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Seymour Drescher
University of Pittsburgh

The Fragmentation of the Atlantic Slave System and the British Intercolonial Slave Trade

Paper to be delivered at the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery and Abolition

Yale University, October 1999


The Atlantic Slave system began to come apart during the Age of Revolution. Three events contributed crucially to this process, the American and French/Caribbean Revolutions, and the Abolition of the British slave trade. This paper concentrates on the impact of the last of these events, and its 20 year residue, the slave trade between the British colonies after 1808. Comparatively, it considers the results of different systems of labor recruitment and movement in the frontiers of the Big Four New World slave systems after 1805: The British Caribbean, Cuba, Brazil, and the US South. British slavery displayed a remarkably different pattern from the other three until well after the ending of the slave and "Apprenticeship" systems in the British colonies. Presumably, this reflected the relative balance of demographic patterns, political power and moral priorities in the four systems.