University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Global Economic History Seminar > ‘Cross-Cultural Trade and the Slave Ship the Bonne Société: Baskets of Goods, Diverse Sellers, and Time Pressure on the African Coast’

‘Cross-Cultural Trade and the Slave Ship the Bonne Société: Baskets of Goods, Diverse Sellers, and Time Pressure on the African Coast’

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The French slave ship the Bonne Société traded bundles of goods in exchange for slaves in the port of Loango in the late eighteenth century. This paper presents detailed evidence from the ship’s trading log that decomposes the goods in the bundle and, uniquely, identifies the European and African merchants who sold captives to the boat. We examine the cross-cultural trade documented by this dataset and show that total prices increased throughout the trade, since the ship faced time pressure as soon as the first captive was aboard, and that the captain increased the price of the bundle by adding more goods and especially by adding high-price goods. We also show that sellers participated both as one-shot traders and as repeat traders, selling the ship captives at multiple points in the trade, and that sellers with honorifics indicating status positions did not appear to earn greater prices as observed in the trading log. The market we observe was neither purely based on barter nor based on goods as substitutes for currency. Our results thus add a nuanced picture of how a trade that destroyed the lives of millions of people worked “on the ground.”

This talk is part of the Global Economic History Seminar series.

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