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American Rum, African Consumers, and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Kelley, Sean M (2018) 'American Rum, African Consumers, and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.' African Economic History, 46 (2). pp. 1-29. ISSN 0145-2258

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The present article examines the North American rum-for-captives trade, which like other New World-based trades, relied heavily on sugar cane-derived alcohol. It argues that African consumption patterns played a key role in shaping the American rum-for-captives trade during the years 1730-1807. Most interpretations of the rum trade offer what might be termed a “supply-side” interpretation of the slave trade, an emphasis on voyage planning and decision making on the part of European and American slave traders. While these were important factors, an examination of the rum trade highlights the important demand-side factors that shaped the slave trade. The most important market for American rum was the Gold Coast, but slave traders still needed to adopt a range of practices in order to cope with the problem of oversupply. The Upper Guinea Coast served as secondary market, but here the expansion of Islam, in part a response to the growing trade in captives, imposed limits on the demand for alcohol. After independence in 1783, American merchants were able to gain access to French and Dutch India goods, which allowed them to diversify their assortment of trade goods, especially after 1793. Carrying textiles in addition rum helped the United States to become the third-largest carrier immediately before abolition in 1808.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: slave trade; Africa; Consumption and consumers; New England; merchants; Gold Coast; Senegambia; Sierra Leone; alcohol; rum
Subjects: E History America > E11 America (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities
Faculty of Humanities > History, Department of
SWORD Depositor: Elements
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 23 Apr 2018 14:03
Last Modified: 06 Jan 2022 13:49

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