkation experiences. The main difference from slavery was that the status was not heritable, was usually time limited and females could not be employed in agriculture. In Brazil, still under Portuguese jurisdiction when the first emancipados arrived in , a decree modeled on the act complete with a year apprenticeship term was still in effect.

In fact this never happened. It was eventually decided that those recaptured before the law were liberated after 14 years, but anyone who became a recaptive after the law was subject to permanent indentured servitude mostly on public works. Decrees of freed the minority of emancipados still working in the private sector with the rest receiving similar status in , but by then both groups on average had worked as involuntary laborers far beyond 14 years. Of the 10, arrivals in Cuba shown in Table A. On the other side of the Atlantic, by contrast, the terms were much shorter.

The documents do not indicate the length of indentures though we know that Zachary Macaulay, abolitionist and former governor, thought seven years was appropriate. A new governor, Thomas Perronet Thompson, who arrived after the detention of the first slave ships, declared such apprenticeship arrangements to be equivalent to slavery.

He also claimed that abolitionists like Zachary Macaulay, James Stephen, and William Wilberforce who supported the apprenticeship plan were thereby guilty of sustaining slavery and the slave trade. Thompson canceled the indentures and the recaptives showed up in the registers for the first time in They set the length of an apprenticeship according to age, in a parallel to the treatment of wards of the parish under the English poor law.

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The disposal column of the Sierra Leone-based registers for the first 1, recaptives landed at Freetown has information for individuals that apparently survived on a random basis. Combining these sources makes it possible to extract some information on what happened to 1, of the first 4, recaptives processed by the Freetown Vice-Admiralty court. The clerks estimated just under half of these to be adults 15 years of age and older and this group was apprenticed for a mean of 3.

No recaptive over 17 was assigned a term of more than three years.

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The remaining , all under 15 years of age, received longer terms ranging indeed, up to the 14 years specified in the abolition act. Age and term were thus inversely related, with five year-olds averaging year apprenticeships and 14 year-olds averaging 3. They may have disagreed on the terms and conditions, but both abolitionists and their critics, such as Thompson and Justice Robert Thorpe, wanted the Sierra Leone recaptives to serve a term of indentured servitude, and of course the British West India regiments needed recruits.

Nevertheless the preferences of recaptives together with the Sierra Leone environment prevented the full implementation of the apprenticeship system.

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Not only was the indenture term shorter than what the British elite thought desirable, but the great majority of women were not subject to any apprenticeship. The person or village is often identified. More important, for most years between and the beginning of coerced migration from Sierra Leone and St Helena to the British sugar colonies a quarter century later, the great majority of both men and women appear to have gone direct from the Liberated African yard to a recaptive village.

The census summary enumerated 6, Liberated Africans excluding enlisted men , but only 9 per cent were apprenticed, all but of this group being children. Two years later the apprentice ratio had fallen below 8 per cent, again almost all children. By this time even most of the children were distributed across the recaptive villages. Despite the grand intentions of the Act, the Order in Council, and the stated motives of the abolitionists, apprenticeship for adults was rare.

The initial three-year term and then the dropping of even this requirement for adults on the African side recognized this reality. In the plantation Americas the demand for labor and the wariness of the slave-owning elite toward free blacks dictated that liberty for recaptives was more severely curtailed and in some cases barely perceptible. Forced recruitment for the army in Sierra Leone continued. Choice was no more an option in recaptive recruitment than it was for seamen impressed until by the Royal Navy.

Exodus Village: Return of the African Diaspora Exodus Village: Return of the African Diaspora
Exodus Village: Return of the African Diaspora Exodus Village: Return of the African Diaspora
Exodus Village: Return of the African Diaspora Exodus Village: Return of the African Diaspora
Exodus Village: Return of the African Diaspora Exodus Village: Return of the African Diaspora
Exodus Village: Return of the African Diaspora Exodus Village: Return of the African Diaspora
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