The Sea and the Shackle: African and Creole Mariners and the Making of a Luso-African Atlantic Commercial Culture, 1721-1835

Hicks, Mary, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Owensby, Brian, Department of History, University of Virginia

This dissertation charts the emergence and evolution of Salvador da Bahia’s African and creole maritime labor force in colonial and early imperial Brazil. The prevalence of waterborne transportation of all kinds necessitated the growth of a large group of maritime workers, 90 percent of whom were black, including mariners who were actively involved in the slave trade. By analyzing the matriculas or muster rolls of 52 ships, this study demonstrates that between 40 and 30 percent of sailors on slaving vessels were African born and nearly one third were enslaved between 1775 and 1835. The Bahian slave trade, the third largest in the Atlantic world, was heavily reliant on the labor and African derived maritime, linguistic, and medicinal expertise provided by black seafarers. As a result, these highly mobile and cosmopolitan men were able to strategically leverage their ability to successfully operate in the disparate cultural milieus of West Africa and Bahia, to limit their own marginalization and facilitate greater autonomy from their owners.
Mariners pioneered informal (and at times illicit) trading networks in African produced textiles and palm oil, which in turn introduced African material culture to the New World. Both locally and globally oriented, black mariners inhabited multiple social worlds. While maintaining fraternal bonds with shipmates and patrons, they also forged ties with enslaved urban communities, joining Catholic brotherhoods and enlisting in militias. In the absence of a stark divide between the treatment, compensation and trading privileges accorded enslaved and free mariners, black seafarers enjoyed an unprecedented level of social mobility that often allowed them to purchase their freedom and in rare cases become independent transatlantic traders in goods and slaves.
Finally, this study details not only the influence African and creole mariners, but also reveals the distinct organizational and investment practices of the Luso-African slave trade. On Bahian ships, a diverse cross-section of Salvador’s population including slaves, sailors, merchants and the poor invested small quantities of trade goods which formed composite transatlantic cargoes. As a result, the dissertation reveals how the Bahian slave trade incorporated the material interests of a diverse coalition of local inhabitants, and allowed the poor and even the enslaved access to transatlantic commercial opportunities in ways that have not yet been acknowledged.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Transatlantic Slave Trade, Maritime Atlantic, Slavery, Brazil
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