Slave Trade Begins in America at Santo Domingo: A Research Paper


The significance of slave trade beginning in the Americas at Santo Domingo is that Santo Domingo became official center for exploration, organization for the conquest of other regions and capture of slaves who were later transported to the Americas to provide labor in sugarcane plantations (Spielvogel 426).

According to Spielvogel, the discovery of the Americas in 1490s and the growth of sugar plantations in South America and the Caribbean are significant factors which drastically changed the destination of slaves i.e. the destination of slaves changed from Middle Eastern Regions and European Nations to the Americas where they worked in sugarcane plantations (426).

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Therefore, Spielvogel asserts that slave trade in the Americas flourished, as small American and Indian populations were converted into slaves who provided labor in sugarcane plantations. In addition, the Americas played a significant role in slave trade at the height of the transatlantic slave trade in the eighteenth century, which saw black slaves being transported by cargo ships from the West African coast to the Americas to provide labor (428).

Towards the end of the fifteenth century, sugarcane plantations were set up by Portuguese off the coast of central Africa. Later in the sixteenth century, the use of slaves in sugarcane plantations further spread from the Americas to the Caribbean and Eastern Brazilian Coast where sugarcane plantations were widely grown (Spielvogel 424-428).

According to Luciano, Santo Domingo, (now the capital city of the Dominican Republic), is one of the oldest American-European settlements founded in 1498 by Bartholomew Columbus. The city has had a crucial role to play, especially in the history of slave trade and slavery, being called the “oldest city in the Americas” (Minster par.1-3).

Santo Domingo’s history is fascinating because of historical events such as pirate victimization, dictatorship and slave activities. The first settlement in Santo Domingo (Navidad) which fell to the anger of natives was made up of sailors left behind by Columbus’ first voyage after the sinking of one of his ships (Minster 1-3).

In his analysis of the ‘slave trade from the Caribbean and Latin America from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century’, Luciano traces Santo Domingo among significant centers where the trade in African slaves began (83-89). During this period, many Negro slaves were introduced into Spain from the West-African Coast.

The discoveries and encouragements by the Portuguese to “black birding expeditions” at the end of the fifteenth century led to the slave trade which later took negroes captured in Africa to territories which were discovered by Christopher Columbus (the Americas) (Luciano 54-58).

According to Luciano, the above occurrence gave a marked impetus to slavery and slave trade; hence, African slaves were required to exploit the wealth in the discovered territories of the Caribbean and Americas which benefited colonizers. Luciano also perceives that it is at this time, especially before the end of the fifteenth century, that Negro slaves began to arrive at Hispaniola, the Island of Quisqeya, which later became Santo Domingo.

The slaves are traced to have come from abundant reserves located in Portugal and Andalusia. However, as early as 1501, African slaves were imported into Santo Domingo (Luciano 46). Luciano, therefore, asserts that Santo Domingo and the Americas played a significant role in slave trade and was a center of spread of the Spanish conquest and dominion to other areas like the Islands of Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Cuba (Luciano 45-46).

Another significant factor is that the Americas acted as a center for receiving African slaves especially from the greater Senegambia (Spielvogel 424-428). Almost half a century before America was discovered; conquered and colonized, slaves of African origin, mostly those from Senegambia, arrived by ship from Portugal and were then sold in Lisbon, an active slave market.

These slaves finally ended up in the Iberian Peninsula and were converted to Christianity, hence, becoming Portuguese speakers with some Spanish dialects, the Wolof being the greatest in number and were called “Ladino’s” which meant Latinized Africans (Rout 57-58). After American conquest and colonization began, the Iberian Peninsula continued to receive an influx of enslaved Africans.

These slaves and their descendants became the first people of African origin to be brought into America as “Ladino’s”. Hence the significance of the Americas in the slave trade is that it resulted to rapid voyages especially from greater Senegambia to the Caribbean causing early Spanish America to be largely occupied by people of African descend from the Greater Senegambia (Rout 82-90).

The Assientos/Licene granted by the Spanish King is crucial to mention, especially when exploring the significance of the slave trade beginning in the Americas at Santo Domingo.

According to Luciano Franco’s analysis of the slave trade from the 16th century to the 19th century, it is evident that the period was significant in the history of the African slave trade as the Caribbean colonies began in February 1528, and this is the period when the Spanish king granted the first assiento/license to introduce African slaves into the Americas (Spanish American possessions) (Luciano 66).

During this period, a special board, Junta De Negros was established in the Spanish region (Casa de la Contrantacion in Seville) (Minster par. 6-10).

This board was concerned with African slave trade to ensure compliance with the Assientos/license. Towards the end of the fifteenth century, the first nine-year period license was granted to Pedro Gomez Reynel to navigate the West Indies region and capture Negro slaves. This concession was however withdrawn later and awarded to the Portuguese, which stipulated the transport of Africans from the African region to the Caribbean (Minster 32-38).

In addition, the significance of the Americas in the slave trade can be explained by the history of slave trade prior to the establishment of the Royal Company of Adventurers in 1660. Thus between 1630s and 1640s, the trade was restricted in volume and no connection existed with the West Indies or the Americas.

This led to the English slave trade being started by John Hawkins between 1562 and 1569. Later, in 1562, John Hawkins ferried African slaves from the African shores and shipped them to the Spanish region of Santo Domingo where the slaves were exchanged for gold, sugar and hides wit the Spanish colonialists (Rout 30-39).

The wisdom and cunning manner that Hawkins had shown especially in the Caribbean slave trade, however, did not reckon with the Casa de Contratacion in Seville which would not allow any slight infiltration in the Spanish monopolized region of trade, hence, the capturing of two ships which Hawkins had send to sell hides which were to be exchanged for negro slaves in Santo Domino (Luciano 45-56).

In addition, the royal decree of 25th January 1780 which gave the slave dealers of Cuba, Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico the right to obtain slaves from the French colonies of the Caribbean can further be used to explore the above issue. This later led to free slave trading in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo under the royal decree of 28th February 1789 which was later extended by the royal decree of 24th November 1791 (Minster par.5-9).

Thus Santo Domingo was significant in slave trade as it was given the consent/royal decree to engage in free trade of slaves. Some authors have suggested that the fact that Santo Domingo was given the mandate/decree to engage in slave trade implies that it had previously been engaged in other activities of slave trade and slavery (Minster, par 3-4).

The Americas played a critical role in slave trade as it was the center where the Spanish and the Portuguese established their colonial empires. Furthermore, Spain also had control of a large empire to the south of the Americas. The Americas was also critical as it faced competing interests from the English, Dutch and French. These interests spread from the Americas to other regions e.g. the Central African Coast in an attempt to create colonial empires which saw the spread of the slave trade (Spielvogel 424-428).

According to Spielvogel, the conquest of the Americas was instrumental in the expansion of slave trade and slavery into other parts of the world. This caused some of the best and the worst forms of European colonization. Some of these occurrences included brutal repressions, plundering of resources and enslavement which could hardly be balanced by approaches such as creation of new institutions and fostering the rights of indigenous people (Spielvogel 424-428).

Spielvogel also asserts that the Americas acted as a critical destination for slaves from Africa. From the sixteenth century to the eighteenth century, there was a dramatic growth in the slave trade where merchant ships from Europe (i.e. Portugal, England, France and the Dutch) carried manufactured goods from Europe (such as guns and cloth) where they were exchanged for African slaves, who were transported by cargo ships to the Americas and then sold (Spielvogel 424-428).

According to Spielvogel, approximately 275, ooo Africans who were enslaved during the slave trade in the sixteenth century ended up in other regions while approximately 2,000 ended up in the Americas annually.

Spielvogel asserts that this number reached one million in the period of the seventeenth century and by the eighteenth century, it had reached six million. Therefore, the fact that almost 10 million slaves of African origin were transported to the Americas between the sixteenth and the eighteenth century implies that the Americas played a significant role in the slave trade and slavery (Spielvogel 424-430).


In this paper, I explored the significance of slave trade beginning in the Americas at Santo Domingo. It has been elicited that the Americas played a crucial role in the activities of the slave trade and slavery, using slaves of African origin and minor populations of Americans and Indians to provide labor in sugarcane plantations.

In addition, Santo Domingo has been mentioned as a crucial center where the activities of the slave trade and slavery flourished and spread to other regions. Therefore, the Americas and Santo Domingo played a significant role in the beginning of the slave trade (Rout 36-40).

Works Cited

Luciano, Franco. The Slave Trade in the Caribbean and Latin America from the Fifteenth to the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977. Print.

Minster, Christopher. Latin American History: The History of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. 13 Sept. 2006. Web. 8 March 2012.

Rout, Leslie Jnr. The African Experience in Spanish America: 1502 to the Present Day. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976. Print.

Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization. Boston: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009. Print.


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