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Swedish slave trade

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Swedish slave trade mainly occurred in the early history of Sweden when the trade of thralls (Old Norse: þræll) was one of the pillars of the Norse economy. During the raids, the Vikings often captured and enslaved militarily weaker peoples they encountered, but took the most slaves in raids of the British Isles, Ireland and Slavs in Eastern Europe. This practice lasted in the 6th through 11th centuries until formally abolished in 1335. A smaller trade of African slaves happened during the 17th and 18th centuries[1], around the time Swedish overseas colonies were established in North America (1638) and in Africa (1650). It remained legal until 1813.

The thralls from Western Europe were mainly Franks, Anglo-Saxons, and Celts. Many Irish slaves were used in expeditions for the colonization of Iceland.[2] The Norse also took Baltic, Slavic and Latin slaves. The Vikings kept some slaves as servants and sold most captives in the Byzantine or Islamic markets.[citation needed] The slave trade was one of the pillars of the Norse economy during the 6th through 11th centuries.[citation needed] The Persian traveler Ibn Rustah described how Swedish Vikings, the Varangians or Rus, terrorized and enslaved the Slavs taken in their raids along the Volga River.

Thralldom was outlawed in 1335 by Magnus IV of Sweden for thralls "born by Christian parents" in Västergötland and Värend, being the last parts where it had remained legal.[3] This however, was only applicable within the borders of Sweden, which opened up for later slave trade in the colonies.

Sweden had treaties with England[4][5] and France[6] concerning slave trade, with Swedish vessels involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Between 1784 and 1878, the country held minor colonies in the Caribbean. The Swedish colony of Saint Barthélemy functioned as a duty-free port and became a major center for the Caribbean slave trade. Slaves were brought in tax free by foreign vessels and the Swedish king made a profit by collecting an export tax when slaves were shipped out. Sweden was also a major supplier of iron chains used in the slave trade.[7]

In 1847, slavery was abolished in all parts of Sweden, including the colonies, on the basis of a decision taken in 1846.[8] Slavery was ruled in Saint-Barthélemy under the Ordinance concerning the Police of Slaves and free Coloured People[9] dated 30 July 1787, original[10] in French dated 30 June 1787. The last legally owned slaves in the Swedish colony of Saint-Barthélemy were bought free by the state on October 9, 1847.[11]

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  • ✪ The Atlantic Slave Trade: Crash Course World History #24
  • ✪ Economic History: The Viking Slave Trade
  • ✪ Viking Slaves | Stuff That I Find Interesting
  • ✪ Book Talk: A Swedish Slave in Morocco (Svensk Slav i Marocko) Barbary White Slavery
  • ✪ What if American Slavery Never Existed?


Hi, my name is John Green, This is Crash Course: World History, and today we’re going to talk about slavery. Slavery is not funny. n fact, it’s very near the top of the list of things that aren’t funny, so today’s episode is gonna be a little light on the jokes. But, I’m gonna help you understand what pre-Civil War Americans often euphemistically referred to as the “peculiar institution.” [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] Slavery is as old as civilization itself, although it’s not as old as humanity – thanks to our hunting and gathering foremothers. But the numbers involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade are truly staggering. From 1500 to 1880 CE, somewhere between 10 and 12 million African slaves were forcibly moved from Africa to the Americas. And about 15% of those people died during the journey. I know you’re saying, “That looks like a very nice ship, I mean my God it’s almost as big as South America.” Yeah, not to scale. And those who didn’t die became property, bought and sold like any commodity. Where Africans came from, and went to, changed over time, but in all, 48% of slaves went to the Caribbean and 41% to Brazil—although few Americans recognize this, relatively few slaves were imported to the U.S.—only about 5% of the total. It’s also worth noting that by the time Europeans started importing Africans into the Americas, Europe had a long history of trading slaves. The first real “European” slave trade began after the fourth Crusade in 1204. The Crusade that you will remember as the crazy one. [relatively speaking] Italian merchants imported thousands of Armenian, Circassian, and Georgian slaves to Italy. Most of them were women who worked as household servants, but many worked processing sugar. And sugar is, of course, a crop that African slaves later cultivated in the Caribbean. Camera 2 side note: None of primary crops grown by slaves, sugar, tobacco, coffee, is necessary to sustain human life. So in a way, slavery was a very early byproduct of a consumer culture that revolves around the purchase of goods that bring us pleasure but not sustenance. You are welcome to draw your own metaphorically resonant conclusions from this fact. One of the big misconceptions about slavery, at least when I was growing up, was that Europeans somehow captured Africans, put them in chains, stuck them on boats, and then took them to the Americas. The chains and ships bit is true, as is the America part if you define America as America and not as ‘Merica. But Africans were living in all kinds of conglomerations from small villages to city-states to empires, and they were much too powerful for the Europeans to just conquer. And, in fact, Europeans obtained African slaves by trading for them. Because trade is a two-way proposition, this meant that Africans were captured by other Africans and then traded to Europeans in exchange for goods, usually like metal tools, or fine textiles, or guns. And for those Africans, slaves were a form of property and a very valuable one. In many places, slaves were one of the only sources of private wealth because land was usually owned by the state. And this gets to a really important point: If we’re going to understand the tragedy of slavery, we need to understand the economics of it. We need to get inside what Mark Twain famously called a deformed conscience. We have to see slaves both as they were—as human beings—and as they were viewed—as an economic commodity. Right, so you probably know about the horrendous conditions aboard slave ships, which, at their largest could hold 400 people. But it’s worth underscoring that each slave had an average four square feet of space. That is four square feet. As one eyewitness testified before Parliament in 1791, “They had not so much room as a man in his coffin.” # [and I’m the jerk that gets claustrophobic in elevators] Once in the Americas, the surviving slaves were sold in a market very similar to the way cattle would be sold. After purchase, slave owners would often brand their new possession on the cheeks, again just as they would do with cattle. The lives of slaves were dominated by work and terror, but mostly work. Slaves did all types of work, from housework to skilled crafts work, and some even worked as sailors, but the majority of them worked as agricultural laborers. In the Caribbean and Brazil, most of them planted, harvested and processed sugar, working ten months out of the year, dawn until dusk. The worst part of this job, which was saying something because there were many bad parts, was fertilizing the sugar cane. This required slaves to carry 80 pound baskets of manure on their heads up and down hilly terrain. Mr. Green, Mr. Green. I think it’s time for a poop joke. No, I’m not, Me From the Past, because slavery isn’t funny. [like, at all] When it came time to harvest and process the cane, speed was incredibly important because once cut, sugar sap can go sour within a day. This meant that slaves would often work 48 hours straight during harvest time, working without sleep in the sweltering sugar press houses where the cane would be crushed in hand rollers and then boiled. Slaves often caught their hands in the rollers, and their overseers kept a hatchet on hand for amputations. I told you this wasn’t going to be funny. [anyone else reevaluating the hyperbolic vocab of modern oppression?] Given these appalling conditions, it’s little wonder that the average life expectancy for a Brazilian slave on a sugar plantation in the late 18th century was 23 years. Things were slightly better in British sugar colonies like Barbados, and in the U.S. living and working conditions were better still. So relatively good that in fact, slave populations began increasing naturally, meaning that more slaves were born than died. This may sound like a good thing, but it is of course it’s own kind of evil because it meant that slave owners were calculating that if they kept their slaves healthy enough, they would reproduce and then the slave owners could steal and sell their children. Or use them to work their land. Either way, blech. Anyway, this explains why even though the percentage of slaves imported from Africa to the United States was relatively small, slaves and other people of African descent, came to make up a significant portion of the US population. The brutality of working conditions in Brazil, on the other hand, meant that slaves were never able to increase their population naturally, hence the continued need to import slaves into Brazil until slavery ended in the 1880s. So, I noted earlier that slavery isn’t new. It’s also a hard word to define. Like, Stalin forced million to work in Gulags, but we don’t usually consider those people slaves. On the other hand, many slaves in history had lives of great power, wealth, and influence. Like remeber Zheng He, the world’s greatest admiral? He was technically a slave. So were many of the most important advisers to Sueleiman the Magnificent. So was Darth Vader. [still not over amputee hatchet] But, Atlantic World slavery was different, and more horrifying, because it was chattel slavery, a term historians use to indicate that the slaves were movable property. Oh, it’s time for the Open Letter? Ow. An Open Letter to the Word “Slave.” But first, let’s see what’s in the secret compartment today. Oh, it’s Boba Fett, noted owner of a ship called “Slave One.” And apparently a ballet dancer. Do do do do do do. [THE Stan, off camera] That’s a fine approximation of ballet music. Thank you, Stan. Alright, dear “slave,” as a word, you are overused. Like Britney Spears, I’m a slave number four letter U, no you’re not! Boba Fett’s ship, Slave One. A ship can’t be a slave. But more importantly, slave, you are constantly used in political rhetoric. And never correctly. There’s nothing new about this. Witness, for instance, all the early Americans claiming that paying the stamp tax would make them slaves. And that was in a time when they knew exactly what slavery looked like. Taxes, as I have mentioned before, can be very useful. I, for instance, like paved roads. But even if you don’t like a tax, it’s not slavery. [IT’S NOT SLAVERY.] Here, I have written for you a list of all the times it is okay to use the word “slave.” Oh, it is a one item long list. Best wishes, John Green. So what exactly makes slavery so horrendous? Well, definitions are slippery but I’m going to start with the definition of slavery proposed by sociologist Orlando Patterson: It is “the permanent, violent, and personal domination of natally alienated and generally dishonored persons.” According to this definition, a slave is removed from the culture, land, and society of his or her birth and suffers what Patterson called “social death.” Ultimately then, what makes slavery slavery is that slaves are de-humanized. The Latin word that gave us chattel also gave us cattle. In many ways, Atlantic slavery drew from a lot of previous models of slavery, and took everything that sucked about each of them and combined them into a big ball so that it would be the biggest possible ball of suck. [technical term] Stan, am I allowed to say “suck” on this show? Nice. Okay, to understand what I’m talking about, we need to look at some previous models of slavery. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble... The Greeks were among the first to consider “otherness” a characteristic of slaves. Most Greek slaves were “barbarians,” [bar bar bar barians?] and their inability to speak Greek kept them from talking back to their masters and also indicated their slave status. Aristotle, who despite being spectacularly wrong about almost everything was incredibly influential, believed some people were just naturally slaves, saying: “it is clear that there are certain people who are free and certain people who are slaves by nature, and it is both to their advantage, and just, for them to be slaves.” This idea, despite being totally insane, remained popular for millennia. The Greeks popularized the idea that slaves should be traded from far away, but the Romans took it to another level. Slaves probably made up 30% of the total Roman population, similar to the percentage of slaves in America at slavery’s height. The Romans also invented the plantation, using mass numbers of slaves to work the land on giant farms called latifundia. So called because they were not fun...dia. [too soon!!!!] The Judeo-Christian world contributed as well, and while we are not going to venture into the incredibly complicated role that slavery plays in the Bible because I vividly remember the comments section from the Christianity episode, the Bible was widely used to justify slavery and in particular the enslavement of Africans, because of the moment in Genesis when Noah curses Ham, saying: “Cursed be Canaan; / The lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” This encapsulates two ideas vital to Atlantic slavery: 1. That slavery can be a hereditary status passed down through generations, and 2. That slavery is the result of human sin. Both ideas serve as powerful justifications for holding an entire race in bondage. Thanks, Thought Bubble. But there were even more contributors to the idea that led to Atlantic slavery. For instance, Muslim Arabs were the first to import large numbers of Bantu-speaking Africans into their territory as slaves. The Muslims called these Africans zanj, and they were a distinct and despised group, distinguished from other North Africans by the color of their skin. The zanj in territory held by the Abbasids staged one of the first big slave revolts in 869 CE. And it may be that this revolt was so devastating that it convinced the Abbasids that large-scale plantation style agriculture on the Roman model just wasn’t worth it. But by then, they’d connected the Aristotilian idea that some people are just naturally slaves with the appearance of sub-Saharan Africans. The Spanish and the Portuguese, you no doubt remember, were the Europeans with the closest ties to the Muslim world, because there were Muslims living in the Iberian Peninsula until 1492. So it makes sense that Iberians would be the first to absorb these racist attitude toward blacks. And as the first colonizers of the Americas and the dominant importers of slaves, the Portuguese and the Spanish helped define the attitudes that characterized Atlantic slavery, beliefs they’d inherited from a complicated nexus of all the slaveholders who came before them. In short, Atlantic Slavery was a monstrous tragedy— but it was a tragedy in which the whole world participated. And it was the culmination of millennia of imagining the “Other” as inherently Lesser. It’s tempting to pin all the blame for Atlantic slavery on one particular group, but to blame one group is to exonerate all the others, and by extension ourselves. The truth that we must grapple with is that a vast array of our ancestors— including those we think of as ours, whoever they may be— believed that it was possible for their fellow human beings to be mere property. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan Muller, our script supervisor is Danica Johnson. The show is written by my high school history teacher Raoul Meyer and myself. Our graphics team is ThoughtBubble, Last week’s Phrase of the Week was: "Cinnamon Challenge" I hate you for that, by the way. [seriously, grody to the max] If you want to suggest future phrases of the week you can do so in comments where you can also guess at this week's Phrase of the Week or ask questions of our team of historians. Thanks for watching. and as we say in my hometown, Don’t forget…ah, forget it. I got nothing. [this one's a heaping helping of heavy]


Trading Stations in Africa

In 1650, Sweden established trading stations along the West African coast, with bases in an area called the Swedish Gold Coast which was later a part of the West African Gold Coast, and which is today part of Ghana. Sweden and Denmark were competing for positions as regional powers during this period, and the Danes followed the Swedes to Africa, setting up stations a couple of years later. In 1663, the Swedish Gold Coast was taken over by the Danish colonial power and became part of the Danish Gold Coast. There is no historical documentation that shows that slaves were ever traded in the trading stations during their 13-year Swedish possession, rather it is assumed to be the case.

Swedish trading stations reappeared in the 18th century, when Sweden established a colonial presence in the Caribbean.

Slave trade under King Gustav III

Gustavia harbor, Saint-Barthélemy, present day
Gustavia harbor, Saint-Barthélemy, present day
Seal of the governor of the Swedish colony, 1784-1877.

In 1771, Gustav III became the King of Sweden. He wanted Sweden to re-establish itself as a European "Great Power". Overseas colonies were a symbol of power and prestige at that time, so he decided to acquire colonies for Sweden. Denmark received large revenues from its colonies in the West Indies, so in 1784, Gustav acquired the West Indian island of Saint-Barthélemy from France.

On August 23, 1784, the king informed the Privy Council that Sweden now owned an island in the West Indies. This apparently came as a surprise for many of the Councilors. The first report concerning the island came from Simon Bérard, Swedish consul-general in L'Orient, the only town. He reported that:

It (Saint-Barthélemy) is a very insignificant island, without strategic position. It is very poor and dry, with a very small population. Only salt and cotton is produced there. A large part of the island is made up of sterile rocks. The island has no sweet water; all the wells on the island give only brackish water. Water has to be imported from neighbouring islands. There are no roads anywhere.

According to Bérard, there was no possibility of agriculture because of the poor soil. The island's one desirable feature was a good harbor.

Bérard recommended that the island be made a free port. At that time, France had trouble providing sufficient slaves to its colonies in the area. Sweden could try to export a certain number of slaves to the French colonies in the area each year.

If Saint-Barthélemy was a success, Sweden could later expand its colonial empire to more islands in the area. Gustav also knew that the leading slave trading nations in Europe made large amounts of money from it.

Saint Barthélemy – NASA NLT Landsat 7 satellite photo
Saint Barthélemy – NASA NLT Landsat 7 satellite photo

In the autumn of 1786, the Swedish West India Company was established on the island. Gustav told investors that they could expect big profits in the future. Anyone who could afford it was allowed to buy shares, but Gustav kept 10 percent of the shares for himself, which made him the largest shareholder. The king received one quarter of all profits of the Company and the other shareholders three quarters, even though the king owned only 10 percent of the Company.

On October 31 of the same year, a privilege letter was made for the West India Company. The Company was granted the right to trade slaves between Africa and the West Indies. Paragraph 14 in the letter states: "The Company is free to operate slave trade in Angola and the African coast, where such is permitted."

On March 12, 1790, a new custom tax and constitution were introduced to the island. Both were designed to make Saint-Barthélemy into a haven for slave traders. The new laws gave astonishing opportunities for traders from all over the world.

There was no duty on slaves imported from Africa to Saint-Barthélemy: Free import of slaves and trade with black slaves or so called new Negroes from Africa is granted to all nations without having to pay any charge at the unload.

People from all over the Caribbean came to buy slaves. The government charged a small export duty on slaves sold from Saint-Barthélemy to other colonies. This duty was halved for slaves imported from Africa on Swedish ships, generating increased profits for the West India Company and other Swedish traders.

The new constitution stated: Freedom for all on Saint Bartholomew living and arriving to arm and send out ships and shipments to Africa to buy slaves on the places thus is permitted for all nations. That way a new branch for the Swedish trade in Africa and the Coast of Guinea should arise.

In 1813, Sweden was awarded control of Guadeloupe, a nearby French colony temporarily under British occupation. In 1814, though, with the fall of Napoleon, Sweden gave the island back to France.


In 1788, the British Committee for the Abolition of Slavery sent a Swedish opponent of the slave trade, Anders Sparrman, to Gustav III. The committee feared that other nations would expand their trade if Britain stopped its own. They sent books about the issue and a letter, in which the king was encouraged to hinder his subjects to participate in this disgraceful trade. In the response letter, delivered through Sparrman, he wrote that no one in the country had participated in the slave trade and that he would do all that he could to keep them from doing so.

During the early 19th century, movements against slavery became stronger, especially in Britain. Slave trade was outlawed in Britain in 1807, and in the United States in 1808, after which other countries started to follow suit. Sweden made the slave trade illegal in 1813, but allowed slavery until October 9, 1847.

During the 19th century, the British Admiralty patrolled the African coast to catch illegal slave traders.[12] The Swedish vessel Diana was intercepted by the British authorities close to the coast of Africa while engaged in carrying slaves from Africa to Saint Bartholomew during this period. The case was taken to court in order to test if the slave trade could be considered contrary to the general law of nations. However, the vessel was returned to the Swedish owners on the ground that Sweden had not prohibited the trade and tolerated it in practice.[13]

Once the slave trade became a hot issue, the Swedish government abandoned the slave trade in the Caribbean, but did not initially outlaw slavery. The West Indian colonies became financial burdens. The island of Guadeloupe was returned to France in 1814, in return for a compensation in the sum of 24 million francs. A Guadeloupe Fund was established in Sweden for the benefit of the Swedish Crown Prince and Regent Charles XIV John of Sweden, born Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, a French national and former Marshal of France under Napoleon I. He and his heirs were paid 300,000 riksdaler per year up until 1983 in compensation for their loss of prestige in France when Sweden joined Britain against France in the Napoleonic War. In Saint Bartholomew, the Swedish government bought the remaining slaves to give them freedom. According to Herman Lindqvist in Aftonbladet (8 October 2006), 523 slaves were bought free for 80 riksdaler per slave.

Exactly how many slaves were brought to the New World on Swedish ships is yet impossible to know, since most of the archives documents have not been investigated seriously in that respect, and many of them are by now not accessible because of their bad preservation and non microfilming.[14] Nevertheless, some data, mostly concerning the former Swedish island Saint-Barthélemy, is now available online.[15]

Further reading

  • Göran Skytte Det kungliga svenska slaveriet (The Royal Swedish Slave Trade) ISBN 91-7684-096-4 Stockholm : Askelin & Hägglund, 1986 157 pp.(Swedish)
  • Jan-Öjvind Swahn, Ola Jennersten Swahn, Saint-Barthélemy: Sveriges sista koloni (Saint-Barthélemy : Sweden's Last Colony) ISBN 91-7024-178-3 Höganäs : Wiken, 1985 155 pp. (Swedish)
  • Per Tingbrand Vem var vem på Saint-Barthélemy under den svenska tiden? (Who was who in Saint-Barthélemy During the Swedish Epoch?) S:t Barthélemy-sällskapet (pub) (The St. Barthélemy Society (pub). (Swedish)

See also


  1. ^ Harrison, Dick (2007). Slaveri - en världshistoria om ofrihet: 1500-1800. Historiska media. (In Swedish).
  2. ^ See Iceland History
  3. ^ Träldom. Nordisk familjebok / Uggleupplagan. 30. Tromsdalstind - Urakami /159-160, 1920. (In Swedish).
  4. ^ Traité d'Alliance Entre Sa Majesté Le Roi de Suède et Sa Majesté Le Roi du Royaume Uni de la Grande Bretagne et de l'Irlande (1813). [Source: 'Mémoire St Barth', Saint-Barthélemy. URL :]. (in french)
  5. ^ Traité, Pour la répression de la Traite des Noirs, entre Sa Majesté le Roi de Suède et de Norvège d'une part, et Sa Majesté le Roi du Royaume uni de la Grande Bretagne et de l'Irlande de l'autre (1824). [Source: 'Mémoire St Barth', Saint-Barthélemy. URL :]. (in french)
  6. ^ Traité pour la répression de la Traite des Noirs entre Sa Majesté le Roi de Suède et de Norvège et Sa Majesté le Roi des Français (1836). [Source: 'Mémoire St Barth', Saint-Barthélemy. URL :]. (in french)
  7. ^ Integrations- och jämställdhetsdepartementet. Dir.2007:114, Kommittédirektiv: Tilläggsdirektiv till Delegationen för mänskliga rättigheter i Sverige (Ju 2006:02), s. 2. In Swedish.
  8. ^ Cobb, Thomas Read Rootes. An Inquiry Into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America To which is Prefixed An Historical Sketch of Slavery, 1858. Page cxcii.
  9. ^ Ordinance concerning the Police of Slaves and free Coloured People (Swedish «Black Code»). Source: 'Comité de Liaison et d'Application des Sources Historiques', Saint-Barthélemy.
  10. ^ Le « Code Noir » suédois de Saint-Barthélemy. Source: 'Comité de Liaison et d'Application des Sources Historiques', Saint-Barthélemy.
  11. ^ L'abolition de l'esclavage à Saint-Barthélemy : jusqu'au 9 octobre 1847. Source: 'Comité de Liaison et d'Application des Sources Historiques', Saint-Barthélemy. (In French).
  12. ^ Phillips, Mike. Slavery: Catalogue reference (PRO) FO 84/1310. Migration Histories: Caribbean. Origins. Moving Here, United Kingdom. Retrieved 29 November 2007.
  13. ^ Kent, James (1987). Commentaries on American Law. 4 vols. New York, 1826-30. Online at The Founders' Constitution, Volume 3, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1, Document 26. The University of Chicago Press, 1987. Retrieved 29 November 2007.
  14. ^ Mémoire St Barth : La longue agonie des archives suédoises de Saint-Barthélemy (In French)
  15. ^ Mémoire St Barth : "Répertoire" des expéditions négrières Saint-Barthélemy (Suède)

External links

This page was last edited on 22 August 2019, at 13:46
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