Slavery and Slave trade, Portuguese

   The Portuguese role in the Atlantic slave trade (ca. 1500-1850), next to Portugal's motives for empire and the nature of her colonial rule, remains one of the most controversial historical questions. The institution of slavery was conventional in Roman and Visigothic Portugal, and the Catholic Church sanctioned it. The origins of an international traffic in enslaved African captives in the Atlantic are usually dated to after the year 1411, when the first black African slaves were brought to Portugal (Lagos) and sold, but there were activities a century earlier that indicated the beginnings. In the 1340s, under King Afonso IV, Portuguese had captured native islanders on voyages to the Canary Islands and later used them as slave labor in the sugar plantations of Madeira. After 1500, and especially after the 1550s, when African slave-worked plantations became established in Brazil and other American colonies, the Atlantic slave trade became a vast international enterprise in which Portugal played a key role. But all the European maritime powers were involved in the slave trade from 1500 to 1800, including Great Britain, France, and Holland, those countries that eventually pressured Portugal to cease the slave trade in its empire.
   No one knows the actual numbers of Africans enslaved in the nefarious business, but it is clear that millions of persons during more than three-and-a-half centuries were forcibly stolen from African societies and that the survivors of the terrible slave voyages helped build the economies of the Americas. Portugal's role in the trade was as controversial as its impact on Portuguese society. Comparatively large numbers of African slaves resided in Portugal, although the precise number remains a mystery; by the last quarter of the 18th century, when the prime minister of King José I, the Marquis of Pombal abolished slavery in Portugal, the African racial element had been largely absorbed in Portuguese society.
   Great Portuguese fortunes were built on the African slave trade in Portugal, Brazil, and Angola, and the slave trade continued in the Portuguese empire until the 1850s and 1860s. The Angolan slave trade across the Atlantic was doomed after Brazil banned the import of slaves in 1850, under great pressure from Britain. As for slavery in Portugal's African empire, various forms of this institution, including forced labor, continued in Angola and Mozambique until the early 1960s. A curious vestige of the Portuguese role in the African slave trade over the centuries is found in the family name, appearing in Lisbon telephone books, of Negreiro, which means literally, "One who trades in (African) Negro slaves."

Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. . 2014.

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