Re-exportation: The Illegal Slave Trade From Cuba to the United States, 1808-1862
Re-exportation: The Illegal Slave Trade From Cuba to the United States, 1808-1862
Philip Curtin estimated that Cuba imported almost 500,000 slaves between 1811 and 1870 (The Atlantic Slave Trade,1969). His curious bracket has no chronological significance since both the start and end dates reflect no pivotal historical occurrences within the slave trade. We are primarily concerned with the history of the illegal slave trade to the United States via Cuba, which began on New Year's Day, 1808, when the U.S. Congress prohibited the importation of slaves from Africa. To clarify the importance of slave trafficking to Cuba in relation to the re-exportation of slaves to the U.S., our analysis of the time-line necessarily extends to 1865. The ending of the American Civil War tends to obscure the almost total decline of slave importations to Cuba in this year, an oversight obviated even more by the tremendous peak year of African slave imports to Cuba in 1859. This is an interrelated phenomenon that has not been properly addressed in the endlessly stultifying scholarship on African slave demographics for the antebellum U.S. If we are to believe data provided by the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database, Curtin's numbers are significantly off the mark in calculating imports to Cuba in the 19th century. The database increases the number to more than 713,000 disembarked in Cuba between 1808 and 1865. Nearly a quarter of a million slaves imported to Cuba in these periods were not accounted for by Curtin or his protégé David Eltis, whose estimates inform nearly all recent scholarship on Cuban slave demographics.
Gannet and Olmsted's Cuban 1907 Census Report showed that a slave population of 436,500 constituted nearly 60% of Cuba's total population (1,007,624 ) in 1841, By 1861, despite increasing importation of African slaves to Cuba, its slave population had dropped to about 367,400, 43% of the total (1,396,530). The Union blockade of the Confederacy in 1861, the 1862 Anglo-American agreement to search and seize suspected slave ships flying the American flag, and the Emancipation Proclamation are said to have drastically quashed imports of African slaves to Cuba to virtually nothing by 1865. Historians cite the high price of slaves as the reason for the drop off in Cuban slave imports after 1859, but in actuality slave prices in Cuba dropped after this year, from over 800 pesos to under 600 pesos in 1863. Besides, by 1865, prices for slaves in Africa were still comparatively much less expensive relative to the peso, an exchange still worth 100% or more in profits for negreros depositing their captives in Cuba. Slave trafficking in the 1850's was carried often on swift Baltimore clippers, but also increasingly on steam-powered vessels that could hold over a thousand slaves. Even with the perceived success of British naval attempts to stop the trade, more slaves landed in Cuba in 1859 than in any year previous. The volume of Africans arriving in Cuba in the 1850's might seem ordinary if not for the observation made by Bergad, Garcia, and Barcia that of all slaves sold in Cuba after 1845, the "majority of [them] were born in Cuba." (Garcia, et al, 38).
The volume of slave imports to Cuba is most dramatic in the same years in which the New Orleans Price index for slaves indicate higher American prices than prices in Cuba. Therefore, slave traffickers and dealers who purchased slaves in Cuba in these periods made even larger profits when they resold the slaves in the U.S. Even though Cuban prices for slaves were sometimes higher than in the U.S., incentives for re-exportation were still lucrative as demand for slaves soared in the Deep South and Texas.
It is no wonder that slave importation to Cuba dried up after 1859, especially as those who were carrying on the illicit traffic, Americans foremost, had largely vanished from the seas after the Union blockade and the Anglo-American Treaty of 1862 (Lyons-Seward Treaty) that finally ended the inviolability of slave ships flying under the protection of the American flag. In 1859, over 27,000 slaves disembarked in Cuba. By the end of 1865, 722 Africans were brought to port. Today's scholars wax moronic on the reasons for the obvious drop in the numbers of slaves going to Cuba after 1860, but their ingenuity often fails to equate their dramatic decline with the sharp decrease in re-exports following the emphatic end of slavery in the United States.
Given the recent spate of scholarship about the high incidence of American owned, operated, and financed slave ships from Africa bound for Cuba, and also the few but not insignificant (the tip of the iceberg) documented instances of American slavers voyaging from Cuba into Gulf ports, and bayous from Florida to Texas, the connection between American complicity with the illegal slave trade and the Cuban slave market is now more easily made than in previous years. Indeed, authorities on the slave trade that have minimized the importance and size of the illegal slave trade to the United States after 1808 are being undermined by their own resources, especially since 19th century slave manifests and cargos are now continually added to the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database.
Challenges to the consensus on the illegal slave trade indoctrinated by Philip Curtin should be encouraged by the scholarly fortitude that W.E.B. Dubois employed in his irrefutable Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America 1638- 1870 (1896). Scholars ever since, who have veered away from DuBois' meticulous research, and for whatever reason, be it puritanical nationalistic visions of American history or sheer racism, continue to trivialize the illegal slave trade into the United States from 1808 to 1860. Token reminders of this folly are futile academic attempts to explain the 4.5 million Africans in the U.S. Census of 1860 (how so few in 1807 could breed so many by 1860!). Curtin suggested with questionable stinginess, that perhaps only 54,000 illegal slaves had made it into the U.S. from 1808 to 1860, allowing for barely a thousand slaves a year.
In 1972, extrapolating from Curtin's deductions, prominent expert Jack Eblen opined, amazing as it sounds, that "the amount of illegal importation cannot have exceeded by much the amount of population loss attributable to escape and emigration." This "authority" deduced that "the average black woman in the antebellum U.S. bore seven children", even while conceding "very high, perhaps unreasonably extreme, infant mortality levels", and that the crude death rate of the American black population was "approximately treble the rate general to present day Africa." This is a ludicrous theory about antebellum slave fertility, while slave mortality rates, best implied by Kenneth Staamp in the Peculiar Institution, negate his conclusion.
Other seeming authorities, such as British slave trade experts Kenneth Morgan and Michael Tadman, both vociferously disallow any significance to an illegal slave trade into the United States. On our side of the Atlantic, the Curtin consensus is supported most visibly by the foremost authority in the U.S. today, David Eltis. Eltis, oddly enough, is a principal investigator for the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database, but he has minimized the numbers of illegal slaves even further than Curtin had allowed for, citing only a total of 6,100 illegal slaves entering the U.S. illegally from 1808 to 1865, further confounding demographers of the antebellum south. Eltis is comfortable with the assertion that few more than six thousand Africans were imported (117 per year !) because it is the total number of slaves recorded on the register of documented slave voyages to the U.S. after 1808. As if slave smugglers or their customers kept records! Eltis also attacks the extrapolation from W.E.B. Dubois by Obadele Starks (Freebooters and Smugglers, 2007) that postulates a total of 786,000 slaves imported illegally.
Eltis' trump card is a peremptory statement that the U.S. Census of 1870 shows "less than one tenth of 1% of the black population of the United States was African born," therefore Starks must be a raving mad African-American revisionist. While Starks' numbers may be over-grandiose, Eltis fails to mention that the status of Africans was completely different in the 9th Census (1870), when they became free individuals ostensibly protected by the Constitution, than in the 8th (1860), where they had virtually no legal rights and counted as 3/5ths as a person in determining the population per congressional representation in the South. Any African-born former slave in their right mind would have described themselves as native-born in 1870, especially with the memory of emancipation still fresh in their minds. "Inasmuch as ex-slaves who were born in Africa and smuggled into the United States could not be counted in a state's population of citizens on which congressional representation for the state was based, the Southern states had motivation to show as few African-born blacks as possible in the 1870 census." (Tenzer, 17)
The evidence is far from empirical as Eltis suggests. Sadly, the actual circumstances of the illegal slave trade to the United States have been severely extenuated by this historian and many others. Incredibly, Eltis states that since he personally has researched some of the 1,100 volumes of correspondence kept in Britain's Slave Trade Department of the Foreign Office, that no further inquiry is needed. He arrogantly asserts that no correspondence suggests that British officials ever suspected that slaves were headed to the mainland of the United States. This is certainly preposterous and Sian Rees book about the British Navy's African Squadron (Sweet Water and Bitter: The Ships That Stopped the Slave Trade, 2009) clearly dispels such nonsense.
The scantiness of the corroborating evidence linking the illegal slave trade to the American mainland is because slaves were brought primarily to Brazil before 1830, when it was still legal to import them there, while other slavers headed illegally mainly to Cuba where slaves were often re-exported to Galveston, New Orleans, etc. Eltis also greatly overestimates the efficacy of the British African Squadron that policed the West African coast. Furthermore, the British and American naval presence in the Caribbean was not a serious deterrent to slave trafficking from Cuba to the U.S. Slavers in the Gulf could easily pretend to be sailing from any of the mid-Atlantic states as part of the perfectly legal "coast-wise" trade. Eltis is disingenuous on a grand scale, as are many historians on the issue. (Olmsted, Gannet,Cuba: Population, History and Resources, 1907; Eblen, Growth of the Black Population in Ante-Bellum America, 1820-1860, 1972; Eltis, The U.S. Transatlantic Slave Trade 1664-1867: An Assessment, 2008)
The British occupation of Havana in 1762 introduced for the first time unrestricted free trade to Cuban merchants and planters who had previously been stifled by Peninsular monopolies on all exports and imports. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 restored Spanish sovereignty and enlightened despot Carlos III of Spain, realizing the economic potential of his most prized Caribbean possession, decided to end the asiento system of slavery in Cuba, thereby abolishing existing monopolies on the slave trade. By 1792, the reforms of Captain General Luis De Las Casas had liberalized the slave trade, opening it to ships of all nations, while stimulating Cuba's economy by giving tax breaks to the coffee, cotton, and indigo industries. Sugar producers were remitted export duties and all taxes on Cuban sugar entering Spain.
Civic improvements in Cuba were also part of Las Casas' reforms as roads, bridges, schools, asylums, and public buildings were constructed, all with the support of slave labor. Las Casas, allied with native merchant slave-dealers (negreros), administered the distribution of slaves to the areas of Cuba where they were needed the most. The importation of slaves steadily increased from the start of Las Casas' tenure, from 2,718 slaves in 1790, with an additional 13,295 brought in by 1792. The number of slaves arriving in Cuba fell after 1792, plummeting to just around 2,184 slaves in 1793. A general drop in slave imports lasted until the turn of the 19th century. By this time, Havana, with sugar as its most lucrative export, had become the third largest city in the Americas behind Mexico City and Lima.
After 1791, when the Haitians successfully revolted on Saint Domingue, formerly supplier for 40% of the world's sugar and 60% of its coffee, sugar became the principal export of Cuba. The bloody insurrection on that neighboring island, only 50 miles to the west, alarmed many Cuban slave-holders, thus importation declined until 1800, though many French planters fleeing from the Haitian turmoil went to Cuba with their slaves, some 30,000 of them from 1795 to 1805. Also during this time, the latest sugar mill technology and tools imported from British Jamaica began to spread across Cuba. The successful suppression of a number of slave uprisings in Cuba, coupled with the Treaty of Amiens between Napoleonic France and Great Britain signed in early 1802, resulted in a short period of international stability whereby Cuba began to import slaves from Africa with confidence. An 1804 Royal Decree from the weak Carlos IV (whose kingdom by then was almost entirely run by his rapacious wife Maria Luisa), stipulated that Cuba grant twelve years of free trade to Spaniards importing Bozale or "saltwater" Africans, and six years to foreigners doing so.
Sugar prices rose in 1802 from about 11¢ a pound to about 14¢ until 1805, and exports were steadily rising annually even while slave prices dropped sharply in the same period from about 435 pesos in 1801 to about 300 pesos in 1804. The large influx of slaves in 1802 and 1803, at least 23,000, up from only 2,748 in 1801, saturated the market for slaves in the ensuing years, and slave imports dwindled even further when European hostilities resumed in 1804, the year Napoleon declared himself Emperor of the French. Napoleon's treacherous invasion of Spain in 1808 effectively stopped imports to and exports from Cuba; barely a thousand slaves were landed at Havana in 1809. Meanwhile, Great Britain and the United States had both passed laws prohibiting the export of slaves from Africa, a factor that can be considered in the overall reduction of slave imports to Cuba in 1808 and 1809. However, Napoleon's Peninsular War raged in Europe until 1814, and slave ships arrived with more frequency in Cuba despite restricted trading conditions.
New Orleans slave prices excelled Havana prices from 1805 until some months after the U.S. Prohibition of the Slave Trade Act of January 1st, 1808. The number of legally slaves imported to the U.S. halted in this year, but many extra slaves were brought into Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans before the ban, nearly 46,000 recorded in 1807 and 1808. The slave population in Georgia nearly doubled from 1800 to 1810, and quadrupled in the Mississippi Territory in the same decade. American slave traffickers were taking advantage of hundreds of miles of un-policed Gulf Coast line. They were also already maneuvering within the geo-political ambiguities that arose from the Louisiana Purchase, such as the inconclusive boundary of New Spain in Texas, the disputed territory of West Florida, and the Sabine Free State.
In 1808, the U.S. Navy ordered Commander David Porter to New Orleans to lead a small flotilla of gunboats for the interception of slave ships in the Gulf. Porter was almost as successful capturing slavers from 1808 to 1810 as the entire U.S. Naval Squadron was when sent to Africa in 1820. But Porter's capture of the American slaver Amiable Lucy, bound from the West Indies (no specific island is mentioned in the Supreme Court ruling) to Louisiana in 1810, proved to be his last prize until the 1820's. Britain's policing of the slave trade after 1808 was not forcefully applied in their West Indies possessions until after 1834. Until then, Barbados, Dominica, Trinidad, and Demerara, all remained part of an intra-colonial slave trade. Regardless of where the slaves on the Amiable Lucy were originally from, the U.S. federal government used the case to create a legal loophole, one of many more to come during the antebellum period, that afforded American slave smugglers so3/5/10me measure of protection from prosecution, and allowed them in many cases to reclaim their confiscated ships along with their slave cargoes. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall and Governor Claiborne of the Louisiana Territory intervened in the Lucy case, protecting the slave property of the American-owned slaver on grounds that the 1808 Prohibition Act had no jurisdiction within the Territory of Louisiana. From 1810 on, U.S. judges were sympathetic to captured slavers, especially if those detained had served in the U.S. Navy. Determined American slave traffickers, not particularly worried about the legal consequences, were plying their trade just two weeks after prohibition went into effect in 1808, evidenced by two American schooners from Rhode Island, carrying 167 slaves, that were captured off of Cape Verde by the HMS Derwent of Britain's Africa Squadron.
The number of slaves arriving in Cuba from Africa spiked dramatically from barely 1,000 in 1809 to a total of almost 14,000 by 1811, just a year after the international disruption in commerce occasioned by the war and three years after the prohibition of the African slave trade. Even after the 1811 uproar of panic and uncertainty on behalf of Cuba's planters was communicated abroad to the liberal Cortes in Spain, after certain Peninsulares had proposed abolishing slavery in all the Spanish possessions, the imports of slaves totaled well over 8,000 by 1814. A steady, though diminished influx of slave imports to Cuba (1812 to 1814), despite the restrictions and hazards of shipping during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812, can be attributed to the interests of mostly American and Spanish smugglers who were largely indifferent to the consequences of the 1808 Prohibition of the Slave Trade, and they continued to ply their trade from Cuba in the Gulf of Mexico with little to no hindrance from British or U.S authorities, whose presence in the Gulf was minimal and largely ineffective in policing the trade. (Hubert H.S. Aimes, The History of Slavery In Cuba, 1511 to 1868, 1907; Barcia, Bergad, Garcia, The Cuban Slave Market 1790-1880, 1995; Foner, A History of Cuba and its Relations with the United States,1962)
The 1812 Constitution of Cadiz assuaged worried Cuban planters and merchants by insuring the continuance of the slave trade while also enlarging the representation of colonial interests in the Spanish Cortes. However, the position of the Cortes changed frequently and the vacillating priorities of the hapless Spanish crown¬¬¬¬¬, their unwilling obeisance to Great Britain's stern Parliamentarians (supported by the sometimes unwilling might of the Royal Navy) made it a paramount issue for Cuban planters as the contradictions and indecision of the Cortes regarding the slave trade embroiled Cuba in a series of financial panics on behalf of the Creole landholders who saw any action that would suppress the slave trade as disastrous to their livelihood, leading to the financial ruin of the island itself. The profits entailed by sugar and tobacco production were, therefore, more expedient than the constant threat of slave insurrection. As the slave trade to Cuba continued unabated, though harried by the whims of the Cortes, many planters and merchants who were invested in slavery looked to the United States as a potential guarantor for their interests. Spain's submission to anti-slavery pressures from Great Britain ignited a fervor that spread in Cuba as Creole planters clamored and conspired for annexation to the United States, putting the mother country in an uncompromising and sometimes dangerous diplomatic quandary lasting until 1858, when filibuster leader William Walker was shot dead from a Cuban firing squad under the command of the Spanish Captain General.
In all diplomatic conversations where Cuba was concerned, slavery was the raison d'etre of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Spain in the first half of the 19th century. It was assumed by some Cuban slave interests, Creole planters and Peninsular bureaucrats alike, that if Cuba were annexed to the U.S., the island could participate more freely in the slave trade, protected by the British inability to board suspected slave ships flying the American flag. To maintain slavery in Cuba, in opposition to native liberal reformers, the U.S. federal government actively worked with Cuban slave-holders, aiding the suppression of political agitators for Cuban independence from Spain. Cuba's wealthy sugar planters and the American slavocracy worked towards annexing Cuba as a protectorate of the United States in order to "prevent the abolition of slavery on the island, acquire new land suitable to the slave plantation system, and to increase the South's political power in the Union." (Foner, 31, II) In 1822, a liberal deputy in the Spanish Cortes who advocated ending slavery in Cuba sparked threats from Cuban slave interests who suggested that "the deputy who would ask for the abolition of slavery in Cuba ought to have his tongue cut out."(Foner, 103, I) Meanwhile, the U.S. government also exercised its power in retaining the status quo for Cuba, that was keeping Cuba submissive to a weak Spain and thus buying time to annex the island at an opportune time when that object was less likely to cause a world war. The "Spread-Eagle Doctrine" of annexation was an important prerogative and sometimes a dangerous obsession with every American president from Jefferson down to Buchanan.
Cuba's commercial relations with the U.S., whom the former relied upon for flour, rice, fish, pork, and other goods, were mutually beneficial to their fledgling economies. Despite heavy Spanish taxes on American imports, Cuba's relationship with the United States was incredibly profitable. The volume of Cuba's trade with the U.S. surpassed that with Spain as early as 1798. This lucrative commercial relationship, though constantly harried by jealous Peninsulares abroad, and often by the loyalist colonial government at home, expanded prodigiously in the 19th century, especially so after 1820 when both American cotton and Cuban sugar exports simultaneously became their dominant exports.
For Cuban slave holders, the sugar-derived wealth and free trading privileges garnered by 1818 had come with an ominous precedent, namely the Anglo-Spanish Treaty of 1817, which immediately accorded an end of the slave trade to all Spanish possessions above the equator, and all below by 1820. The anguish felt by Cuban sugar producers, whose labor source was threatened at the very moment production was becoming profitable beyond belief, is remarkably similar to the situation American cotton planters found themselves in after 1808, when the importation of African slaves was prohibited just as Eli Whitney's cotton gin, along with continual improvements in cotton manufacturing and the rising demand for good cotton cloth, was beginning to make production tremendously lucrative. However, these were momentary distractions. The slave-holders of both Cuba and the U.S. circumvented the restrictions on the slave trade by influencing and infiltrating the bureaucracies that policed the laws. Thus, after 1817, a triangular illegal trade in African slaves flourished between Africa, Cuba, and the United States. American slave smugglers had already been collaborating with slave dealers in Cuba since 1808. The Anglo-Spanish Treaty, while allowing Britain's Navy legal jurisdiction to apprehend, board, and arrest slavers flying the Spanish flag, also initiated the full collusion between America's Cotton Kingdom and Cuba's sugar slavocracy.
In strictly numerical terms, based on the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database, the treaty seemed somewhat effective as slave importation to Cuba dropped significantly from 1818 to 1821. Havana was the central terminus for slave traffic in both the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, and that port remains the locus for the analysis of slave demographics in Cuba. Still, as the trade was technically illegal, many of the slave cargoes that docked at Havana weren't documented at all, just as many other Cuban ports where slaves were unloaded, Matanzas, Santiago, Cienfuegos, Cardenas, etc, also failed to record the illicit disembarking of slaves, many of whom were unloaded at coves and bayous directly on the beach. With 2,316 miles of Cuban coastline to canvass, it is not surprising that the 30 or so Royal Navy ships stationed in the West Indies captured only 65 slavers from 1821 to 1838. The supposedly empirical evidence provided by the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database does not tabulate eyewitness observations of the illegal slave trade in action, even as estimates of the volume of illegal slave traffic prepared by the British Foreign Office in Cuba during the era (1808 to 1865) are disregarded or erroneously revised by historians such as Curtin and Eltis. The database calculates that slave imports to Cuba never reached a higher number than 26,290 in 1859. Many contemporary reports suggest otherwise. For example, in 1838, Royal Navy Commander Alexander Milne of Britain's West India Squadron reported from Havana that,
"40,000 Slaves are landed yearly in Cuba…the risk of landing [them]is not great. Our current cruise has been a very stupid one, not having caught any slavers, having seen one a long way off which escaped by the aid of a dark night. [W]e are blockading a Harbour near Havanah on a dead lee shore, it becomes somewhat tiresome. The three harbours are Mariel, Cabanas & Bahia Honda, which I suppose to be the places where the slaves are landed[.] The villains are so cunning & so cautious that they are rather difficult to find, but more difficult to capture."
(Beeler, John. Maritime Policing and the Pax Britannica:The Royal Navy's Anti-Slavery Patrol in the Caribbean,1828-1848, The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord, XVI No. 1, (January 2006), 1-20.)
A narrowing of destinations for African slaves became obvious as Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and Peru, all Spanish possessions, declared independence from 1811 to 1821. Except for Peru, all of these countries had abolished slavery before 1830. This left Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Brazil anomalies, all still steadily welcoming illegal slavers and their African contraband in the face of a professed international commitment to halt the trade altogether. Brazil's declaration of independence from Portugal in 1825 and Britain's support of it resulted in Brazil officially relinquishing the slave trade in 1830, though it was only effective for two years before illegal slave trafficking began to surge there. Nonetheless, after 1830, Cuba, Brazil, and the United States remained the principal destinations for African slaves in the western hemisphere.
Unfortunately for Cuban tobacco, coffee, and cattle merchants, Spain's loss of Mexico and Peru in 1813 and 1821 respectively, necessitated a heavier burden of Spanish taxes on all Cuban trade except for sugar, the production of which required far more slaves than any other commodity on the island. This imposition, along with the Anglo-Spanish Treaty, affected the price of slaves in Cuba, which rose significantly higher than New Orleans slave prices from 1820 to 1832. The financial panic of 1819 retarded U.S. agriculture and manufacturing growth until 1823, undoubtedly influencing the higher Cuban price. However, the relative price for slaves on the African coast was 7£ per slave between 1815 and 1826, an all-time low lasting over a decade. Slaves surged into Cuba from as few as 2,000 disembarked in 1814, to over 25,000 in 1817. Though slave smuggling was profitable regardless of the price on either side of the Gulf of Mexico, the price rise in Cuba somewhat devalued the American bounty from the illegal slave trade to the U.S. for twelve years. Still, re-exportating slaves from Cuba became easier for the Americans after the Adams-Onis Treaty transferred Florida to the U.S. in 1821, thereby removing harried Spanish colonial administrators from the territory who may have compromised the illegal traffic with official complaints. Besides the minimal Spanish presence, Florida had been home only to a few thousand Creek and Seminole natives, and a small but growing contingent of runaway slaves from Georgia and the Carolinas.
U.S. Consul to Havana in the early 1820's, Jack Warner, purchased a third of Key West via a Spaniard, quickly re-selling it to American slave-ship captain Pardon C. Greene, the wealthiest inhabitant of Key West until 1838, and in whose salvage business warehouses on the island may well have camouflaged the storage of slaves from Cuba. Key West, only 90 miles north of Cuba, was important in the early years of the illegal slave trade when piracy flourished in the Gulf. The scarcity of inhabitants in Florida was an incentive for smuggling slaves there from Cuba from 1808 to 1822 (when it was recognized as a U.S. territory), a tantalizing prospect for slave traffickers as the enormous profits involved were well worth risk of encountering pirates who would steal their bounty. Florida's total population numbered only 34,000 by 1830, when the first official census was conducted there.
In fact, after a steep decline beginning in 1817, the number of slave imports to Cuba rallied after Key West was solidly in American hands, rising from about 9,000 in 1821 to almost 12,000 in 1822. However, Commodore David Porter, arch-nemesis of piracy, returned to the Caribbean in 1822 and took command of the U.S. Navy's Mosquito Squadron, prosecuting the illegal slave trade around Key West with unflagging vigor, often engaging in violent sea battles with pirates and smugglers. His enforcement of prohibition put a small dent in the overall trade, but posed no real threat to Cuba's re-exportation of slaves to the U.S. during 1822 through 1825.
At this time, Spanish reprisal of Cuban revolutionaries and restriction on her Cuban trade, coinciding with the 1823 arrival in Havana of the despotic Captain General Vives, had reversed the surge of slave imports, which fell precipitously from 12,000 to just over 4,000 that year. But, 7,000 more slaves were brought into Cuba in 1824, and at least another 13,000 in 1825. Commodore Porter was no longer a force to be reckoned with in the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico after 1825, having resigned his commission after being reprimanded for invading Puerto Rico with 200 soldiers to jail-break one of his men wrongfully imprisoned for being a pirate.
Today, commonly held perceptions concerning Caribbean piracy in the early 19th century often discount that many of the freebooters were American seamen and frontiersmen, intent on appropriating slave cargoes from other slave smugglers, the latter traveling from Cuba en route to the U.S. What confusion and horror the slaves must have felt (!) after being seized by tribesmen in Africa, marched up the Congo to be stored in a barracoon on the river, forced onto a slave ship, manacled in agony during the Middle Passage to Cuba, led from an indiscriminate port or some obscure beach to be barracooned once again on a sugar estate, then taken back to a port or beach to be loaded onto a slave dealer's ship for re-exportation, whereby pirates may or may not have later boarded the ship, forcing the slaves to transfer to their own cargo holds. Regardless, a short journey across the Gulf of Mexico or up the Atlantic coast would follow, then a last disembarking and barracooning on the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, where they were finally sold and made to march overland through swamps and forests towards whatever cotton, sugar, or rice plantation awaited their labors in the Deep South. The duration of this journey, from Africa to the U.S. and all points between, may have lasted from a few weeks to a few months.
On the east coast of Florida, Amelia Island, Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River, were all strategic slave depots; Amelia Island until 1817, when the U.S. military occupied the island, forcing the smugglers and pirates to disband. Galveston Island, nominally a part of Spain until Mexico attained full independence in 1821, had become a port of ill-repute rife with American slave smugglers and pirates who transported slaves obtained from Cuba seventy miles north to the Louisiana border for sale to indiscriminate cotton planters. Illegal trafficking was occurring also in New Orleans at this time, where corrupt customs inspectors were bribed into allowing the illegal re-exportation of slaves from Cuba. The Mexican ports of Matagorda Bay and Brazoria, Texas also became important way stations for slaves from Cuba by the early 1820's. The trafficking of illegal slaves into the U.S. became entrenched and flourished even though the Monroe administration made it a capital offense punishable by death in 1820. The U.S. navy's African Squadron, five ships sent to patrol thousands of miles of African coastline in 1820, captured only eleven slave ships in almost two years, liberating for better or worse, about 573 Africans. This mostly ineffective African Squadron was recalled in 1822 by the Monroe Administration, whose spirit of uncooperativeness with Britain underlined the U.S. refusal to grant the British the right to search and seize suspected slave ships flying American colors. A U.S. anti-slave trade naval force did not return to African waters until two decades later in 1842. (Thomas, 616)
From 1816 to 1821, African slaves were a lot more expensive in New Orleans than in Havana, 800$ for a prime-age male in 1816 to almost 1100$ by 1821, These five years saw the second largest uninterrupted influx of slaves to Cuba during the period (1808 to 1865), though the numbers dropped drastically, from over 25,000 about 5,000 slaves per annum from 1817 to 1821.
In 1823, a European military coalition of conservative autocrats, the Holy Alliance, destroyed liberalism in Spain, and with this expunging of constitutionalism, caused a new era of martial law in Cuba that lasted until 1878. The 1812 Constitution of Cadiz was repealed in Cuba and the military dictatorship of Captain General Vives and his army of 40,000 loyalist soldiers began to persecute and eradicate would-be reformers, abolitionists, and Cuban liberationists. Vive's tyrannical methods in suppressing these groups were later praised by U.S. President John Quincy Adams, who felt, as many others in Congress did, that the liberation of Africans in Cuba would surely cause a chaos of African insurrection on the cotton plantations of the South. Underscoring this sentiment was the resounding Monroe Doctrine of 1823, directly influenced by relations with Cuba, which emphatically communicated American unwillingness to meddle in the political affairs of European colonies in the Caribbean. Therefore, Cuba could keep slavery as an institution and continue to import slaves with the blessing of the President of the United States.
From 1825 on, the Permanent Executive Military Commission under command of the Captain General Vives, governed Cuba with a heavy, intrusive hand. The Captain General quickly became principal overseer of the slave trade to Cuba, and thus also became its most corrupt and handsomely bribed enabler of the trade, along with a retinue of local governors, treasury employees, judges, lawyers, customs officers and inspectors. The flow of slaves to Cuba from Africa was consistently robust during Vive's tenure, over 20,000 new slaves came in during his first two years (1823 to 1825), and thereafter never dropped lower than 12,000 slaves per annum, rising to over 20,000 in 1829, and down to around 15,000 in 1832, the year Vives' tenure in Cuba ended. Incidentally, in 1832, Cuban slave prices dropped lower relative to the New Orleans price, an American price advantage that would last a decade. Cuban corruption that abetted slave trafficking was mirrored in maritime bureaucracies at U.S. ports, supported by federal diplomatic policy that helped to sustain a thriving trade in illegal slaves to Cuba.
Amusingly, the Wikipedia entry for Vives (culled from a dubious 1901 cycle of American biographies) portrays the fairly brutal Captain General as one who "managed to maintain order and preserve the island of Cuba for Spain without troubles or any sort of violence." This could not be farther from the truth. Vives' inquisitorial methods broke up corruption in the colonial administration of Cuba, but he reconstituted it for his own enrichment by condoning "flagrant administrative abuses," most egregious of which was profiting from the trade in illegal slaves from every port in Cuba. (Quiroz, 483) To crush slave insurrections planned by liberal Creoles who desired Cuban independence, Vives engineered covert assassination plots, and he condemned rebels, blacks and whites alike, to perish in firing squads. Out of twelve Captain Generals from 1823 until 1869, only two consciously attempted to curb slave trafficking in Cuba. (Quiroz, 487)
By 1827 Cuba had surpassed Jamaica as the world's largest cane sugar supplier, accounting for 19% of the world's supply of all sugar by 1840, 25% by 1850, and roughly a third by 1860 (the British West Indies, Brazil, the East Indies, and the Mediterranean also contained a myriad of sources for sugar cane). Cuba's biggest customer was the United States, who imported over 65% of total Cuban exports by the end of the Civil War. At that time, semi-mechanized sugar mills using new steam engines and able to process an average of 441 tons of sugar were becoming prevalent in Cuba, totaling almost a thousand by 1860. In the same year, 64 fully mechanized steam-powered mills had been implemented, processing about 1, 176 tons of sugar. The first animal-driven sugar mills required the produce of 300 to 400 acres, but by 1860 the average sugar mill processed about 1500 acres. In 1860, the year that Cuban slave imports began declining to virtually nothing by 1865, approximately 296,000 slaves were working 1,365 sugar mills, while 74,000 slaves toiled on Cuba's other commodities. (Tomich, ; Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, )
19th century Cuba became the central artery for an illegal slave trade from Africa, partly because of the expanding Cuban sugar industry but perhaps more so because of exploding cotton production in the U.S. The U.S. supplied over 1/3rd of Great Britain's total cotton imports as early as 1811, and by 1860, at least 2/3rds of Manchester's raw cotton, almost 5,000,000 pounds of it, came from the U.S. (U.S. commodities are examined in greater detail in chapter one). Demand for slaves in the cotton growing regions of the South and Southwest diverted African Bozales (who had been "seasoned" and roughly acclimated to slavery) from Havana, Santiago, and other Cuban ports across the Gulf into New Orleans, Galveston, and Florida, as well as through many other minor ports of call, bayous, shoals, and cays along the Gulf Coast. An often hidden corollary to this profitable scheme was an understanding between corrupt U.S. and Cuban officials that allowed slavers relatively easy egress into Havana and other Cuban ports and thenceforth into the U.S. From 1808 to 1861 the expanding American frontier offered slave traders, many of them cotton planters themselves, politically ambiguous territory without official supervision from which to conduct their illegal business from Cuba.
President Andrew Jackson's personal nominee for U.S. Consul to Havana, Nicolas P. Trist, arrived in Cuba in 1833. Trist, married to Thomas Jefferson's granddaughter, was highly favorable towards slavery and deliberately aided slavers in disguising their ships and protecting their cargoes. His customs rubber-stamp approved fraudulent registration documents for slave ships that flew different flags, switching nationalities, to elude the anti-slave trade squadron ships. To avoid arrest if stopped by a British cruiser, slavers could fly the American flag, and if stopped by an American cruiser, Spanish or Portuguese flags would be flown.
By 1830, an independent Brazil, supported by Great Britain, agreed in principle to enforce a prohibition ending their slave trade. Therefore, Brazilian nationals conducting the African slave trade were now pirates, along with the rest of Europe's smugglers; after 1830 all flags except for the U.S. and the Portuguese (the latter had not updated an 1817 anti-slaving agreement with Britain) were technically susceptible to prosecution on the high seas by Britain's Royal Navy. Portugal again abolished the transatlantic trade in 1836, but this was another dead letter until a Parliamentary decision in 1839, sanctioned by Queen Victoria, gave the British navy unilateral powers for the seizure of Portuguese slave ships. Thus, after 1839, the American flag became for slave traffickers the only remaining national flag that guaranteed some measure of immunity from British interference. This circumstance rendered American involvement in the slave trade more conspicuous than ever, and the situation became a source of international embarrassment for the federal government as American slavers caught red-handed with slaves began to stream into New York escorted by British warships. To make matters worse, destinations for smuggled African slaves had dwindled further due to Britain's abolition of slavery on all of her Caribbean possessions in 1834.
Consul Trist flagrantly refused to comply with the prohibition of slave trafficking in Cuba for eight years, 1833 to 1841. Coinciding with Trist's arrival was a surge in the New Orleans slave price index compared to Cuban slave prices on the whole, an incredible price escalation lasting until 1842. Prime-age male slaves were about $700 per slave in 1832, and over $1,300 by 1837, falling to about $600 in 1842, when Consul Trist was finally officially investigated and recalled to the U.S. for his illicit activities, though he was never demoted or punished for them.
The volume of slave imports to Cuba leaped to over 25,000 slaves in 1835, sustaining to no lower than 19,000 per annum until 1841. In 1835, Queen Regent Maria Cristina, entangled in a military contest with the Carlists because of the Bourbon argument over dynastic succession for the Spanish crown, reluctantly signed the Spanish Equipment Clause with Great Britain in exchange for their support against the Carlists. In fact, Queen Regent Maria Cristina personally received approximately a million pesos annually from the largesse of profits plundered from the slave trade by Cuban treasury officials. The Clause allowed both the British and Spanish navies permission to board each other's vessels and arrest their crews if any supplies or equipment for the purposes of furnishing a slave cargo were found onboard. Though the risk of apprehension by naval authorities increased for slave smugglers after 1835, the Equipment Clause had no appreciable effect on the volume of Africans landing in Cuba, where over 21,000 slaves per annum arrived from 1835 until 1838.
Meanwhile, fierce peninsular loyalist, Captain General Miguel Tacon, also used slave trafficking profits for his own purposes from 1834 to 1838, taking "his half-ounce of gold for every slave landed on the island illicitly", netting him over 430,000 pesos during his tenure. Tacon made financial arrangements with bank directors and slave traffickers so that in exchange for "voluntary donations, private depositors were granted preference in the consignment of seized illegal slaves under established rules and responsibilities." (Foner,176; Quiroz, 485)
Slave trafficking from Cuba, as opposed to the legal "coast-wise" trade that emanated from Maryland and Virginia, was extremely lucrative for Americans who collaborated to sell slaves smuggled from Africa to Cuba, thenceforth into New Orleans and Galveston. By the 1840's, a single smuggling operation could gross over $200,000. After sailing from Baltimore, Newport, Providence, Boston, Portland, and other Yankee ports, slavers often first stopped in Cuba to re-register their ships under an assumed name, and then obtained "false bills of sale of vessels [and] a double set of papers" (Rees, 194) for fraudulent conversion of ownership when flying whatever flag suited their circumstance. Sometimes, the slave ships were burned or scuttled after returning from Africa to cover their tracks. This was no great loss, especially since the sale of the slave cargo netted everybody more than a fortune, wealth shared by the slave dealer, the captain and his crew, the customs clerks, U.S. marshals, and district attorneys, etc. The legal domestic slave trade was very often confused with the illegal trade. Ships from the Atlantic Coast traveling around the Florida peninsula were often indistinguishable from those traveling up from Cuba. Still, the logistical difficulties in ensuring the legality of any given slave that entered a port or crossed state lines were too easily bypassed by counterfeit certification of the slaves drawn up by the trafficker or dealer. Bogus documentation issued by corrupt Cuban and American customs bureaucrats for the purpose of importing illegal slaves, poses sharp questions about the validity of census information regarding slaves who were transported in the "legal" domestic trade.
American and British laws for policing the slave trade were at cross-purposes. The hierarchical network of federal corruption in the U.S. gave slave smugglers a rather long leash from 1808 until 1862, when U.S. Captain Gordon was executed by the federal government for the crime, the first and only U.S. citizen prosecuted to the full extent of the forty-two year old law that had made slave smuggling a capital crime. The difference in policy was clear: slaves liberated by the British were "Recaptives" and became subjects and the responsibility of the British Empire, while slaves who were unlucky enough to be "liberated" by Americans were promptly re-sold as slaves in legal slave markets within the states. Captains in Britain's Africa Squadron found themselves entangled in protracted international legalese concerning the property rights of American slavers. Britain's right to search and seize American vessels suspected as slavers was repeatedly denied by the U.S. Congress until 1862. (Freebooters and Smuggler, Starks, 2007; Sweet Water and Bitter: The Ships That Stopped the Slave Trade, Rees, 2009)
In 1846, Ezra Seaman, prominent economist and theorist, estimated that over 100,000 slaves were illegally imported to the U.S. from 1830 to 1840. (Tenzer, ) In that decade, according to the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database, 186,179 slaves arrived in Cuba, more than at any other time during the 19th century. There were many factors for the increased importance of slavery after 1830, not the least of which was Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal policies that resulted in the mass exodus of Chickasaws, Creeks, and Cherokees from Mississippi, Alabama, and the Tennessee Valley by 1835. Speculative land ventures in these emptied-out areas, often contingent upon future cotton profits, was a major reason behind the Panic of 1837, the year that New Orleans slave prices shot to their highest, over $1,300 for a prime-age male slave. Not until 1859 did U.S. slave prices top those of 1837. Slave prices rose in contrast to U.S. cotton prices, which fell about 7¢, from almost 16¢ per pound in 1834 to only 9¢ per pound in 1837. Also, by this time the Texas Revolution was underway, where in 1836, slave-dealers and expansionist military adventurers defended themselves at the Alamo from Santa Anna's Mexican army who threatened their right to import slaves. There were at least 5,000 slaves in Texas at the time Santa Anna was captured by Sam Houston's men in 1836. In 1837, the British Foreign Office recorded slavers departing Havana bound for the Republic of Texas. Mexican authorities in Havana corroborate these instances of slave transshipment from Cuba to Texas. (Starks, 136)
1837 was the beginning of a steep decline in the numbers of slaves arriving in Cuba, from well over 21,000 per annum, dropping to about 4,000 by 1842. 1842 was a turbulent year in Cuba, the year when British Consul to Havana, David Turnbull, was forced to sail from Cuba back to Britain, because of the commotion and "intense hatred" he had caused among elite Creole planters. With an eye towards emancipation, Turnbull, an ardent abolitionist acting on the directive of Lord Palmerston, had proposed a census of slaves in Cuba, an imposition that would have revealed the extent that smuggled slaves had added to the population. Creole slave-holders had always been granted ample discretion by the colonial government in securing their wares, as a "conniving understanding between between planters, slave traffickers, and corrupt officials facilitated the clandestine and systematic arrival of bozales, who were swiftly taken to private estates where authorities seldom enforced their inquiries." (Quiroz, 481)
The Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 renewed U.S. cooperation with Britain to suppress the slave trade, and so the African Squadron returned to patrolling the West African coastline, this time with four ships instead of five, commanded by a succession of disinterested commanders who in following the example of Naval Secretary Abel Upshur, did "not regard the success of their efforts [in suppressing the slave trade] as their paramount interest." (Sooldalter, 35) Rather, protecting the commercial interests of the U.S. from the British was more important than stopping slave ships. The U.S. African Squadron's arrest record was abysmal until the election of Abraham Lincoln.
In 1842, because of a U.S. tariff imposed on Cuban sugar, slave prices in Cuba began to exceed New Orleans prices until 1844. Before Cuba's African slave trade ended for good in 1867, the absolute nadir for Cuba's slave imports came in 1846, when 432 slaves disembarked. This was due in large part to the stringent abolitionist policies begun by the relentless British Consul Turner who had gone to great lengths in stirring up slave revolts in Cuba. Great Britain passed landmark economic legislation in 1846, directly influencing the slave trade thereafter. The Sugar Duties Act of 1846 was a liberal experiment that wholly embraced free trade, or at least tariffs on foreign-grown sugar were reduced and phased out by 1851. It created a higher demand for slaves in Cuba and importations were back up to over 8,000 by 1839. The Sugar Duties Act also incurred a demand for sugar throughout Europe despite the best intentions of the Anti-Saccharines, and prices rose accordingly from about 5¢ per pound in 1845 to over 8¢ in 1846. This measure put a spotlight on the perceived morality of importing slave-grown produce, igniting abolitionist fervor, even as some opponents of it were understandably afraid that free trade would bankrupt the West Indies, as it did, especially since free-labor British sugar production in the Caribbean, inefficient and inconsistent since 1834, had to compete with slave-intensive sugar cultivation in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Brazil.
The most sinister of all the Cuban Captain Generals, Leopoldo O'Donnell, reported for duty in 1843, bringing with him a savage intolerance for abolitionists like David Turnbull. O'Donnell employed his army in massacring slaves who rebelled numerous times at Matanzas sugar mills during 1843. In 1844, word leaked out of a large-scale conspiracy led by liberal Creoles, free blacks, and slaves. O'Donnell brutally nipped the revolution in the bud, by arresting over 3,000 people, condemning hundreds to death, imprisoning nearly two thousand, and exiling many others. His zero-tolerance purges of Cuban liberalism lasted throughout his tenure, spanning a time when the fewest slaves were landed in Cuba, about 31,000 from 1843 to 1848. International reactions to O'Donnell's methods were not approving, provoking Lord Aberdeen to threaten Spain with naval force. The Cortes capitulated somewhat, renewing their commitment to stop the trade in 1845 with a treaty, promising to incarcerate anyone involved for up to eight years. Still, the Cuban slavocracy largely ignored the treaty after considering the wording in Article 9, which restricted officials in "proceed[ing] against or disturbing slave proprietors in their possession of slaves under pretext of their origin, [meaning that] once the slaves had been introduced illegally into the plantations, there was no legal way to recover them or proceed against their owners." Though slave-imports during O'Donnell's Captaincy were generally lower, he still received bribes from slave-holders and dealers alike, netting him over $500,000 by the time he left in 1839. (Foner, 212, 221)
All of the treaties, manifestos, and diplomatic posturing in the era of the illegal transatlantic slave trade had little effect on the illegal importation of slaves from Africa. In conclusion, the main proofs of the re-export of many if not most of the African imported to Cuba after 1808 is that:
1) The African percentage of the Cuban population decreased from 58% in 1841 to 43% in 1861. Although, far fewer Europeans than Africans arrived there during that period (both categories may well have had comparable reproduction and mortality rates).
2) The dramatic decline of the arrivals from Africa after 1859, when over 26,000 slaves per annum dwindled to 722 in 1866. Of course it took awhile for the slavers to even learn about the outbreak of war and the blockade in 1861, which many may have expected to end soon. In any case there were doubtless on hand so many in 1860, being seasoned and broken in that the inventory was more than enough to supply the needs for Cuban plantations for almost a decade however high the mortality rate and low the reproduction rate was for that number of years.
3) The relatively very light skin and other genetic traits of Europeans of the Cuban population after 1860, and even before 1880, when all immigration from Africa ceased and European immigration increased.
4) With the rapid improvement of productivity in sugar industry, a much smaller labor force could produce much more molasses, raw sugar, and refined sugar, so that the need for new Africans steadily diminished.