Cuba and the United States in the Atlantic Slave Trade (1789–1820)

Co-directors: Marial Iglesias Utset, Jorge Felipe Gonzalez (Michigan State University)

This project explores the extent to which the vertiginous growth of the slave trade based in Havana after 1808 was driven by the transfer of human and financial capital and expertise accumulated in the slave trade. After its abolition in the United States, American dealers redirected their investments to Cuba. Driven by the sustained boom in sugar and coffee in Cuba and the rising strength of the cotton market in the southern United States, a large group of American merchants joined forces with traders and planters in Havana. The results had long-term repercussions: Cuba became the largest slave colony in all of Hispanic America, with the highest number of enslaved persons imported and the longest duration of the illegal slave trade. About 800,000 slaves were imported to Cuba—twice as many as those shipped to the United States. Between 1808 and 1820, when the legal trafficking of slaves in Cuba ceased, the Spanish flag sheltered many American slave trade expeditions and the networks between American and Cuban merchants as well as the West African factors were consolidated. This Atlantic Slave Trade Project seeks to elucidate the ways in which the slave traders of Cuba created and consolidated a powerful infrastructure and a prominent position in the nineteenth-century Atlantic slave trade. It builds on archival sources in Cuba and the United States and is embedded in the theoretical and methodological framework of Atlantic history.