African History to 1875 (Fall 1997)


Notes on "Economic Change in Senegambia" by Philip Curtin


Copyright 1997 by Jim Jones
All rights reserved

Source: Philip Curtin, Economic Change in Precolonial Africa: Senegambia in the Era of the Slave Trade (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1975).
NOTE: This file contains notes on a portion of Curtin's book. This book is on reserve at the WCU library under your professor's name.

Chapter 3: Trade Diasporas from Overseas                      p92

     Main difference between European and African traders was the
     former's dependence on a vast overseas infrastructure that
     included shipbuilders, insurance brokers, national flags for
     international legal protection, and more.  European Juula
     combined economic with political and military, unlike the
     African Juula who separated religious and economic from
     military and political.

p93  War and commerce went together for Europeans.  Ethnic
     distinctions were more important for Europeans than for
     African Juulas.  European loyalties were strongest to the
     Crown, the Company and to fellow European nationals, in that
     order.

p94  The Europeans who served in West Africa were most likely to
be
     criminals or otherwise in disgrace.

     Impact of African disease on Europeans between 1680 and
1780:
     of ten who went to Africa, 6 died in the first year, two
more
     died in the next three years, one rturned home and one
     disappeared, either through reenlistment or desertion.  [See
     K,G, Davies The Living and the Dead", p16; also P. Curtin,
     Image of Africa, pp58-87, 177-97, 343-62, and "Epidemiology
     and the Slave Trade," Political Science Quarterly,
83:190-216
     (1968)]

     Despite the weakness of Europeans, they succeeded in
operating
     trade enclaves because a few survived to acclimatize,
mulattos
     were resistant to disease, and African learned enough about
     European ways to serve as intermediaries and brokers.

p97  The Afro-Portuguese settled in trade settlements along the
     coast from Cape Verde to the Gambia River and overland to
     Casamance

p98  The Afro-Portuguese introduced sail-rigged boats of ten tons
     capacity called canoe by the Europeans

p99  The Afro-Portuguese operated an overland trade route from
Cape
     Verde to the Senegal River, through the Damel of Cayor's
     territory.

     The Afro-Portuguese prospered during the 17th and early 18th
     century, after Portugal could no longer dominate the coast,
     but before other Europeans could compete effectively.

p100 In the 18th century, the English began to restrict trade
along
     the Upper Gambia, so the French formed an alliance with the
     Afro-Portuguese.

p100 THE GREAT TRADING COMPANIES

     The Dutch were the first to attack the Hispanic empires, by
     attacking Portuguese posts from Europe to Japan.

p101 After the Dutch took Brazil and Elmina, African trading
posts
     became prizes of war.

p101 In the 1640s, the Dutch actively disseminated sugar
technology
     throuyghout the Caribbean in order to increase their
business
     in the carrying trade.  Planting increased the demand for
     slaves.

p103 European warfare was generally the work of a strong fleet
that
     swept the West African Coast and took all the trading posts. 
     No nation could find enough men to garrison the forts
against
     sea attack.

     The Treaty of Utrecht inaugurated a period of economic
     stability in West Africa dominated by the great trading
     companies.

     Dutch East India Company became a model of commercial
     organization.  In 1673, the French Compagnie du S‚n‚gal was
     formed.

p104 The French Compagnie du S‚n‚gal supplied slaves to New World
     plantations, but failed quickly.  From 1720 to 1758, a
second
     French Compagnie du S‚n‚gal operated as a division of the
     Company des Indes.

     The British Royal African Company was founded in 1672.  It
was
     replaced in 1751 by the Company of Merchants Trading to
     Africa.  It existed to maintain trading conclaves that were
     open to its members.  Its business was fortification.

p105 The great charter companies maintained their monopolies only
     until the end of the War of the Spanish Succession.  The
     coasts were too long and there was too many competitors to
     operate an effective monopoly along the West African coast.

     Fortifications were so expensive that the charter companies
     could not maintain them and compete with private shippers at
     the same time.  The charter companies' advantage was in
their
     ability to penetrate into the interior.  Gor‚e, St. Louis
and
     James Island became terminii for new European trade
diasporas.

p106 map of principal trade factories on the Gambia River

p107 new trade diasporas were operated by Afro-europeans.

p108 map of European trade networks in the 1730s

p109 AN ERA OF TRANSITION. 1750-1816

p110 Senegambia experienced disaster in the 1750s from drought,
     disease, famie and locusts.  The great trading companies
went
     bankrupt.  The rainy season was below normal in 1746-8. 
1749
     was normal, but could't make up for the last three years. 
     1750-2 was disastrous again. In 1753, distant rains led to
     flooding in St. Louis, but didn't help the food situation. 
By
     1754, Serer and Wolof escaped starvation by migrating to the
     Senegal River floodplain where they were enslaved by the
     Futanke and sold to the French.  The crisis was over after
     1758.

p112 Transition continued to the end of the Napoleonic Wars, but
     during this period, European interest declined.  High
European
     mortality rates  and the lack of monopoly slave trade were
the
     causes.

p112 THE AFRO-FRENCH COMMUNITY OF THE 18TH CENTURY

p113 St. Louis always had a larger population than James Island
     thanks to the hydrology of the river which made it possible
     for ships' crews on the Gambia to handle all shipping tasks.

     Navigation on the Senegal was more labor intensive since
     currents and wind made it difficult to move upriver. 
Kedging
     was the solution.

p114 Senegal River boats were as large as 14 tons and had a crew
of
     about 25 laptots under 3 or 4 European or Afro-European
     officers.  Laptots were slaves owned by St. Louis well-to-do
     who paid have their wages to their owners.

p115 Curtin describes the captured and purchased slaves used by
the
     French for garrison defense.  He says that they were very
     loyal and cites an example of one man who escaped captors
and
     returned to his French post.  [See Levens, Report of 10 July
     1725, ANF, C6 9.  There is another copy in BN, FF, NA 9339,
     f.144]

p120 The trading towns were never as large as interior African
     towns which held as many as 3000-5000 people in the 16th
     century.

     European trading towns were always demographically dependent
     on the surrounding communities.  European women were rare
and
     African females emigrated to the towns in large numbers.

     Europeans tended to form liasons with African women called
     "mariages … la mode du pays."  Women who formed such liasons
     received gifts from their men, who often died or returned
home
     after a few years.  The women became wealthy with slaves
     (laptots) or real estate.

p121 M‚tis were the best group for cross-cultural communitcation. 
     They served as mayors, married within their own group,
     received education in France and became closely identified
     with European society.

p121 OVERSEAS TRADERS AND THE POLITICS OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD

     Europeans were frustrated by their political weakness
relative
     to the neighboring African states.  Moreover, they possessed
     arms sent from Europe to fortify their posts against other
     Europeans.

p121 Available technology (stone forts and artillery) favored the
     European, but only for quick, forceful blows.  

p122 Disease and overland travel conditions limited their ability
     to garrison an area.

p123 General commercial war erupted in the mouth of the Gambia
     River in 1764 when the French returned to their trading post
     at Albreda in the kingdom of Ľomi on the right bank.  The
     British were paying tolls to the Ľomi for the right to send
     ships upstream, but refused to allow French ships to pass
     their fort at James Island.  The British stopped paying
tolls
     when the French and Ľomi concluded a trade alliance.  Saalum
     entered on the British side because of trade lost to the
     French at Albreda.

p124 The war dragged on until 1768 as an Anglo-Ľomi war, despite
     peace between France and England in 1763.

     This war illustrates the development of relations between
     European traders and African people.  At the beginning, the
     Europeans were relatively weak and remained content to work
     through local Afro-Portuguese middlemen.  Over time, the
     descendants of those middlemen became parasitic, content to
     milk the English trader through tolls and service fees.  

p127 LEGITIMATE TRADE AND THE FRENCH REOCCUPATION OF ST. LOUIS

p128 The Napoleonic Wars totally altered the terms of African
     trade.  The abolition of slavery was part of it, but new
     people arrived, determined to do more than supervise African
     trade.

     Legitimate trade seemed moral and nationalistic.  The main
     change was a new interest in interventionism by the
Europeans.

     Steamboats were introduced on the Senegal River in 1819/11
and
     the first steam convoy reached Gajaaga in 1820.  They
brought
     improved artillery within reach of all riverside villages,
at
     least during the high water season.

p129 Quinine was isolated from cinchona bark in 1820.  Some of
the
     French were using it regularly by 1843, according to
Raffenel.

     Europeans gave up on the use of European troops in West
Africa
     after the Napoleonic Wars.  Together, these measures reduced
     European mortality.

     As new people began to enter commerce, the French in Senegal
     systematized the various participants.  COMMER€ANTS was the
     broadest category.  NEGO€IANTS held the highest position,
were
     mostly French, and controlled the import-export trade from
     France.  Below them were the MARCHANDS DTAILLANTS who
     imported goods for retail sales, but did not export goods. 
     Below them were the LICENCIS, licensed retail shopkeepers
in
     Gor‚e and St. Louis, or traders, cabaret operators and so
on.

p130 Trade in the countryside was conducted by TRAITANTS.  They
     were by far the largest group.

     Each group was ranked according to the source of their
     capital.  Those who traded with their own capital were the
     highest, while those who traded with borrowed goods or as
     agents of other merchants were lower down on the scale.

     Another small group was the MARIGOTIERS who sailed small
craft
     up the tributaries of the Senegal River in search of goods.

     The most difficult and prestigious trade was the "Galam
     voyage" that required large amounts of capital and up to six
     months for repayment.   Only the largest firms could do
this.

     In French colonies, the government maintained its
relationship
     with commerce through the semi-official CHAMBRE DE COMMERCE. 
     Although they were thought to represent the interests of all
     merchants, they were dominated by the NEGO€IANTS.

p131 In St. Louis, the French governor outmaneuvered the
NEGOCIANTS
     and created an official COMIT DE COMMERCE with elected
     representatives from all levels of commerce.

     The government chartered a succession of monopoly companies
     for the upriver Gajaaga trade (Senegal River) beginning in
     1820.  Despite interruptions, this system persisted until
     1848.

     At first, companies were chartered for a single year and
     profits disbursed at the end of the season, but after 1824,
     they began to endure for several years.  In any case, the
same
     people managed each successive company.

p132 The company and government maintained close ties.  The
     governor appointed the company director from a list of three
     supplied by the board of directors.  The government recieved
     free mail service and use of company warehouses in exchange
     for guaranteeing a monopoly profit to investers.

p135 A crisis occurred by 1842 because too many small TRAITANTS
     fell behind in their debts to the St. Louis gum trade
     NEGOCIANTS.  The solution was dictated from Paris, but St.
     Louis merchants were obliged to support their debtors or go
     under themselves.

p136 The final plan allowed the government to register traitaints
     and command 5% of their capital for its own investments.  At
     the end of the year, the profits from the government's
     investments were distributed to the registered traitants,
but
     creditors received first priority.  The plan worked and the
     debts were liquidated by 1845.

p136 THE ENGLISH RETURN TO THE GAMBIA: REVIVED COMPETITION
BETWEEN
     THE RIVERS

p137 The town of Bathurst was founded in 1816 by Anglo-African
     merchants who were displaced from Gor‚e by the French when
     they returned following the Napoleonic Wars.