Thursday 13 April 2023
14.00 - 16.00
Exploiting the Empire of Others: Session - 3 Transnational Entrepreneurship and Exploitation in the Building of Empire in Africa, 1500-1918
Jessica den Oudsten, Ramona Negron :
The Amsterdam Private Slave Trade, 1730-1780
Stephanie van Dam
The 1730s mark a turning point in Dutch slavery history: the West India Company loses its monopolies on the transatlantic slave trade, upon which several merchants in the Dutch Republic decide to use their ships for the private slave trade. As a result, the slave trade expanded rapidly. Thousands of ... (Show more)
The 1730s mark a turning point in Dutch slavery history: the West India Company loses its monopolies on the transatlantic slave trade, upon which several merchants in the Dutch Republic decide to use their ships for the private slave trade. As a result, the slave trade expanded rapidly. Thousands of people were transported from West-Africa to the Dutch Atlantic on private slave ships belonging to traders in different parts of the Republic, especially Zeeland, Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
Until recently, research on the Dutch slave trade focused primarily on the Dutch West India Company (WIC) or the province of Zeeland, especially on the rich archive of the Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie (MCC). The private slave trade in Amsterdam has largely been overlooked. This is remarkable, because after Zeeland, most eighteenth-century slave ships departed from Amsterdam.
Recently surfaced archival materials such as the notarial archive of Amsterdam reveal the mechanisms behind the private slave trade in Amsterdam in the eighteenth century. Our data shows that between 1730 and 1780 Amsterdam slave traders organized 106 slaving voyages, transporting approximately between 31,000 and 37,000 enslaved people from West-Africa to the Atlantic. We collected data on the slave ship captains, the trade in West-Africa, the dimensions of the slave ships, the duration of the voyages and the slave traders that organized the voyages.
Interestingly, the data reveal that for most traders in Amsterdam their participation in the slave trade was a failed experiment. Most traders only organized one or two voyages and afterwards relocated their resources elsewhere. There was one exception, however: the firm of Jochem Matthijs and Coenraad Smitt. Jochem Matthijs Smitt, a German trader who moved to Amsterdam in the 1720s, and his son Coenraad Smitt organized 42 of the 106 slave voyages from Amsterdam, making them the largest slave traders of the city. Their ships transported between 11,000 and 13,000 enslaved people from West-Africa to Suriname between 1740 and 1778. How did they manage to do this?
In this session, we assess the slave trade of the firm of Jochem Matthijs and Coenraad Smitt. We demonstrate how the Smitts organized their slave voyages. We zoom in on their crews, ships, and investors, adding to the understanding of the transatlantic slave trade of the eighteenth century. The researched material further provides new insights into the trade on the West-African coasts after the WIC lost its monopolies. (Show less)
Gijs Dreijer :
Dutch Imperialism Revisited: Dutch Entrepreneurs in West Africa (1850s-1910s)
At the same time as the Dutch retreated from the African continent in the 1860s and 1870s by giving up its remaining fortifications in Ghana to the British, a small entrepreneurial elite from the port city of Rotterdam started investing huge sums of money into various regions of the continent. ... (Show more)
At the same time as the Dutch retreated from the African continent in the 1860s and 1870s by giving up its remaining fortifications in Ghana to the British, a small entrepreneurial elite from the port city of Rotterdam started investing huge sums of money into various regions of the continent. This paper, drawn from a larger book project, looks at the motives and strategies of the entrepreneurs behind this (at first sight) paradoxical situation. Whilst the Dutch state declined to become embroiled in the Scramble for Africa, the Rotterdam entrepreneurs spotted multiple opportunities and invested their money in trade, the exploitation of natural resources and sometimes even financial services to European powers active in the area. This small group of entrepreneurs and investors for example set up business entities across Africa, for example in Angola, Mozambique, the Congo Free State and French Congo, as well as Liberia and even Nigeria.
They did so by exploiting natural resources and cash crops in places controlled by other European Empires in Africa, thus being an example of a certain type of entrepreneur that was not afraid to trade and invest in countries with sometimes contradictory interests. The first among them were Lodewijk Pincoffs and Hendrik Muller, two immigrants to Rotterdam who became among the richest men in the city. Financially supported by older, aristocratic banking families from Rotterdam like the Mees family, the group on purpose sought riskier, but probably more profitable outlets for capital in Africa, which saw a huge influx of investment during the second half of the nineteenth century. Pincoffs and Muller founded the two major Dutch firms trading in Africa: the so-called Afrikaansche Handels-Vereeniging (AHV), primarily active in the Congo basin area, and the Handelscompagnie Mozambique (HCM) in Mozambique. By the early 1880s, after the AHV went bankrupt after fraud by Pincoffs became apparent, Muller consolidated control over both firms. Both the successor to the AHV, the Nieuwe Afrikaansche Handels-Vennootschap (NAHV), and the successor to the HCM, the Oost-Afrikaansche Compagnie (OAC), subsequently became among the largest investors in their respective areas of operation. The NAHV, for example, became one of the largest concession holders in the French Congo and also operated in the Congo Free State and German Cameroon. In this paper, I will focus primarily on the later period (1899-1914) of when the firms were active.
Through an analysis of the motives and strategies of this small circle of entrepreneurs from Rotterdam, the paper thus makes two major arguments: first, that private actors such as the Rotterdam entrepreneurs played a major role in the Scramble and the advent of imperialism, emphasising the importance of private actors in empire-building; and second, that the hotly debated (non-)existence of Dutch imperialism should therefore not solely focus on the Dutch state, but also on private Dutch entrepreneurs exploiting other empires for profit. (Show less)
Stan Pannier, Catia Antunes :
Austrian-Netherlands Business in West- and Central Africa: the Case of Frederic Romberg
This paper presents a case-study revolving the mercantile activities in West- and Central Africa of the Austrian Netherlands-based entrepreneur Frederic Romberg (1735-1817). Romberg, born in Germany, set up office in Brussels in 1755 and grew rich with the transit trade between Central Europe and Great Britain. Doing so, this paper ... (Show more)
This paper presents a case-study revolving the mercantile activities in West- and Central Africa of the Austrian Netherlands-based entrepreneur Frederic Romberg (1735-1817). Romberg, born in Germany, set up office in Brussels in 1755 and grew rich with the transit trade between Central Europe and Great Britain. Doing so, this paper will shed more light on how foreigners participated in the economic exploitation of Africa during the Early Modern Period.
“[T]he shores of Africa are also visited by the ships of [the Austrian Netherlands]; and the Flemings pursue on that coast the same unhallowed traffic, which other European nations have so long practised without scruple.” In the early 1780s, during his stay in the Austrian Netherlands, the British traveler James Shaw already noted the global scale of the region’s commerce. Yet today, the involvement of the Habsburg Monarchy’s Low Country possessions in the Atlantic trade, and especially the trade with West and Central Africa, is largely forgotten. This historical gap is caused by the traditional focus in the historiography of the Atlantic system on the major colonial powers and their central power strategies of empire-building, especially through mercantilist barriers and monopolistic companies. Concerning the Austrian Netherlands, this perspective has led to considerable attention for the Ostend Company, which held an imperial charter to trade with India and China between 1724 and 1731. Consequentially, the demise of the Ostend Company is still commonly considered the conclusion of Austrian Netherlands interoceanic maritime history.
Recently, this traditional perspective on the history of the Atlantic system has been challenged in numerous ways. First, historical strands such as Atlantic or global history have pleaded to look beyond nations and empires, describing the boundaries of Atlantic polities as spaces of transnational connection rather than separation. Second, scholars have reassessed the agency of private, enterprising merchants and their informal, international networks as a counterweight to the aforementioned focus on the monopolistic company. In my project, I use the commercial activities in West and Central Africa of the Austrian Netherlands merchant Frederic Romberg, and his participation in foreign empires, to combine both perspectives and reveal heretofore disregarded global connections of the Habsburg Monarchy. (Show less)
Edmond Smith :
John Cloyce, Akan Entrepreneurship, and European Empires in West Africa
In the part of West Africa that would become known to Europeans as the Costa da Ouro, or the Gold Coast, a unique combination of environmental factors, local economic culture, and endemic competition between European empires, presented numerous opportunities for African entrepreneurs. Possessing superior local knowledge and, vitally, sole access ... (Show more)
In the part of West Africa that would become known to Europeans as the Costa da Ouro, or the Gold Coast, a unique combination of environmental factors, local economic culture, and endemic competition between European empires, presented numerous opportunities for African entrepreneurs. Possessing superior local knowledge and, vitally, sole access to the highly auriferous inland region known as the Akan goldfields, African traders were for a long time able to take advantage of opportunities that European merchants presented – notably access to broad Atlantic networks of exchange that usefully supplemented existing and expanding commercial networks within Africa. In the late 1650s, one enterprising African merchant, known in English sources as ‘John Cloyce’, sought to exploit a chaotic environment brought abought through trans-imperial competition in the region by dominating access to the trade routes that led from the coast inland. In this way, he forged close relationships with his Swedish partners on coast especially but also English traders, who adapted their trading practices to suit his demands regarding access to European markets. Conversely, Danish and Dutch factors in the region found themselves cut off from Cloyce’s extensive business activities, limiting their ability to access the gold trade at all – a situation that led Cloyce to seize Cape Coast Castle from the Dutch with a force of 5000 African musketeers. In this paper, John Cloyce’s business activities will be used as a case study for examining how competition across European empires created the conditions for entrepreneurial activity in Africa. In doing so, it will show not just how Cloyce operated as a business partner for European traders, but also how the demands and expectation of African actors could shape imperial practices across the region and across different imperial entities. Additionally, it will reflect on how in responding to these conditions, African commercial and political practices also adopted new methods of controlling and taking advantage of new borders generation by global exchange. Through this analysis, it will demonstrate how empires in West Africa could be shaped and exploited by ‘foreign’ – ie., African – participants, with important repercussions for how European empires were structured in Africa and the wider globalising world, and how these practices of exploitation shaped societies and economies in Africa that sought to take advantage of the foreign empires seeking to exploit its mineral wealth. (Show less)