Christian G. De Vito – Entanglements and Disentanglements of Coerced Migrations: Convict Transportation and Slave Trade to and Within Spanish America, 1701-ca.1820s

 

Event Dates: 13 – 16 September 2015
College Court Conference Centre
Knighton Road,
Leicester LE2 3UF

The Carceral Archipelago: Transnational Circulations in Global Perspective, 1415-1960

Christian G. De Vito (Leicester) – Entanglements and Disentanglements of Coerced Migrations: Convict Transportation and Slave Trade to and Within Spanish America, 1701-ca.1820s

The paper seeks to bridge the gap between the studies of convict transportation and slave trade, to highlight the distinct characteristics and the connected histories of the two phenomena, and to address both the entanglements and disentanglements of the convicts’ and slaves’ routes and destinations. Its geographical and chronological focus lies on Spanish America from the Bourbon accession to the Spanish Crown (1701) to the Independence of Latin America (ca. 1820s).

 

The first part of the paper regards the routes of slave trade and convict transportation. The case of the Spanish Empire arguably offers an interesting prospective to the issue, since the Spanish Crown had no direct sovereignty over the main supply areas of slaves, and therefore it was forced to rely on foreign powers to import them from the East and West coasts of Africa, and Brazil, Jamaica and Curaçao. Indeed, from the late 16th century to 1740 a series of contracts (asiento de negros) were established with Dutch, Portuguese (1640-1701), French (1701-1713) and English (1713-1740) companies to this end. This implied that the African slaves were excluded from the monopolist system of Fleets and Galleons (Flotas y Galeones) that connected the peninsular port of Seville (and Cadiz from 1717) to the Great Caribbeans. Conversely, the fleets and galleons provided the only infrastructure for intercontinental convict transportation in the same period. As a consequence, disentanglements prevailed in the convict and slave oceanic routes. However, did convicts and slaves travel together along the sea- and land-routes within Spanish America? Moreover, in the second half of the eighteenth century, as the gradual process of trade liberalization created alternative oceanic networks of trade and multiplied both the number of routes and authorized ports (first for general commodities and then also for slaves), what impact did it have on the slave and convict routes? Did it create entanglements between them?

The second part of the paper looks at the presence and absence of convicts and slaves in specific destinations. It addresses the interaction of slaves and convicts in contexts where they coexisted, and seeks to interpret the differentiated geography of convictism and slavery at the crossroads of the related transportation routes, economic and political imperatives, cultural discourses, and the availability of alternative workforce (e.g. native labour and state-sponsored settlers).

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