Are Austrian natives related to Africans?

First African slaves in North America

“A Dutch warship came to us around the 20th of August and we bought 20 negroes.” What the tobacco farmer John Rolfe noted in 1619, 400 years ago, marks the beginning of slavery in North America.

In 1607, 143 British adventurers had founded Jamestown, the first permanent British settlement in the New World, on the east coast of North America. Indian attacks, disease and hunger: it was only when the settlers succeeded in growing tobacco and exporting it to England that survival in what would later become Virginia was assured. The labor shortage paved the way for slavery.

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Arrival of the first Africans in Jamestown in 1619

Mutilation, whipping, murder

Spain and Portugal had already shipped African slaves to South and Central America and the Caribbean, where they had to toil on sugar cane plantations. In the southern states of what was later to become the USA, slavery only gradually solidified: Initially, Africans were equal to white workers who had to pay for shipping from Europe through their work; they could change masters and marry independently. With the expansion of the tobacco and cotton plantations and the end of the civil war in England in 1651, which led to a decline in British emigrants, the disenfranchisement of Africans continued to advance.

There were laws that guaranteed the slaves certain rights. But all too often they were exposed to the arbitrariness of their masters. They were tortured and forced to obey with the severest punishments. Mutilation, whipping, even murder was not uncommon. Unlike in ancient society, for example, slavery in the USA was founded on racial differences from the outset. And it wasn't just the south that took a liking to it. While the slaves mostly had to do hard labor there, in the northern colonies they were mainly employed as domestic staff.

A long story

In the almost 400 years of transatlantic slavery, around ten to twelve million kidnapped black Africans arrived alive in America. Four to five million were brought to the Caribbean, 3.5 to five million to Brazil, and half a million were sold to the United States. In 1860 there were four million slaves living there.

The Cologne historian Michael Zeuske emphasizes in his book “Slavery. A human history ... ”that slavery has existed since the dawn of mankind. Whether with Egyptians or Romans, with Mayans or Arabs: slavery drove economy and wealth like an engine made of human bodies.

The word “slave” is related to “slav” and comes from the Middle Ages, when many people were deported from Eastern Europe - especially to the Islamic world. African societies, too, have been plagued by new raids by Arab traffickers since the seventh century. They received support from African tribal chiefs. Many of the victims did not survive the capture, the deportation from the interior of Africa to the coasts and finally the cruel exertion of the shipping.

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Newspaper report about a slave auction in Richmond, Virginia in 1856

Late abolition

The transatlantic slave trade developed into a triangular trade: European ships went to the coast of West Africa to exchange goods for people, which were then sold in America. From there ships drove back to Europe, loaded with products such as sugar, coffee and cotton. The Europeans, according to Zeuske, remained “always junior partners of the Islamic and African slave trade elites”.

There were various reasons why slavery was ultimately abolished: In northern America, it was mainly Christians who campaigned for an end. Others argued that keeping slaves was no longer financially viable. In 1807 Great Britain initially only banned trade; In 1833 a comprehensive prohibition law came into force. The United States made slavery unconstitutional after the Civil War in 1865. In Brazil it was not officially lifted until 1888.

Christoph Arens / Kathpress

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