How were slave castles & forts built & run?

Oct 2017
339
America ??
These were the only western settlements on the continent until the late 19th century. Like elsewhere in the world, it’s not widely discussed how they were built & run, including where the material & workforce is from. Anyone know how many of these slave castles & forts there are in total?

I know that the first such was Elmina castle built in the early 1480s by the Portuguese, probably the first European castle/fort built overseas actually. Surprised to read that it was built entirely from imported material & labor from Europe, Portugal probably, but that may make sense if there weren’t any established quarries nearby & the site is good enough to settle. But I’d imagine the king would need to send a titan ton of big ships to be able to send all that material, as well as frequent two-way journeys, & that the material would have to be stored & guarded effectively awaiting construction. I’ve also read that Cape Coast Castle, the largest & most important of the slave castles it seems, was originally a wooden fort or house built by the Swedes before being taken over by other European powers later & was expanded & upgraded several times throughout its history, but can’t find any information as to where the material & workforce originated. It seems that forts & castles take many years to build, & tend to expand & upgrade from their original.

One major issue I can envision is that, unlike in Europe or the Americas, West Africa has historically been nicknamed the ‘White Man’s Grave’ due to widespread infections/diseases which Europeans lacked immunity, extreme weather & climate, vicious natives & wildlife, as well as no less that the exotic ness of the place.
With this nickname in mind, it becomes easier to envision how Europeans limited themselves to the coast & rarely travelled inland, & becomes harder to envision how Europeans could labor themselves, & using local labor with local cooperation becomes more appealing. I know that most of the time Europeans had cooperation with local rulers, it’s where they got most of their slaves from after all. & I’d imagine that you’d be greatly limiting available recourses like quarries, lumber & fresh water, if you only limit yourself to the coastline, even if it’s very long. It also seems that unlike in other parts of the world, West Africans didn’t make much use of stone. Just how civilized was West Africa during these periods? Also, what are important prerequisites for choosing fort & castle location? Would available fresh water & nearby quarries be among them, along with friendly established rulers? How comfortable would it have been to stay & live in these castles? Would anyone be able to share what they can find out about the administration of these centers?

Sincerely.

President Obama made some important moral statements during his visit to Cape Coast Castle:
Obama’s Statement at Cape Coast Castle | TIME.com
 
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johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,767
Cornwall
These were the only western settlements on the continent until the late 19th century.
You might want to revise that before you get deluged in comments. Did you mean 'on the coast'? Even so - lots of Empires out there, north, middle and south
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,972
Portugal
These were the only western settlements on the continent until the late 19th century. Like elsewhere in the world, it’s not widely discussed how they were built & run, including where the material & workforce is from. Anyone know how many of these slave castles & forts there are in total?


I know that the first such was Elmina castle built in the early 1480s by the Portuguese, probably the first European castle/fort built overseas actually. Surprised to read that it was built entirely from imported material & labor from Europe, Portugal probably, but that may make sense if there weren’t any established quarries nearby & the site is good enough to settle. But I’d imagine the king would need to send a titan ton of big ships to be able to send all that material, as well as frequent two-way journeys, & that the material would have to be stored & guarded effectively awaiting construction. I’ve also read that Cape Coast Castle, the largest & most important of the slave castles it seems, was originally a wooden fort or house built by the Swedes before being taken over by other European powers later & was expanded & upgraded several times throughout its history, but can’t find any information as to where the material & workforce originated. It seems that forts & castles take many years to build, & tend to expand & upgrade from their original.

Like johnincornwall stated you should review your statement that “These were the only western settlements on the continent until the late 19th century.” Many European settlements in Africa weren’t dedicated or exclusively dedicated to slavery.

“Elmina” (always found this name an odd translation), São Jorge da Mina, wasn’t also the first castle build by the Portuguese in Africa. From the scratch it was probably Arguim, in today’s Mauritania, but the Portuguese were building (or re-building) fortress in Africa since they conquered Ceuta in 1415.

One of the major setbacks of Portugal in Africa, and the one that probably compromised the conquest of the south of Morocco (Marrakesh), was the defeat in Mamora, in 1515, were a castle was being established: Mehdya, Morocco - Wikipedia

About the life in those fortresses, it would vary much if it was in Morocco, or more to the south, in São Jorge da Mina or Luanda, or in the oriental coast, in the Indian Ocean.
 
Oct 2017
339
America ??
Of course guys, my big mistake! How erroneous is my first sentence indeed. How could I ever forget South Africa? I’m learning now that Europeans set up settlements all across the continental coasts. Still, save for South Africa, I don’t think there’s much evidence of Europeans venturing very far inlands due to being the white man’s grave? I think what I really meant by the first sentence was that slave trading remained the primary form of trade between Europe & West Africa, if not the continent as a whole, until the mid to late 19th century. Is that right?
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,184
Sydney
those settlements were in fact depot where the prisoners from inland were kept to fill the slave ships as they came
those ships could not wait long for new arrivals and had to make their fill quickly for logistical and heath reasons
a ship half full would be a loosing money proposition ,
the ability to come load and be gone saved their limited amount of food and minimized the very present risk of loosing half the crew to fever

also the African kings treated their captives in appalling conditions , which was wasteful and bad business
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,972
Portugal
Of course guys, my big mistake! How erroneous is my first sentence indeed. How could I ever forget South Africa? I’m learning now that Europeans set up settlements all across the continental coasts. Still, save for South Africa, I don’t think there’s much evidence of Europeans venturing very far inlands due to being the white man’s grave? I think what I really meant by the first sentence was that slave trading remained the primary form of trade between Europe & West Africa, if not the continent as a whole, until the mid to late 19th century. Is that right?
The settlements were on the coast, all around the continent (North, West, East), but the Europeans did venture far inland quite before the 19th century, even if it was in the 19th century that the continent was fully explored.

For instance, I can recall the Portuguese expeditions in Benin (João Afonso de Aveiro), Congo (begun with Diogo Cão), Ethiopia (Cristóvão da Gama), and Monomotapa (Francisco Barreto). All this in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Furthermore, for the same period, we have the Portuguese “lançados” (in Guinea/West Africa) and the “pombeiros” (Angola/Congo), traders that went far inland to trade, probably mostly slaves, but also other products. They didn’t create settlements, but instead a class of traders and a trade network in wide areas were the Portuguese or Portuguese creoles were often the lingua franca used in the trade. This lasted more or less until the 19th century.
 
Oct 2017
339
America ??
^@ Tulius

What can you tell us about life in those fortresses which you suggest vary depending on location?
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,972
Portugal
^@ Tulius

What can you tell us about life in those fortresses which you suggest vary depending on location?
What I am going to write here mostly applies to the Fortresses in Morocco, 15th to 17th centuries, that is what I recall better, for the others I would have to recall some readings:

There were three religious groups present: Christians, Jews and Muslims.

The Christians were the Portuguese, and often Andalusian (Castilians) traders and mercenaries and Genovese traders.

There were both permanent population and temporary military personnel. Even if the permanent population was also quite militarized due the constant state of warfare. There were men, women and children, and the men could have any necessary profession.

The military personnel received a monthly payment, in cash ans supplies, depending of their function, as it is natural the exiled convicted were the ones with the lower pay while a man with an horse would be on the top of the payroll.

The Moors (Mouros, meaning here the Muslims) lived in separated city blocks and there were some converted to Mouriscos (Christian Moors). And around the fortresses there were pacified areas, tributaries, and nominally under the protection of the king of Portugal, even if their fidelity was often pendulous, they were the “Mouros de pazes” (Moors of peace), both Berbers and Arabs that in case of war should fight for the Portuguese (and they often did). The case in the Fortress of Safim, of Bentafufa (Ta’fouf) is probably the most known. I already post here in the forum an excellent letter that he wrote to the king D. Manuel I, that in some way shows the motifs of the failure of the “Reconquista” in Morocco.

These “Mouros de Pazes” were under the direct control of the “Alcaide dos Mouros”, nominated directly by the king, and he applied justice between the Moors according to their traditions, collected the tribute and commanded the Moor troops.

These Mouros de Pazes, often half-sdentary, had the advantage that they weren’t raided by the Portuguese.

The Jews inside the fortress also lived in separated city blocks, they were indigenous, but many were Portuguese, or descendants of the Portuguese and Castilians expelled from the Peninsula. They could practice freely their cult and had tax advantages, because often they were the intermediaries in trade between the Christians and Muslims. The justice was made by the Rabi-mor, nominated by the king.

In the control of the fortress was the Captain that had the control of the military, economy and justice. He was also nominated by the king. Bellow him there was the “Contador” with the responsibility of the trade and taxes, as well as the supplies, the fortress always needed to be supplied from the peninsula in aliments.

There was also a “Feitoria” (trade post), with economic functions, controlled by the Feitor (this function will have much more power in the Feitorias dedicated to the trade slave in the West Coast of Africa and in Angola, such as the mentioned S. João da Mina).

In military terms, below the Captain we had the commander of the fortress (the Alcaide) and the second in command after the Captain (the Adaíl). Of interest is also the function of the Alcaide do Mar (Sea Alcaide), the man that controlled the fleet. Most of the fortress had a small fleet for protection and to raid the Moors, in the sea (piracy) and near lands, as the moors did in the Peninsula.

Another function of interest is the Almacadém, usually a Mourisco (converted Moor) that scouted the near territories and served as a guide for the Portuguese forces in their constant raids outside the fortress.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,184
Sydney
that seems right for the coast North of Cape Bojador
South toward the Guinea fort such as Mina were private concern acting as slave storage
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,972
Portugal
that seems right for the coast North of Cape Bojador

South toward the Guinea fort such as Mina were private concern acting as slave storage
Yes, like I said the post is mostly for the Moroccan fortresses, even if analogies can be made.

But, since you mention Mina, and São Jorge da Mina is an iconic feitoria, the initial project there was not private, but made by the King, D. João II, and the initial main exportation of the feitoria were not slaves, but gold, hence the name "mina" (mine). Inclusively in the first centuries slaves could even be exported to there, for the local rulers, in exchange for the gold.

I don’t have data now, but if I am not mistaken the feitoria gained much more importance in the slave trade after the Dutch conquest in the first half of the 17th century. The Portuguese had other sources for the salves, and we know that the numbers of the Atlantic slave trade in the 16th century were quite “modest” compared with the numbers of the following centuries.

We should be careful with generalisations.