Tráfico de Escravos no Brasil

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Material to be preserved: location and typology

In the European countries from which the slave trade was organized, information about slavery is recorded in the state archives, particularly those of the navy and customs administrations, but also of the colonial and commercial administrative bodies. Chronologically, these slave trade documents date from the time when trading posts and colonies were established along the African coasts, when the trade was first organized in France and England, at the end of the seventeenth century.

In the African countries that were victims of the trade, archives are normally preserved in those which, at the time, had a colonial or commercial administration. In West African countries, administrative archives particularly tended to be set up at the time when the slave trade was abolished, when France installed a territorial administration and when a local population was established in the British colonies.

The extent to which these collections are spread throughout the world illustrates the size of the task. Whereas archives have already been more or less identified in European countries, those in developing countries (or nations ravaged by war such as Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone) still do not have search facilities in place. Several different types of document are likely to contain information on how the slave trade worked.

  • Large series of French navy registers and Naval Office "shipping lists" contain quantitative slave trade data without any precise details of the shipments themselves.

  • Descriptions of the shipments, disciplinary matters and the places where trading took place are set out in the logbooks of the ships that transported the slaves and in shipping regulations and contracts (Portuguese "regimento").

  • Official correspondence between the local colonial authorities (particularly in West Africa) and national governments describes certain incidents involving the various companies that organized the slave trade before it was abolished (England 1807, Denmark 1803, France 1815, Portugal 1839).

  • Memoirs and accounts of journeys, full of information about the slave routes and the practices and customs of populations that were victims of slavery.

  • Legal case files preserved in court archives (difficult to pinpoint without a precise search facility).

  • Private documents: contracts for the sale of slaves, promissory notes, etc.

  • Censuses of blacks in colonies, particularly in Haiti, Liberia and Sierra Leone for former slaves who were freed and stayed in the reception country. Sierra Leone’s famous Liberate African Registers contain family information concerning the slaves who were freed by the English navy and relocated to Africa.

  • The local colonial press, such as the Moniteur colonial in Santo Domingo at the start of the Revolution or the Saint-Louis newspaper in Senegal at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

  • Collections of contemporary oral archives, preserving knowledge handed down orally in accordance with African tradition, such as the Oral Traditions of Fanti States (University of Legon, Ghana, 1970-1975) or the Senegalese cultural archives collected from 1966 onwards and now kept apart from the national archives.

Slave trade archives are extremely diverse and rarely complete, apart from artificial collections. Since they are scattered so widely, compiling an overall picture is a hopeless task, although by creating a database in each state concerned, it will be possible to form a coherent network that is indispensable for researchers who will be able to participate in and benefit from local digitization projects.