A National Institution of Africa
Though the sin of African slavery has been passed off wholly to the American South, it doesn’t take much sweeping to uncover the truth. None of the slavers anchoring in the Gulf of Benin hoisted Confederate Battle Flags, and the African kings accepted no Confederate notes.
Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402
A National Institution of Africa:
"It would be a task of many pages if I attempted to give a full account of the origin and causes of slavery in Africa. As a national institution, it seems to have existed always (It still exists (1928). In Liberia, the country of free Negroes, there are over two hundred thousand slaves. In Sierra Leone, the other freemen’s colony, slavery was abolished on January 1 of this year…).
Africans have been bondsmen everywhere: and the oldest monuments bear their images linked with menial toils and absolute servitude…(slavery in Africa)…has now ripened into an absolute necessity; so that man, in truth has become the coin of Africa. England to-day, with all her philanthropy, sends under the Cross of St. George…her Birmingham muskets, Manchester cottons and Liverpool lead, all of which are swapped at Sierra Leone, Acra, and on the Gold Coast, for Spanish or Brazilian bills on London. Yet, what British merchant does not know the traffic on which those bills are founded, and for whose support his wares are purchased? (W)hile multitudes of our own worthy traders, who would hang a slaver as a pirate when caught, (they) do not hesitate to supply him indirectly with tobacco, powder, cotton, Yankee rum and New England notions, in order to bait the trap in which he may be caught.
(Y)et, if commerce of all kinds were forbidden with that continent, the customs and laws of the (African) natives would still encourage slavery as a domestic affair, though of course in a modified degree. The rancorous family quarrels among tribes and parts of tribes will always promote conflicts that resemble the forays of our feudal ancestors, while the captives made therein will invariably become serfs.
Besides this, the financial genius of Africa, instead of devising bank notes or the precious metals as a circulating medium, has declared that a human creature, the true embodiment of labour, is the most valuable article on earth. A man, therefore, becomes the standard of prices. A slave is a note of hand that may be discounted or pawned; he is a bill of exchange that carries himself to his destination and pays a debt bodily; he is a tax that walks corporeally into the chieftain’s treasury. Thus, slavery is not likely to be surrendered by the Negroes themselves as a national institution. Their social interests will continue to maintain hereditary bondage; they will send the felon and the captive to foreign barracoons; and they will sentence to domestic servitude the orphans of culprits, disorderly children, gamblers, witches, vagrants, cripples, insolvents, the deaf, the mute, the barren, and the faithless. Five-sixths of the population is in chains.
To facilitate the sale of these various unfortunates or malefactors, there exists among the Africans a numerous class of brokers, who are as skilful in their traffic as the jockeys of civilized lands. They rove the country in search of objects to suit different patrons. They supply the bodyguard of princes; procure especial tribes for personal attendants; furnish labourers for farms; fill the harems of debauchees; pay or collect debts in flesh; and in cases of emergency take the place of bailiffs, to kidnap under the name of sequestration. If a native king lacks cloth, arms, powder, balls, tobacco, rum or salt, and does not trade personally with the factories on the beach, he employs one of these dexterous gentry to effect the barter; and thus both British cotton and Yankee rum ascend the rivers from second hands into which they have passed, while the slave approaches the coast to become the ebony basis of a bill of exchange."
(Adventures of a Slave Trader, Life of Captain Theodore Canot, Malcolm Cowley, editor, Star Books, 1928, pp. 126-129)