The Earliest Transatlantic Slave Trade in the Americas (1518)

The Earliest Transatlantic Slave Trade in the Americas (1518)
In 1518, the Governor of Santo Domingo proposed a triangular trade among La Española, Spain and West Africa
ESPAÑA. MINISTERIO DE CULTURA, Archivo General de Indias,


ma[n]dandolos [a los esclavos] traer q[ue] dende[e]sta ysla partan los navios pa[ra] sevilla donde se/
co[n]pre el Rescate q[ue] fuera neçesar[i]o Ansy como paños de di[ver]sas co/
lores Con otras cosas de R[e]scate q[ue] se huse [sic] En cabo [ver]de donde se an de/
traer co[n] liç[ençi]a del Rey de Portogal e q[ue] pa[ra] el d[ic]ho Rescate vayan Alli los navios/
E trayan [sic] todos los negros e negras q[ue] pudieren aver boçales de hedad de/
qui[n]ze e diez e ocho o veynte años e has[e]rse an en[e]sta isla a n[uest]ras costunbres/
e ponerse An en pueblos donde estaran casados co[n] sus mujeres sobre/
llevarse A el tra[ba]jo de los yndios sacarse a ynfinito oro / Es t[ie]rra esta/
la mejor q[ue] ay en[e]l mu[n]do pa[ra] los negros p[ar]a las mujeres pa[ra] los ho[n]bres vie/
jos q[ue] por grande maravilla se vee qua[n]do uno d[e][e]ste genero muere/


For them [the slaves] to be brought, so that from this island the vessels depart to Seville where items for battering that may be necessary be bought, as well as rags of different colors and other things for batter
to be used in Cape Verde, from where [ ] will be brought with license from the King of Portugal and so that for the said batter the ships should go there and bring along all the Black men and women that they
may get, bozales of fifteen and eighteen or twenty years of age, and they should adapt in this island to our customs and be placed in towns where they will be married to their women. The work of the Indians
should be alleviated, infinite gold should be extracted. This land is the best in the world for Blacks, for the women, for the old men, which may be seen as great wonder when one of this type dies [...

Boca de Nigua Sugar Estate reconstruction

Boca de Nigua Sugar Estate reconstruction. San Cristóbal, Dominican Republic


In 1518, Alonso Zuazo, Governor and Judge of La Española’s Audiencia, was convinced of the fundamental importance of enslaved Africans as labor force for La Española’s economy and for the colony’s survival. Zuazo wrote a letter to the Crown, pushing the importance of this matter.

In what sounds like an early version of what centuries later would be called “triangular trade,” Zuazo proposed for ships to travel from La Española to Spain to pick items or commodities that would be of interest to Africans, and from there to travel to Cape Verde, a Portuguese colonial possession off the coast of West Africa at the time, and exchange the commodities for as many young bozales as possible of both sexes, and then load them up on the same vessels and hurl them across the Atlantic to La Española.

Zuazo proposed that once in La Española the enslaved Africans should be married, settled in villages, and put to work with the hope that slaves would “adopt” the Spanish culture.