After the international ban on transatlantic slaving, Cuba was second only to Brazil in the thousands of Africans illegally brought to its ports in the abolitionist period, during which Dr. Richard Robert Madden (1798 – 1886), physician, writer, and abolitionist, spent a year in colonial Cuba. In the selection, Madden examines the subject of Cuban slavery, at a time when Cuban beet sugar was cheaper to produce and thus created a greater demand for enslaved African labor.
German botanist and colonial administrator Paul Erdmann Isert (ca. 1756 – 89) arrived in November 1783 at a time when the Danish forts at Ada, Keta, and at Teshi were being built on the Gold Coast. Isert stayed on the Gold Coast for three years, leaving in October 1786 by way of a slave ship bound eventually for Copenhagen. After two days at sea, the Gold Coast captives onboard revolted.
The modern world owes its origin to transatlantic slaving, otherwise known as the transatlantic slave trade. If this seems surprising, it is because the overall significance of transatlantic slaving in the creation of the Americas and the modern world more broadly is not a celebratory history. It is a history of greed, immeasurable misery, and more importantly denial. To say slavery created the modern world is to say the historical obvious. But to accept this statement is to confront its denied cruciality, to bypass the idyllic scenes of picking cotton, and to come to terms with the barbarity and systemic humiliation of millions, the societies ruined, their lost possibilities, and the psychological if not financial debt owed to the collective skilled labor force that produced the opulence “modern” people enjoy or envy.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Mohammed Ali Ben Said settled in Alabama, where his narrative and the paper trail for his life ends, but where the research for my Transatlantic Africa book began. Transatlantic Africa: 1440-1888 retold the story of transatlantic slaving through the lived experiences and intellectual history of Africans who lived through it. In that way, uncovering Mohammed’s story was fortuitous because Mohammed was an African, a Muslim, and an enslaved or indentured person for most of his remarkable life. For all these insights Mohammed’s extraordinary story provided, it left an equal amount of questions. These questions became the legs of my research, conveying it along an exploratory journey.