Friday, July 06, 2007

Voyagers to the East, Part XIV

For the previous entry in this series, click here.

During the first quarter of the sixteenth century, Spain maintained a near-monopoly on the exploration and exploitation of the Americas. In only two regions of the Western Hemisphere did other Western European nations challenge Spain's dominance: Newfoundland, where sailors of nearly every seafaring country came to exploit the cod fisheries, and Brazil. While claimed by Portugal under the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), Brazil remained outside of the effective control of any single European power, and it possessed two commodities Europeans desired: brazilwood (the source of a bright and cheap red dye), and human slaves. The latter were either the prisoners of internecine wars, or captives taken by well-armed European slaving parties. Most were destined to end their lives on plantations in the West Indies or on the Brazilian coast, but a fair number, according to John Hemming's Red Gold (Cambridge, Mass., 1978), wound up in Western Europe. The following is a short summary of the cases Hemming reports, by year:

1503: Four Spanish ships brought gold, brazilwood, and Indian slaves to Seville in this year. There is no indication how many people were on each ship, but 100 seems a likely maximum - the ships were carrying other cargo, so it is doubtful that the crewmen packed in as many slave passengers as did Columbus's men in 1495. Fatalities en route probably ranged from 13% (Vespucci's figure in 1500) to 35% (Columbus's figure), leaving 260-350 survivors to be sold in Seville. This is, of course, only a guess. (Hemming, 531)

1513: The ship Bentoa brought 35 Indian slaves from Brazil to Lisbon, where they were probably sold as household servants or field hands. (Hemming, 10-11)

1515: A German correspondent described a Portuguese ship bringing "young [Indian] men and women" to Lisbon. Apparently, the ship captain had duped these passengers into coming to Europe voluntarily, then sold them into slavery after landing. The correspondent did not record the number of passengers, but 50-100 seems a reasonable range. (Hemming, 11)

1526: Sebastian Cabot, the son of John Cabot, took four chiefs' sons captive while in southern Brazil (Carijo), and sold them in Spain. (ibid)

This gives us a range of 349 - 489 Brazilian Indians sold as slaves in Iberia between 1503 and 1526. These figures are speculative and imprecise, but are based on the solid research in Hemming's book and thus at least convey the order of magnitude of this involuntary migration.

The sale of Brazilian Indian slaves in Portugal increased somewhat after the Portuguese began formally colonizing Brazil in 1534. That is a story for my next entry in this series.

For the next entry in this series, click here.