Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Week 3: Slavery and Empire

Slavery, race, and revolution between empires: The Case of Cuba

PPT for the session

Sound recording for the session

Film we will watch part of in the session: "Black in Latin America: Cuba, the Next Revolution, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Content warning: the whole session deals necessarily with profoundly racist ideas and histories. The film for the session contains some racist images and discusses racist language used in the C19 and early C20 in Cuba. We will discuss terminology and ways of talking about the history of slavery and race at the start of the session.

What was the relationship between slavery and Atlantic empire? Did national liberation necessarily lead to slave emancipation? What was the relationship between anticolonial ideas and post-emancipation citizenship claims? How was it possible for enslaved Africans and their descendants to feel loyalty towards colonial monarchies? How might liberal revolution and colonial overthrow in one area lead to an upswing in slavery and the trade elsewhere?

Our class will think about some of these questions using Latin America as a case study. Underexplored within a scholarship on Atlantic slavery that prioritises the North Atlantic and the Anglophone world, the Iberian Americas had the hemisphere's oldest and most sustained relationship with slavery, which revived in some areas in the C19 even as it was abolished elsewhere. From the pioneering liberal Cadiz constitution of 1812, to the contradictions of how to achieve a war of national liberation in Cuba across racial lines, Latin America's relationship with slavery and colonialism offers many puzzles. The class will offer a survey of some of these connections before focusing in particular on the case of Cuba, where slavery, anticolonial and antiracist struggle, and new forms of empire and racism, came together in a complex mix in the nineteenth century.

Questions for class discussion:

Why did slavery persist for so long in Cuba?

What made some Afro-Cubans in C19 Cuba loyal to Spain?

Was anticolonial war possible without slave emancipation?

What explains the turn away from ideals of antiracist national liberation in the generation after 1898 in Cuba?

Core reading for class

Please read this first:

Christopher Schmidt-Nowara, Slavery, Freedom, and Abolition in Latin America and the Atlantic World. Please read the introduction, chapter 4, and the biographical case study appended to ch 4.

Then, please at least choose one of the following:

Ada Ferrer, Freedom's Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution, Introduction Shows how anticolonial and anti-slave revolution in Haiti, Cuba's Caribbean neighbour, both inspired an anti-slavery consciousness among people of colour AND ushered in an era of much more intense slavery in Cuba

David Sartorius, "Cuban Counterpoint: Colonialism and Continuity in the Atlantic World," in New Countries: Capitalism, Revolutions, and Nations in the Americas, ed. John Tutino (Duke University Press 2016) Explores the tensions of Spanish notions of colonial citizenship, race, and slavery's continuity in C19 Cuba

Jose Marti, "My Race" [Mi raza], 1893, extract here A classic text by one of the founding thinkers of the anticolonial struggle, arguing for Cuban national identity beyond race or former slave origins

Ada Ferrer, Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868-1898 (UNC Press 1999), introduction and ch 6, "Insurgent Identities: Race and the Western Invasion, 1895-1896" Explores the making of a national independence movement that sought national unity 'beyond' race/ slavery

Louis Perez, Jr., Cuba in the American Imagination: Metaphor and the Imperial Ethos (UNC Press, 2008), chapter 3: "Metaphor as Paradigm". Shows how ideas about race, post-emancipation settings and empire helped forge a new North American imperialism in Cuba. [Warning: contains racist cartoons that demonstrate the thinking of the era.]

Additional reading/ a film:

Henry Louis Gates Jr., Black in Latin America: Cuba: The Next Revolution

Henry Louis Gates Jr., Black in Latin America (NYU Press, 2011), chapter 6, "Cuba"

The Idea of Race in Latin America: 1870-1940, eds. Richard Graham (University of Texas Press, 1990) (esp Aline Helg chapter on Cuba)

Alejandra Bronfman, Measures of Equality: Social Science, Citizenship, and Race in Cuba, 1902-1940 (UNC Press, 2004)

Alejandro de la Fuente, A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba (UNC Press, 2001)

Marquese, Rafael, and Tâmis Parron. Slavery & Politics: Brazil and Cuba, 1790-1850. Alburquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2016.

Finch, Aisha K. Rethinking Slave Rebellion in Cuba: La Escalera and the Insurgencies of 1841-4. University of North Carolina Press, 2015 [e-book @Library]

Falola, Toyin, and Childs, Matt, eds. The Yoruba Diaspora in the Atlantic World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.

Cowling, Camillia. Conceiving Freedom: Women of Colour, Gender, and the Abolition of Slavery in Havana and Rio de Janeiro. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013.

Schmidt-Nowara, Christopher. Empire and Antislavery: Spain, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, 1833-1874. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999.

Barcia Paz, Manuel. Seeds of Insurrection: Domination and Resistance on Western Cuban Plantations, 1808-1848. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008.

________. The Great African Slave Revolt of 1825: Cuba and the Fight for Freedom in Matanzas. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2012.

Bergad, L.W. Cuban Rural Society in the Nineteenth Century: The Social and Economic History of Monoculture in Matanzas. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Castañeda, Digna. “The Woman Slave in Cuba during the First Half of the Nineteenth Century.” In Engendering History: Caribbean Women in Historical Perspective, eds. Verene Shepherd, Bridget Brereton and Barbara Bailey, 141-54. London: James Currey, 1995.

Childs, Matt D. The 1812 Aponte Rebellion in Cuba and the Struggle against Atlantic Slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Cowling, Camillia. "Teresa Mina's Journeys: 'Slave-Moving', Mobility and Gender in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Cuba," Atlantic Studies, 18:1 (February 2021): 7-30 [and see the other essays in this special edition on slavery, gender, race, and mobility in C19 Cuba]

De la Fuente, Alejandro. “Slave Law and Claims-making in Cuba: The Tannenbaum Debate Revisited.” Law and History Review, 22:2 (Summer 2004): 339-67.

________. “Slaves and the Creation of Legal Rights: Coartación and Papel.” HAHR, 87:4 (November 2007): 659-92.

________ and Ariela J. Gross, Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana. Cambridge University Press, 2020. [e-book @ Library]

Ferrer, Ada. Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Funes, Reinaldo. From Rainforest to Cane Field in Cuba: An Environmental History since 1492. UNC Press, 2008. Translated by Alex Martin.

Knight, Franklin. Slave Society in Cuba during the Nineteenth Century. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1970.

La Rosa Corzo, Gabino. Runaway Slave Settlements in Cuba: Resistance and Oppression. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Morrison, Karen Y. Cuba's Racial Crucible: The Sexual Economy of Social Identities, 1750-2000 (2015)

Paquette, Robert. Sugar is Made with Blood: The Conspiracy of La Escalera and the Conflict between Empires over Slavery in Cuba. Middletown, Conneticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1988.

Reid-Vázquez, Michele. The Year of the Lash: Free People of Colour in Cuba and the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011.

Rood, Daniel B. The Reinvention of Atlantic Slavery: Technology, Labour, Race and Capitalism in the Greater Caribbean. OUP, 2017. [e-book at library]

Sartorius, David. Ever-Faithful: Race, Loyalty, and the Ends of Empire in Spanish Cuba. Duke University Press, 2013 [e-book @ Library]

Scott, Rebecca J. Slave Emancipation in Cuba: The Transition to Free Labour, 1860-1899. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985. [e-book at library]

Singleton, Theresa. Slavery Behind the Wall: An Archaeology of a Cuban Coffee Plantation. University Press of Florida, 2015.

Tomich, Dale. “Anomalies, Clues, and Neglected Transcripts: Microhistory and Representations of the Cuban Sugar Frontier, 1820-1860,” in Small Worlds: Method, Meaning and Narrative in Microhistory, eds. James F. Brookes, Christopher R.N. DeCorse, and John Walton (New Mexico: School for Advanced Research Press, 2008), 225-246.

Primary sources:

Gloria Garcia, Voices of the Enslaved in Cuba: A Documentary History [very useful/ accessible compilation of documents translated from Cuba's National Archive]

Barnet, Miguel. Biography of a Runaway Slave, by Esteban Montejo, translated by Jocaster Innes. London: Bodley Head, 1963 [and many subsequent editions] [one of the very few existing narratives by a former enslaved person - interviewed in the 1960s]

Juan Francisco Manzano, The Life and Poems of a Cuban Slave, ed. Edward J Mullen, 2014 [e-book at library]

Law, Robin, and Paul E. Lovejoy, eds. The Biography of Mahomma Gardo Baquaqua: His Passage from Slavery to Freedom in Africa and America. New Jersey: Marcus Wiener, 2001.

Rubiera Castillo, Daisy. Reyita: The Life of a Black Cuban Woman in the Twentieth Century. Translated by Ann McLean. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.

The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics, eds. Aviva Chomsky, (Duke University Press, 2019)

The Transatlantic Slavery Database: Constantly being updated, this database is the result of collaboration between many historians. It provides the most definitive detailed information about records of slaving voyages and individual slave journeys, as well as estimates of numbers trafficked and a set of essays about the trade and how to use the database. Highly recommended for any quantitative aspects of your study.

Louis Pérez Jr., ed. Slaves, Sugar and Colonial Society: Travel Accounts of Cuba, 1801-1899 Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, 1992.

African Origins: Information and life stories about trafficked Africans.

Images of c19 Cuban sugar plantations (text in Spanish but the images are still really useful):

Justo Cantero & Eduardo LaPlante, Los ingenios. Colección de vistas de los principales ingenios de azúcar (Havana: Litografía de Luis Marquier, 1857).Available as open-access e-book at Project Gutenberg (search for Los Ingenios):

Miami Cuban Heritage Collection: Mainly visual materials on C20 Cuba but some materials of interest for C19

For your reference, here are the materials from last year's class, on a different subtheme:

Our class considers the role of slavery in the making of the British industrial revolution. While slavery and other forms of coerced labour went back to epochs before the ancient world, these took on wholly new dimensions in the transplantation of black African peoples to work the plantations of the New World. We will discuss the early monopoly (1672-1698) of the Royal African Company, and the transition after to the dramatic rise in enslavement throughout the eighteenth century by separate free traders. Eric Williams in Capitalism and Slavery (1944) linked the growth of capitalism in eighteenth-century Britain to slavery and the slave trade, and set out the ‘triangular trade’ between Britain, Africa and the Caribbean underpinning this. His thesis, much debated, did not, however, become central to the story of the Industrial Revolution. Recently a new historiography on the history of capitalism has based the economic modernization of the U.S.A. and of Europe in the cotton plantations of the American South. Our seminar will discuss some of this literature, and raise questions for a new generation to return to the contributions of enslaved peoples and slave-based economies, especially the Caribbean sugar plantations, to British industrialization.

Seminar Questions

  1. What contribution did slavery make to British and European mercantile and industrial wealth?
  2. Discuss how slavery came to shape Africa's place in global history.
  3. Discuss the factors underlying the transformation of societies with slaves into slave societies in the early modern Atlantic world.
  4. How significant was slavery to the transformation of consumer cultures in the European and Atlantic worlds in the early modern period?
  5. Does ‘war capitalism’ help us to understand the part played by slavery in the making of empire in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries?

Core Readings

Barbara L. Solow, 'Capitalism and Slavery in the Exceedingly Long Run', in Barbara Solow and Stanley Engerman, British Capitalism and Caribbean Slavery: the Legacy of Eric Williams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 51-78. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Trevor Burnard and Giorgio Riello, ‘Slavery and the New History of Capitalism’, Journal of Global History 15.2 (2020), pp. 225–244. LinkLink opens in a new window.

William Darity, Jr. ‘British Industry and the West Indies Plantations’, Social Science History 14.1 (1990), pp. 117-149. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Nicholas Draper, ‘Possessing People: Absentee Slave-Owners within British Society’, in Catherine Hall, Nicholas Draper, et. al, Legacies of British Slave Ownership (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 34-77. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Pat Hudson, ‘Slavery, the Slave Trade and Economic Growth: a Contribution to the Debate’, in Catherine Hall, Nicholas Draper, and Keith McClelland eds. Emancipation and the remaking of the British Imperial world (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014), pp. 36-59. LinkLink opens in a new window.

Further Reading

Richard B. Sheridan, 'Eric Williams and Capitalism and Slavery: A Biographical and Historiographical Essay', in Barbara Solow and Stanley Engerman, eds., British Capitalism and Caribbean Slavery: the Legacy of Eric Williams (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 317-346.

Mark Harvey ‘Slavery, Indenture and the Development of British Industrial Capitalism’, History Workshop Journal Issue 88.13 (July 2019).

Ralph A. Austen and Woodruff D. Smith, 'Private Tooth Decay as Public Economic Virtue: The Slave-Sugar Triangle, Consumerism, and European Industrialization’, Social Science History, Vol. 14 , No. 1 (Spring, 1990), pp. 95-115.

Joseph E. Inikori, ‘Slavery and the Development of Industrial Capitalism in England', in Barbara Solow and Stanley Engerman, eds., British Capitalism and Caribbean Slavery: the Legacy of Eric Williams (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 79-102.

Karl B. Koth, John E. Serieux, ‘Sugar, Slavery and Wealth: Jamaica Planter Nathaniel Phillips and the Williams Hypothesis (1761–1813)', in: Capitalism: A Journal of History and Economics, Volume 1, Number 1 (Fall 2019), pp. 59-91.

G. Burnard, 'Prodigious riches: the wealth of Jamaica before the American Revolution’, Economic History Review, LIV, 3 (2001), pp. 501-524.

Joseph Inikori, ‘Africa and the globalization process: western Africa, 1450–1850’, Journal of Global History Volume 2, Issue 1 (March 2007), pp 63–86.

Websites, TV Series and Resources on British slavery and emancipation

David Olusoga – Black and British: a Forgotten HistoryLink opens in a new window – TV series. Also see his book - David Olusoga, Black and British: A Forgotten History (2016) Paperback

BBC website on EmpireLink opens in a new window - Section on Slavery and Abolition