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11 Luanda, Global Capital
of the Slave Trade

Maximiliano M. Menz & Wolfgang Lenk

Albeit being a relatively modest and underdeveloped town, in the 1700s Luanda was the port with the largest single volume of exportation of African slaves to the New World. The city’s top position in the slave trade derived from its connection with world trade routes since its foundation; its development from a diverse and, at the same time, specific composition of Portuguese and African social elements; and its crucial involvement with people and capital from Europe and Asia. In the next pages we will analyze this involvement under three aspects: (1) movement of people, foreign presence in the Angolan colonial society and its origins; (2) movement of goods, trade routes and business deals (including smuggling activities) involving the port of Luanda; and (3) movement of capital, the financing of slave trade and how these transactions intertwined with Portuguese and African social institutions. For this purpose, a broad collection of historical sources was used, notably customs and notary records from the Portuguese Crown.

The history of Luanda and the slave trade in Angola has been marked by interpretations with varying degrees of methodological nationalism. Most importantly, the formation of Luanda has been usually presented as a consequence of Brazilian interests, overplaying the role of Brazilian merchants and merchandise in the development of the Angolan economy and society.[1] A global perspective, nevertheless, must point to a bigger picture, and the movement of products and agents from Brazil is not enough to understand the scale and characteristics of slave trade in Angola and Luanda.[2]

In order to engage in the African slave trade, a typical Portuguese merchant vessel in the 18th century would sail south-west from Europe until it came close to the Brazilian East coast. It would then continue south as far as the 27th or 28th parallel, from where it would take the same route as the Brazilian colonist traders, turning east-north-east, following the South Atlantic Current. Upon reaching the African shores, the voyage would turn northward. Beyond Cape Black was the Bay of Cows and the village of Benguela, the southernmost port in West Africa. Before 1760, some of these ships would board slaves in Benguela, but few of them went straight to the American continent. As a rule, they would sail on north up to Luanda, the capital of the so-called “Kingdom of Angola.”[3]

Angola was the key Portuguese domain in Africa. It was called a “Kingdom” because Luanda and its hinterland were conquered from the Ngola, who ruled over Kimbundu-speaking areas of Ndongo and was considered by the Portuguese as an equal to the king of Kongo. The Portuguese traded in Ndongo through the island of Luanda and the Kwanza River since the 1520s, and the city was built in 1576 as part of a new and aggressive regional strategy by D. Sebastian I. The conquest of that land would span most of the 17th century, resulting in the dissolution of the Ndongo chiefdom and the submission of its population to Portuguese rule. The remaining groups that continued to claim the title of Ngola were pushed inland and reorganized around the Matamba chiefdom. Further north, the Portuguese presence would also lead to the disorganization of the Kongo monarchy.[4]

During the 1600s, the Portuguese claimed domain over the entire West Central African coast south of the Zaire River, if not the entire region between Cape Black (Cabo Negro) and Cape Lopez, near the Equator. In fact, farming contracts on the slave export tax were, for a long time, named the “Contract of the Kingdom of Angola, Kongo, Loango and Benguela,” which meant that the Portuguese monarchy assumed the right to tax all slaves leaving the Kongo-Angolan zone.

Nevertheless, the area under effective Portuguese control was much smaller. It was restricted to the coast between the Dande and Kwanza rivers and penetrated less than 300 km inland, just as far as the garrison (presídio) of Ambaca. Within this area, the government of Angola had jurisdiction over the districts and garrisons of Ikolo, Bengo, Dande, Golungo, Pedras de Pungo-a-Ndongo, Cambembe and Massangano. Furthermore, it ruled over the enclaves of Encoje and Novo Redondo, which had no direct territorial connection. To the south, separated by a desert inhabited by the hostile peoples of Kissama, were Benguela and the garrison of Caconda (Correa, 1792; Venâncio, 1996).

Two centuries after its foundation, and despite its imperial character, Luanda was home to probably less than 5,000 people. A few fortifications protected the harbor while dozens of churches, dedicated to the usual saints of Iberian devotion, governed the souls. The well-known pattern of the upper and lower city, common among Portuguese colonial settlements, was also present in Luanda. The difference in social strata would also be noticeable in the language, with a Kimbundu-speaking majority living under an Empire that wrote and spoke in Portuguese.[5] Still, Luanda would have seemed small to a traveler from the Atlantic world, even if compared with the underdeveloped urban areas in Portuguese America. Founded in 1563, for example, Rio de Janeiro probably had 39,000 people at the time, and many of the towns in Brazil were significantly larger than the capital of the Kingdom of Angola.[6]

Historical records contain many descriptions of Luanda, and they are generally less than flattering. Elias Alexandre da Silva Corrêa, for example, wrote:

Most of the houses that make up the streets of the city find themselves obscured by the decay of their surroundings, in a vile condition of slums. The more imposing the façade, the greater the threat of ruin. The owners’ wealth is little to restore them to the state of their ancestors (Correa, 1792, p.77-78).

The tone is well known to the reader who is familiar with the sources of the period. The theme of decadence was recurrent among the entire generation of Portuguese reformists of the Enlightenment (Cardoso, 1988). Even before the 1700s, it was common among memorialists and arbitrators to oppose the decadent present to the glorious past of the Age of Discovery. But the long lines of slaves waiting to be boarded on the anchored ships, or the slave houses (senzalas) filled with captives all along the coast, could hardly have produced a more optimistic view of Luanda. There, specifically, the Portuguese decline was usually associated with the rise of European competition in the slave trade in West Central Africa during the 17th century.[7]

And yet, the majority of the enslaved workers boarded to America came from the docks and beaches of Luanda. No other West African port had the same volume of slave exports in the 18th century.

It is true that Luanda and Benguela were just two ports in a wide network of paths and rivers which linked the slave-selling markets of the interior and the West Central African coast[8]. As part of the Portuguese Empire, their trade was subject to the typical mercantilist restrictions of the time, at least until 1808: vessels carrying slaves should only be owned by Portuguese masters, manned by Portuguese crews, and dispatched only to other Portuguese territories, where slave prices were usually lower than in the Caribbean (Beer, 1958; Hecksher, 1935; Novais, 1995; Coleman, 1980). But slave trade networks were filled with merchants from other places. In Lobito Bay, at the mouth of the Ambriz River, and in the port of Novo Redondo, English and French vessels boarded slaves undisturbed, under the noses of Portuguese officers. Cargos were occasionally seized, but the foreigners’ trade was never stopped altogether – it was too difficult a task. In 1784, when Portugal tried to build a fortress in Cabinda to control the movements along the Loango coast, the slave caravans were simply diverted to other ports, such as Molengo. In the same year, a dealer reported to the Portuguese ministry that, between Loango and Benguela, he had sighted 105 ships with foreign flags.[9]

Still, Luanda had the largest single share in the trade. Throughout the second half of the century, it boarded an average of between 8,000 and 10,000 slaves every year. Caravans of captives came from the interior, mainly Ambaca, and small boats came from Benguela and Dande to supply the ships arriving from the Atlantic[10]. Furthermore, until the 1730s, many of the slave voyages to the Loango coast, under Portuguese command, were organized in Luanda. The enslaved who were sold on the northern beaches were also declared and registered by the capital’s tax authorities. A network of trade agents provided the merchants of Angola with information and captives acquired in distant places.[11]

Such a structure of human trafficking developed after centuries of Portuguese presence in West Central Africa. They had had diplomatic and trade relations with African authorities since the late 1400s, and many spent their lives among different peoples of the Kongo and Angola, acting as mercenaries, merchants and/or priests. With the founding of Luanda, these scattered elements of dubious loyalty were joined by soldiers, exiles and immigrants who mingled with the Africans.[12] They developed formal and informal bonds with the country and became the city’s diverse land and save-owning group . This social structure played a major role in transforming the port and city of Luanda into the center of an efficient enslavement machinery, accounting for its record numbers in slave trade in the 18th century.

Between 1701 and 1800, Luanda exported at least 662,000 enslaved Africans, more than 10% of all the African slave trade during this period. It was only surpassed by deportations from Whydah, during the first three decades of the century (which could also be a distortion due to insufficient records in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (TSTD)). Still, no port deported as many slaves as Luanda, according to the available data.[13] Even Murzuk, Ghadames and Ghat, the great Saharan slave markets of the 19th century, were surpassed by Luanda in this regard (Wright, 2006). In that sense, it was the global capital of the Atlantic slave trade.[14]

This is illustrated by the broad array of connections from other ports and places to the city and the ample movement of people, goods and capital within it. Many forms of finance, production and trade, and even a variety of social formations, were linked to Luanda by the money from slave trade – and thus, to a degree, were part of the common history of the first globalization.[15] We shall observe this, firstly, by looking into the movement of people.

Although the white population of Luanda had mostly come from Portugal, there were a few who had come from other European countries and managed to climb the social and political ladder. During the first half of the 17th century, when the Crowns of Spain and Portugal were united under the same ruler, Spanish merchants were common in Luanda and some took up residence in the city.[16] After the independence of Portugal and the restoration of Angola from the Dutch West-India Company (WIC) in 1648, some of the mercenary soldiers and merchants from Northern Europe did not leave and continued taking part in the slave trade and holding positions in the local government. One of them was Tomás Figueira Bultão, a Flemish trader who had obtained the Angola Contract in partnership with Diogo Sanches Xarroso and later held office as provedor e feitor da Fazenda Real (chief of the Royal Treasury).[17] There was also Baltasar Vandunem, who (according to his descendants) had come from Rotterdam and who had already been living in Luanda before the WIC occupied the city, in 1641. He was later regarded as one of the city’s most prominent residents.[18] Finally, there was Simão Vandernes, who held office as provedor, the highest position in the local administration of the Crown’s finances, and who was the son of a foreigner. They all had businesses linked to the Angola Contract, the farming of taxes on the exportation of the enslaved, which was certainly one of the best deals in town.[19]

These foreigners mingled with local families and founded powerful lineages that operated in the slave trade. Their story is yet to be told in detail. For example, there was Dª Catarina de Ares, one of Vandunem’s granddaughters, who moved to the Portuguese Court with her husband Manoel Monteiro da Rocha in 1720. He would later obtain the Angola Contract (1730 to 1742), as well as the Tobacco Contract (1735 to 1737), while she would personally manage a large part of their business. Her Dutch ancestry possibly favored them in dealing with Northern investors with an interest in these contracts.[20]

In the 18th century, due to the gold rush in Brazil, the government increased restrictions on outlanders in Portuguese territories. Even so, given the high mortality rates of Europeans, owing to tropical diseases, it was impossible to forbid their presence. In 1767, Governor Francisco Inocencio de Sousa Coutinho noticed there were foreigners among the soldiers arriving from Portugal. He wrote “[these] are the best settlers Your Excellency can bring to the African Coast, since they fill these lands with industrious inhabitants without depleting the Kingdom.” [21]

Besides soldiers and merchants, artisans and missionaries would also come to Angola from different parts of Europe. Whether voluntarily or not, members of minority groups such as the Romani and the New Christians also made Luanda their home. Therefore, the local society was comprised of a complex array of cultural and ethnic origins. This possibly had a positive influence in the formation of the cross-cultural trade network that extended to the African countryside, which was the cornerstone of its businesses. It should be noted that, in one way or another, all of these diverse elements were involved with the trading of the enslaved (Ferreira, 2012; Silva, 2016).

By the mid-1700s, however, very few people among the most powerful families in Luanda were not Portuguese.[22] Foreigners had trouble climbing the market ladder beyond the interior trade circuits, an activity under a shadow of prejudice and stereotype – the Count of Oeiras saw it as a business for “gypsies.”[23] Moreover, the connection to the high finances of the European economy was no longer under the management of Angolan residents. It was the so-called homens de mar em fora (“men from the sea”) sojourning in Luanda who raised credit from the centers of global capitalism to finance trade in the countryside. Late in that century, a memorialist remarked that a large number of people in the African hinterland had outstanding debts to people in Luanda, adding that “perhaps a large share of it is owed to the Lisbon market”.[24]

It was a business of high risk and high reward. Most of these loans were never paid, but the margins obtained through the distribution of goods in the African networks more than compensated for the losses. Reputation, trust and kinship were fundamental to net a good profit. In addition, the creditors relied on formal institutions, such as military authorities and judicial courts established in Luanda. In the hinterland, loans were guaranteed by the so-called Mucano courts: customary courts that existed in the African villages and could be chaired by Portuguese captains or by sobas. They arbitrated in disputes between passing merchants and the local population or cases of disputed debt and enslavement. An unfavorable ruling could imply debt bondage and deportation, but usually resulted in transfer of property of slaves, as was customary in the region. Consequently, farms and villages in Angola were packed with enslaved men and women who served as collateral for various financial operations.[25]

Among the homens de mar em fora who financed trade in the hinterland was the relatively infamous Raimundo Jalama. Despite his exotic name, he was born in Lisbon into a family of French merchants who had been trading in the Empire’s capital for some time (Labourdette, 1988, p. 473). He came to Luanda around 1760 as an agent of the General Company of Pernambuco and Paraíba. Soon after, he started working with the management of the Angola Contract, which at the time was under the control of a group of Lisbon investors. Jalama lived in Luanda up to the 1770s and became notorious for flooding the area with high-value loans, which produced a sort of local credit bubble. His operations extended to the hinterland by means of two local associates, to whom he supplied large amounts of merchandise. In the end, his adventures led to the “burst of the Angola Contract” and ended the farming of the slave export tax (Menz, 2017 and 2019).

Still, the majority of these traders did not spend too long or too much money on the African Coast. Most were captains, sailors and casual traders. Luis Cantofer, a German capitalist who apparently resided in Madras and was a subject of the English Crown, would fall under the latter category. In 1770, his ship stopped in Luanda on a journey from Goa. According to a report by the governor, he brought a highly valuable cargo of goods from India, which he intended to sell on the spot and then buy slaves to send to Bahia, where he would install a business house. His permits were blocked by the authorities, but despite the hassle he ended up settling in the Iberian Peninsula and continued investing in the slave trade.[26] In 1782, he obtained a license from the Spanish Monarchy to sell 1,000 enslaved Africans in Buenos Aires (Pesavento, 2009).

Many foreigners sought to legally enter the Angolan market from certain points of the Empire that were less inspected than the Portuguese and even Brazilian ports. Goa certainly was a gateway, particularly during the time when direct trade between the Portuguese State of India and the Kingdom of Angola was permitted. A French trader named Jacques Felipe Landracete, for example, was more successful than Luis Cantofer – in 1767 he shipped 15,929,360 réis worth of goods from Goa aboard the Nossa Senhora da Conceição.[27] The Island of Madeira was another foothold from where to take part in the Portuguese African trade, especially in the first decades of the 18th century. Many of these strategies can be observed in records at Funchal Customs Office. Ships with English names and captains entered the port and, a few days later, left for Angola with a new captain and a very Portuguese name. For example, a vessel coming from Boston in 1735 under a captain named Edio Sheaff was “naturalized” as Nossa Senhora do Monte dos Varadeiros, just before sailing to Angola.[28] Many did the same. In fact, there is evidence that merchants from Madeira hired foreign crews and probably also ships and capital to invest in the slave trade. In 1710, the galley Nossa Senhora do Bom Despacho sailed to Elmina but eventually berthed in Luanda, manned by Portuguese and Dutch sailors.[29]

It should be noted that, even if the remaining documents rarely provide a full record of the facts, enterprises such as these were not exactly smuggling. They were ultimately undertaken within the Portuguese mercantilist legal framework, and the goods were regularly registered and taxed by the King’s customs. Now and then, the Crown would adopt policies of limited trade liberalization (such as the opening of direct trade between Goa and Luanda), which favored such operations. Still, these policies were always short-lived.[30]

The government’s true concern was the actual large-scale smuggling along the coast, in hidden beaches and inlets, or on small boats which slipped through customs in collusion with the guards. In 1792, the Portuguese Navy and Overseas Secretary had the information that the French were smuggling in Benguela in two ways: either with the consent of or covered up by local port authorities, or by previous arrangement with the residents of unguarded beaches.[31] The fiscal consequences were very damaging. An anonymous document from the end of the 18th century estimated that, every year, some 2,300 slaves left Benguela in this way, representing a loss of 46:745$200 in unpaid taxes to the Crown.[32] It is surprising that Angolan residents and merchants smuggled slaves at this scale, especially considering the risk posed by insecure property rights and the inability to resort to court arbitration, a much frequent situation among licensed traders.[33]

Despite these many stories and examples, it must be noted that foreign presence and global connections involved a minority within a minority of the inhabitants of Luanda. After all, in a population of roughly 5,000 people, no more than 500 were white (Venâncio, 1996, p. 45). As it happened, Luanda’s role in the global economy was exporting people, not settling them, and the success of such traders and European “adventurers” was measured by the speed with which they turned a profit and left. In the year 1800, a petition against new taxes and the “decay” of the local economy summarized the aspirations of the mercantile community:

There was a time when (…) the Kingdom of Angola was a flourishing colony, where quick fortunes could be made and men were continuously going off rich to Brazil or Portugal, where they settled in solid and opulent houses.[34]

Angola’s exports were mainly the enslaved, but there was also ivory and wax. The latter were sold to Portugal, while the former was sent to Portuguese America, and a small part was traded for silver with the Spanish. In Brazil, the enslaved worked mainly in sugar plantations and gold mines, but also in the production of hides, tobacco, foodstuffs and others, intended for both exportation and local consumption. The lion’s share of these Brazilian exports was sent to Portugal, from where it would be redistributed across Europe. Most of the sugar, leather and tobacco went to Hamburg and Italy, from where they were sold to the Mediterranean and central-eastern Europe. Gold was minted into currency and used as payment for imports from other countries. Until the end of the 18th century, Portugal’s trade balance was structurally in deficit with England. The silver that came from the slave trade was also coined, but a large amount was used in the ships that made the Cabo route to India. The Angolan slave trade was inherently connected to all these businesses.[35]

Luanda’s imports were much more diverse than its exports: textiles, spirits, foodstuffs, weapons, metal goods, etc. The largest share belonged to textiles, but their types and origins varied greatly. Cotton fabrics from Asia were the most important, although linen and counterfeit European fabrics had an increasing share in the early 19th century. the former comprised dozens of kinds, but in the second half of the 1700s the so-called Zuarte, Cadea and Coromandel stood out. These were made and dyed in bright colors in the Gujarat and Coromandel regions of India. According to Pedro Machado, the manufacturing of textiles for Eastern Africa was concentrated in Jambussar, south-west of Cambay, in a manner similar to the European putting-out system. The Vāniyā, a Hindu and Jainque merchant community from Western India, provided credit to middlemen who, in turn, financed the weaving peasant population.[36] It is likely that the Portuguese in Goa were supplied by these peasants and that, especially after 1757, they received supplies from the British in Bombay (Mumbai).[37] These fabrics were then brought to the Atlantic through the Portuguese convoy system around the Cape of Good Hope, the Carreira da Índia. Most of them went to Bahia, where they were called “fabrics for blacks” (panos de negro), to be sold in Angola by slave traders. There are also strong indications that Lisbon merchants also supplied Luanda with Asian textiles bought from London, as the Carreira da India was a very unreliable convoy.[38]

Cachaça was imported from engenhocas (sugar distilleries) in Brazil, produced mostly with African slave labor. It was a cheap by-product of the sugar mills in Bahia and Pernambuco, but the produce from Parati, in Rio de Janeiro, was the most favored. In Luanda, these spirits were the only relevant American import, but they were essential to the slave trade. During the 18th century, the total value of this market was roughly equivalent to 15% of all slave exports. Other than cachaça, Brazilian ports also sent tobacco, wood and construction materials to Luanda, which were mostly traded to be used as ballast.[39]

European imports were much more diverse. Textiles comprised a large share, but never had the same importance as their Asian counterparts. Linen cloths, sometimes called Bretanha (probably referring to Britanny in France, not the British Isles), also came from Hamburg, northern Portugal, Madeira, and the Azores.[40] These were cheap fabrics, mostly supplied by domestic peasant production financed and traded through a putting-out system (Kriedte, Medick and Schlumbohm, 1986). Woolen cloths, especially the baetas, were also a regular Angolan import mainly of British origin – in this case, the putting-out system coexisted with craft corporations and small factories employing wage-earning workers. The Portuguese also produced wool, but mostly for domestic consumption. Cheap, light and sometimes mixed with linen, these fabrics found some acceptance in colonial markets, but cotton was undeniably more popular.[41]

Other than textiles, a variety of European goods were sold to Luanda: gunpowder, wine, spirits (specially the Portuguese aguardente), beads and adornments from Venice, padlocks and weapons from Holland, etc. All of these trades were connected to the re-exportation of colonial goods: a ship taking Brazilian sugar to Hamburg could return with a load of grain for Portuguese consumption, but also bolts of linen cloth from Silesia to be capitalized in the Angolan trade. Trading vessels could be built in Brazil or bought second-hand in Britain; most of the canopies, ropes and naval equipment, however, was purchased from the Baltic Sea.[42] As a result, a few sectors – like wine production in Portugal – concentrated the economic benefits of being “global” businesses and having connections to the colonial economy (regarding not only direct profits, but also the many positive externalities that resulted in the expansion of the Empire and colonization).[43]

Once in Luanda, all these imports were arranged in small loads, each worth between 1:200$000 and 1:600$000, to be sold and traded for slaves in countryside fairs, pumbos and sobados. The merchandise that made up these loads varied according to the region for which they were destined. To the north and around the Encoje garrison, where competition was fiercer given the supply of French and British exports from the Zaire River and the Loango Coast, cachaça was the most important item. To the east and south, in the Imbangala chiefdoms of Matamba and Cassange, these lots were quite diversified: iron, cachaça, coarse linen cloths, zuartes, coromandeis, bretanhas.[44] To avoid competition, the Portuguese also went farther from the coast to buy slaves, but other parties and trade routes were always at work. One Portuguese official wrote:

The French black emissaries who bring their merchandise to the aforementioned Ginga [Matamba] and adjacent hinterland do not (…) equal our tradesmen, as they lack geribitas, calamanhas, serafinas, Portuguese weapons and other goods, which those blacks consider more important than satins, chintz and printed zuartes; while [the buyers] have already acquired a taste for our products.[45]

Therefore, the competition, was balanced by complementation and even collaboration. The back-country trade networks activated by the English, French, Dutch and Portuguese did not always operate in the same slaving areas and often traded goods and slaves with each other. Still, it is on the field of high finance that the most sophisticated forms of connection and cooperation among investors in the slave trade were to be found and where the global character of the Luanda slaving business became clearer.

We have already observed that merchants from other countries participated, whether legally or not, in the Angolan trade, using smaller ports or arranging for the right papers. The most powerful, however, were able to take part in these businesses from their offices in Lisbon or elsewhere. This could take the form of indirect investment, normally by selling goods and equipment on credit to ship-owners and captains, by means of a specific kind of sea loan called “bills of risk” (letras de risco). With these instruments, the supplying merchant would transfer the goods to the trader in exchange for a bill of future payment at a fixed price plus a premium.[46] Thus, the creditor would hold the sea risk, while the freighter would assume the market risk.[47] Occasionally, these obligations were not paid, and the notary archives still house the ensuing documentary litigation. For instance, in 1765, when the market for colonial goods was impacted by the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War, numerous defaults from merchants in Angola and Rio de Janeiro were recorded by English, Dutch and Italian businessmen.[48]

It is impossible to measure precisely the scale of this sort of foreign indirect investment. In 1725, through his correspondents in Lisbon, a certain Diego Lamberto financed, from London, a trading voyage to Elmina with a sum of 2:000$000 in credits in a single operation.[49] Foreigners also played a major role in the insurance business for slave voyages starting in Portugal.[50] We may evaluate the scale of such investments in the records of the Pombaline Companies. For instance, in two of the vessels used by the Pernambuco and Paraíba General Company (CGPP), 46% of the cargo was purchased by advancements from foreign capitalists.[51] A similar share was found by Martins (2019) in a report on the Grão-Pará and Maranhão Company: 42% of the goods were acquired from non-Portuguese merchants.[52] It should also be noted that private traders from the colonies also sought this form of credit for their operations. For instance, in 1758 a partnership established by Francisco Pereira Santos, in Rio de Janeiro, and José dos Santos Torres, in Luanda, was indebted to five foreign merchants residing in Lisbon.[53] In fact, it is likely that traders like these were even more dependent on foreign credit, since, unlike the Pombaline companies, they were not able to deal with suppliers of European goods at their home-ports. As observed by Filipa Ribeiro da Silva (2015: 88), in the case of slave voyages financed in Amsterdam at the end of the 17th Century, the slave trade became “a low-investment and high-return business in which ship officers could afford to take bottomries and loans to finance activities, using trade goods, return cargos, or even the ship itself as collateral.”

To a certain degree, foreign capital also financed Portuguese trade in India, which was another form of indirect investment in the slave trade, as they were connected. Jesus Bohorquez has demonstrated the existence of a speculative market in Lisbon involving sea loans based on trading voyages to Goa, in which a vast array of capitalists from Europe participated. The return trade from India was also financed by European, Hindu and Chinese merchants who operated there (Bohorquez, 2020). Likewise, foreign investors were directly involved in the Angolan slave trade, as we have noted, and the presence of Asian capitalists is particularly relevant to describe it as a business of “global” character. At least a few Hindu merchants sent their goods to Angola during the time when direct trade with Goa was allowed[54], and it is likely that they had commissioners operating in Bahia for some time. Though the overall volume of their business is unknown, this evinces a global economy that was still polycentric at the end of the 18th century (Pomeranz, 1999).

Naturally, merchants operating in Lisbon are much more frequently cited in the available sources. According to the Customs Office records, foreign traders were only responsible for 3% of the total value of exports from Lisbon to Angola between 1748 and 1760.[55] The company formed by Albertini, Frisoni and Juvalta (two Italians and a Dutch) was the largest foreign investor in the Portuguese-Angolan trade according to the Customs records of Lisboa, with a total of 20:590$925 in investments between 1748 and 1760. Still, this figure may be misleading, since it does not account for a large share of the trade owed by foreign capitalists by means of sea loans and other financial instruments.

The story of the ship Nossa Senhora do Bom Despacho e Santo António is an interesting and illustrative example of the global nature of these businesses. In the year 1755, this galley was apprehended in Luanda and her captain and crew were arrested under the accusation that she belonged to a foreigner. An investigation was opened, and one of the depositions mentioned the name of Paulino Lombardini, an Italian merchant living in Lisbon. He had allegedly bought the vessel in London through one of his partners, a piece of information given by another Italian, Fortunato Albertini. It was also stated that Lombardini had approached a trader named Manoel da Costa Luz to act as the ship’s sailing master and move its cargo in Luanda, which the latter refused, claiming that it was not in his best interest. Lombardini then hired another master and sold part of its cargo to a Lisbon merchant, Francisco Luís de Almeida, who was not one of the usual slave traders.[56]

Of course, there was nothing illegal in the operation and “it [had] never been forbidden in the commerce of [that] Kingdom.” This was stated by Almeida in a petition to the Overseas Council (the highest authority under the monarch in the government of the colonies).[57] It was probably not even unusual. In the end, the galley and its cargo were returned to their owner, but the losses were significant.[58]

As it happened, Lombardini’s operation stepped on the toes of powerful people in the Angolan trade. It is impossible to say for certain, but the initial complaint may have come from Costa Luz himself. This merchant and captain was very well-known among Lisbon and Luanda traders, and was often called upon to testify in commercial disputes. His business accounts for the third largest shipment volume to Angola between 1748 and 1760. Even so, he was not among the most important Portuguese merchants of the time (Pedreira, 1995, p. 164-7), and there is no indication that he ever took part in any of the larger Angolan contracts.

It is possible that he acted mostly as a frontman in Portugal for the aforementioned company of Albertini, Frisioni & Juvalta, of which there are several indications in the Lisbon registries.[59] That would explain the unusually low profile of a merchant responsible for the impressive sum of 96:561$700 in shipment of goods to Angola, during that period. In the end, it is probable that the seizure of the galley’s cargo and the arrest of her crew in Angola were the result of a trading dispute between Italian commercial firms acting in the Portuguese Empire.

Finally, there is an important detail of the Angolan slave trade which marked its particular character in that global business scheme. The slave trade itself was mostly done by residents of Luanda – rich merchants and financiers cared little for the “slave risk” and rarely accepted payment in slaves, as the actual deed of imprisonment and deportation to America implied a high mortality among the “goods.” Therefore, dealers and commissioners in that port would normally pay their imports with bills to be discounted in Brazil, on the proceeds from the sale of the enslaved sent to Rio de Janeiro, Bahia and Pernambuco. That is to say, the trade balances of Luanda had to be covered by Brazilian exports.[60]

Furthermore, given the time it took to close such operations, the merchants in Lisbon would normally hold large funds in Angola. But what appeared as numbers in their books, assets and receivables from Angolan traders, was in reality a capital fund applied in goods and slaves constantly moving between Luanda and Ambaca, Cassange, Matamba, etc.[61] The local counterpart of global finance and its European centers was the population of enslaved Africans who served as debt collateral all along the Angolan ports, villages and encampments. For Luanda, a city that emerged from the process of the first globalization, it meant, first and foremost, becoming a major center in the business of enslavement.


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  1. This interpretation can be found in works such as Delgado (1948), Couto (1971) and Santos (1973), and, more recently, in Alencastro (2000) and Ferreira (2003). It has been object of criticism and reviews, for example by Menz (2012) and Bohorquez (2019).
  2. Even the share of the Brazilian market in the acquisition of African people enslaved in Angola during the 1600s and 1700s must not be overstated, as more recent works have shown the relevance of re-exports to the Spanish-American colonies. See Rodrigues (2019), Borucki, Eltis and Wheat (2015), Santana Perez (2015), Borucki (2011), and Khun (2017).
  3. Letter from D. Miguel Antônio de Mello (17/6/1799). ANTT, Conde de Linhares (maço 91, doc. 110). Between 1699 and 1760, the TSTD database shows only 73 direct voyages between Benguela and Brazil. See at <https://www.slavevoyages.org/voyages/yllf38c3> (2022, May 3).
  4. On the conquest of Angola, see Delgado (1948), Birmgham (1966), Vansina (1966). For an analysis of the political entities (Kingdoms, “mini-states” or chiefdoms) of West Central Africa and their differences, see Heintze (2007), Gonçalves (2005) and Miller (2015). For a more recently published history of the region, based mostly on African sources, see Thornton (2020).
  5. See Venâncio (1996: pp. 31-6) and Vansina (2001). On the “imperial dimension” of Luanda and its social structure in the late 1700s, see Santos (2008).
  6. On the subject, see Helleiner (1967, p. 80), Alden (1999, pp. 527-592), Curto and Gervais (2002), and Lopes and Menz (2018).
  7. Request from the merchants of Angola, attached to the correspondence for the Trade Office (10/6/1800). AHU, Avulsos, Angola (box 96, doc 6). On the Dutch, British and French trade in northern Angola, see Sommerdyk (2012) and Martin (1972)).
  8. According to Miller (1985: pp. 7, 165, 173-174, 207, 225), captives deported by the ports of Luanda, Benguela and Loango at the beginning of the 19th. century were obtained between latitudes 6º and 8º, which is an area of 2,500 square kilometers where something between 10 and 20 million people lived, distributed in small villages. This estimation is questioned by Daniel Domingues da Silva (2017: pp. 85, 103), based on the ethnic identification of the enslaved and population estimates by Portugues courts dealing with the illegal slave trade. In his interpretation, slaves sold in Angola came from within 400 kilometers of the coast, mainly from west of the Kwango River. For a reply by Joseph Miller on this topic, see Lopes and Menz (2019).
  9. Letter from Antonio Alves do Rio (2/7/1784). AHU, Avulsos, Bahia, Castro de Almeida (11.651-11.654).
  10. Mariana Candido (2013) is critical of the TSTD database for counting 18th-century voyages from Benguela, despite earlier records of “Benguela” slaves in America. In fact, the southern port was already mentioned among “pumbos” as early as 1664 (AHU_CU_ANGOLA, Cx. 8, D. 959, Consulta de 15/11/1664). Nevertheless, fiscal documents and those related to the Angola Contract show that, up until the 1760s, captives in Benguela were dispatched mainly from Luanda, where taxes and documents were duly paid and registered. The first direct voyage from Portugal to Benguela and then to Brazil dates back to 1725 (AHU_CU_001, Cx. 23, D. 2370; Gazeta de Lisboa. In: Notícias Históricas de Portugal e Brasil. Coimbra, 1961, pp. 113, 115, 117). Of course, this does not rule out the possibility of illegal trade on this route before 1725.
  11. This can be seen in the mercantile correspondence of Governor Luís César de Menezes (IHGB, can 72, folder 8). See also AHU_CU_ANGOLA, cx. 22, doc. 2288, attached to the Consultation of 01/26/1723).
  12. For examples of the varying interests and loyalties of the Portuguese community in West Central Africa before 1575, specially in Mbanza Kongo and the court of the King of Kongo, which would later move to Luanda and Angola, see Thornton (2020), chapters 1-3.
  13. This number is based exclusively on the survey of known voyages. Fiscal records compiled by José Curto (2002) and used in TSTD estimations suggest that Luanda exported more than 800,000 people during this period. See at http://bit.ly/3FrOo2t and https://bit.ly/3FrOo2 (2022, May 2). It should be also noted that a large number of TSTD voyages that have Luanda as the main slave port were collected from the codices of the Secretary of Government of the State of Angola or the Luanda City Council. These records, however, start only in the 1720s. “Costa da Mina” also appears in the TSTD as a “port” with figures comparable to the city of Luanda at the beginning of the 18th century, but this denomination refers to a region and not to a specific maritime port.
  14. The term “global” can also be understood here in the way that the social history of Angola in the 17th and 18th centuries can only be understood as part of a process which happened in a spatiality far beyond the borders of the nation-state that emerged after the Portuguese rule. In this sense, and considering the processes of social change and social history, it could be argued that a large part of colonial history has been written as “global history” for a long time (Conrad, 2016).
  15. We use the term “first globalization” here in the same sense as Allen (2011).
  16. Santana Perez (2015) and Salvador (1973, p. 44).
  17. Consulta do Conselho Ultramarino (13/11/1654). AHU, Avulsos, Angola (box 5, doc.579). See also Caldeira (2013).
  18. Habilitação de Manoel Monteiro da Rocha (n.d.). ANTT, Tribunal do Santo Ofício, Conselho Geral (Maço 104, doc. 4386).
  19. Letter from Tristão da Cunha (7/9/1666). AHU, Avulsos, Angola (box 9, doc. 1092). See also Salvador (1973, p. 53).
  20. See Salvado (2014, p. 153), Menz (2015), Lisboa, Miranda and Olival (2012, p. 293). See also the Last Will and Testament of Manuel Monteiro da Rocha (1749). ANTT, 3º CNL (box 133, livro 594, ff.40v-42).
  21. Letter from Francisco Inocêncio de Sousa Coutinho (16/12/1767). ANTT, Ministério do Reino (maço 605, n. 12).
  22. On the relationships among merchants, see Pantoja (2010a and 2010b).
  23. For an example of prejudice against gypsies acting as traders, see: Report by the Count of Oeiras (1790). AHU, Avulsos, Angola (box 43, doc. 111).
  24. Document by José Victo da Silva, (1792). AHU, Avulsos, Angola (box 77, doc.86).
  25. See Miller (2017), Menz (2019). On the mucano councils, see Ferreira (2012) and Guarda (2017).
  26. Letter from Francisco Inocêncio de Sousa Coutinho (10.7.1770). IEB-USP, Coleção Lamego (82.241); ANTT, Casa da Índia, Consulado (livro 239).
  27. Untitled document (20/5/1767). AHU, Avulsos, Angola (box 51, doc.71).
  28. ANTT, Alfândega do Funchal (liv. 147, f. 77). These businesses with Angola were probably a means of portfolio diversification on the part of wine merchants in Madeira, but Africa never really became an important market for them (Hancock, 2001).
  29. Letter from António de Saldanha de Albuquerque Castro e Ribafria to Pedro de Faria (21.11.1710). ANTT, Família Saldanha e Castro e Falcao Trigoso (maço 19, pt.1, n.17).
  30. The Marquis de Pombal wrote about the commerce between Goa and Angola in several missives, for example: Letter to the Junta da Fazenda of Angola (14/12/1770). AHTC, ER (cód. 4193, ff. 94-95).
  31. Document by José Victo da Silva, (1792). AHU, Avulsos, Angola (box 77, doc.86).
  32. ANTT, Ministério do Reino, Maço 605, n. 41.
  33. See Haggerty (2012, p. 84) and Lamikiz (2013).
  34. Petition by the merchants of Angola (10/7/2020). AHU, Avulsos, Angola (box 96, doc.6).
  35. See Pinto (1979), Arruda (1980) and Fisher (1984).
  36. See Machado (2009, p. 72), Prakash (2009) and Beckert (2014).
  37. See Pinto (1994) and Prakash (2009).
  38. See Lapa (2001). The books of the CGPP demonstrate that it frequently bought Asian merchandise from foreign merchants in Lisbon. See “Livro de enfardamentos,” ANTT, CGPP, Junta de Lisboa, 484.
  39. See Alencastro (2000) and Curto (2002). For a revision of Curto’s calculation on the importance of cachaça in the Angolan trade, see Lopes and Menz (2008).
  40. For more on bretanha textiles bought from France and Hamburg, see Lopes and Menz (2019).
  41. As already described in Ashton (1969) and Coleman (1969).
  42. Balança Geral do Comércio do Reino de Portugal com os seus Domínios e Nações estrangeiras. Lisboa, Instituto Nacional de Estatística (1777 e 1796).
  43. On the debate about the colonial influence on Portuguese economy, see Pedreira, (1994 and 1998), Alexandre (1986) and, more recently, Costa, Lains and Miranda (2011), and Costa, Palma and Reis (2015). On the more general debate on the issue, see Inikori (2002).
  44. Document by Dom Miguel Antonio de Melo (24/04/1798). AHU, Avulsos, Angola (box 87, doc.65).
  45. Document by Francisco Xavier Lobão Machado Peçanha (27/06/1783). AHU, Angola (box 70, doc.29).
  46. See, for instance, Contract between José Torres, Manoel José Telles and João Sherman (6/12/1725). ANTT, CNL 2 (box 84, book 400, ff. 73-76v).
  47. For the same practice in the Spanish convoys, see Bernal (1992, p.176).
  48. Copy of a Dispatch from the Governor (2/7/1770). ANTT, Cartório do Distribuidor de Lisboa (box 41, livro 126).
  49. Unnamed Document (19/2/1725). CNL, (Ofício A, book 395, box 70, f.79-80).
  50. Silva, 2015, pp. 84-87.
  51. Livro de enfardamentos,” ANTT, CGPP, Junta de Lisboa, 484.
  52. MARTINS, Diego de Cambraia. A Companhia Geral do Comércio do Grão Pará e Maranhão e os Grupos Mercantis no Império Português. (Doctoral thesis in Economic History). FFLCH/USP, São Paulo: 2019, p. 285.
  53. ANTT, Cartório do distribuidor, book 119, box 38.
  54. AHU, Caderno de Fazendas Nau Nossa Senhora da Caridade, São Francisco de Paula, 1772 códice 1243.
  55. This estimation takes as a sample the thirty most important traders. See ANTT, alfândega de Lisboa, Casa da Índia, Registro de Saída, Livros 1, 2,3,4, (1748); 192, 208, 300, 347 (1749); 41, 30, 213, 169 (1750); 73, 72, 70, 71 (1751); 93, 91, 92, 90 (1752); 235, 233, 237, 236 (1753), 110, 111, 112, 113 (1754). 114,115,116 (1755), 335, 336, 337 (1756), 293, 294, 295, 296, (1757), 180, 181, 182, 183 (1758), 181, 292, 310 (1759), 362, 364, 365 (1760).
  56. Testimony annexed to a Letter from João Baptista Baena (29/2/1756). AHU, Avulsos Angola (box 43, doc.4028).
  57. Petition by Francisco Luis de Almeida (c.1755). AHU, Avulsos, Angola (box 43, doc.3973).
  58. Document by António Álvares da Cunha (10/6/1757). AHU, Avulsos, Angola (box 44, doc.4111).
  59. Letter of Attorney from Albertini, Frisoni & Juvalta and Manoel da Costa Luz to Francisco Vasquez (1765). ANTT, Cartório do Distribuidor de Lisboa (Livro 126, caixa 41).
  60. See Miller (1988) and Menz (2012).
  61. See Miller (2017) and Menz (2019).

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