Swedish slave trade

Swedish slave trade

Swedish slave trade occurred in the early history of Sweden and resurfaced during the 17th century, around the time Swedish overseas colonies were established in North America (1638) and in Africa (1650). It remained legal until 1813.

Sweden had treaties with Portugal, England and The Netherlands 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 island 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 both Swedish and foreign vessels and the Swedish authorities 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. [Integrations- och jämställdhetsdepartementet. [http://www.manskligarattigheter.gov.se/dynamaster/file_archive/070910/3241aaf2c898772d425b10460427fb13/kommitt%e9direktiv.pdf Dir.2007:114] , Kommittédirektiv: Tilläggsdirektiv till Delegationen för mänskliga rättigheter i Sverige (Ju 2006:02), s. 2. In Swedish.]

Slavery was initially outlawed in 1335 by Magnus IV of Sweden for thralls "born by Christian parents" in Västergötland and Värend. [ [http://runeberg.org/nfcj/0106.html Träldom] . Nordisk familjebok / Uggleupplagan. 30. Tromsdalstind - Urakami /159-160, 1920. (In Swedish).] In 1847, slavery was abolished in all parts of Sweden, including the colonies, on the basis of a decision taken in 1846. [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.] Slavery was ruled in Saint-Barthélemy under the Ordinance concerning the Police of Slaves and free Coloured People" [ [http://www.c-l-a-s-h.info/la-legislation-sur-l-esclavage-a-st-barthelemy.html#4 Swedish «Black Code»] ] dated 30th july 1787, original [ [http://www.potomitan.info/senbart/code_noir.php «Code Noir» Suédois] ] in french dated 30th june 1787. The last legally owned slaves in the Swedish colony of Saint-Barthélemy were bought free by the state on October 9, 1847. [ [http://www.potomitan.info/senbart/abolition.php 9 octobre 1847 et Abolition de l’esclavage à Saint-Barthélemy] (In French).]

Viking and pre-Viking slavery

In pre-Viking times, as well as during the Viking period, Swedish tribes regularly made slaves of members of neighbouring tribes. Viking society was to a certain extent a stratified caste system. The Thralls, who according to Viking mythology were descended from a god of the same name, were at the bottom of the caste system. Thralls could be born into slavery, or become slaves by committing crimes. These conditions were common in Scandinavia and Danelaw-controlled England.

Swedish Vikings travelled east into Gardariki, and were known to have traded extensively in slaves. Slaves also came from Germanic, British and other northern European tribes, and were sometimes sold to Arab and Jewish traders,Fact|date=October 2007 who in turn traded them further afield. Slavery in Sweden was (temporarily) made illegal in 1337.

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 become 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

In 1771, Gustav III became the King of Sweden. He wanted Sweden to re-establish itself as a European power. Inspired by Denmark's large profits from its colonies in the West Indies, he planned to establish colonies of his own, which were a symbol of power and prestige at that time. In the year 1784 he went to the king of France and bought the West Indian island of Saint-Barthélemy.

On August 23rd, 1784, the king met with the Privy Council, and explained that Sweden now owned an island in the West Indies. This apparently came as a surprise for many of the council members. The first report concerning the island came from the Swedish general consul in the French town of L'Orient, Simon Bérard. 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 were no significant opportunities to start farming there because of the poor soil. The island's one desirable feature was a good harbor.

Bérard recommended that the island be made into a free trade area. At that time, France had trouble delivering all the slaves it needed to its colonies in the area because of rampant smuggling. 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. The Swedish king also knew that the leading slave trading nations in EuropeEngland, France, Portugal, Spain and Holland – made large amounts of money from it. Gustav III followed Bérard's recommendations and tried to make Saint Bartholomew into a center for slave trading.In the autumn of 1786 the Swedish West India Company was established on the island. The king told stockholders that they could expect big profits in the future. Anyone who could afford it was allowed to buy stocks, but the kings kept 10 percent of the stocks for himself, which made him the largest shareholder.

On October 31st of the same year, a privilege letter was made for the West India Trading 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 on Angola and the African coast, where such is permitted".

All profits of the West India Company were shared so that the king got one quarter and the Company three quarters, even though the king owned only 10 percent of the company. 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.

Anyone who sold direct imported slaves from Africa on Saint Bartholomew did not have to pay any fee: "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 would come to this island to buy slaves. People who came from other islands to buy their slaves on Saint Bartholomew had to pay a small duty when they exported slaves from the island. There was also a difference between a slave who had been taken to the New World on a Swedish ship and a slave who have been transported on a foreign one. The duty to export a Swedish-owned slave was only 50% of that of a "foreign".

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 added Guadeloupe to its Caribbean holdings.


In 1788, the English 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 England 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 England. Slave trade was outlawed in England in 1807, and in the United States in 1808, after which other countries started to follow suit. Sweden made 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. [Phillips, Mike. [http://www.movinghere.org.uk/galleries/histories/caribbean/origins/slavery1.htm# Slavery: Catalogue reference (PRO) FO 84/1310] . "Migration Histories: Caribbean. Origins." Moving Here, United Kingdom. Retrieved 29 November 2007.] 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 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. [Kent, James (1987). "Commentaries on American Law." 4 vols. New York, 1826-30. Online at [http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/a1_9_1s26.html The Founders' Constitution, Volume 3, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1, Document 26] . The University of Chicago Press, 1987. Retrieved 29 November 2007.]

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, against 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 England 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. [ [http://www.c-l-a-s-h.info/la-longue-agonie-des-archives-suedoises-de-st-barthelemy.html La longue agonie des archives suédoises de Saint-Barthélemy] (In French)] Nevertheless, a few datas, mostly concerning the former swedish island Saint-Barthélemy, are now available online [ [http://www.c-l-a-s-h.info/la-traite-negriere-a-st-barthelemy.html "Répertoire" des expéditions négrières: Saint-Barthélemy (Suède)] ] .

See also

* Swedish overseas colonies
* Saint-Barthélemy
* Slavery
* Triangle trade
* Slave Trade Act 1807


External links

* [http://www.c-l-a-s-h.info/comite-de-liaison-et-d-application-des-sources-historiques-menu.html Comité de Liaison et d'Application des Sources Historiques] (Saint-Barthélemy).
* McAlinden, Tom (2007). [http://networkeurope.radio.cz/feature/swedens-slave-trade Sweden’s slave trade] . Network Europe, Radio Broadcast, 30 March 2007.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Swedish overseas colonies — Sweden possessed overseas colonies from 1638 to 1663 and from 1784 to 1878.The former Swedish colonies in Africa were: *Swedish Gold Coast (1650 1663; lost to Denmark and the Dutch) Including the Cape Coast (1649 1663) consisting of the following …   Wikipedia

  • Slave rebellion — A slave rebellion is an armed uprising by slaves. Slave rebellions have occurred in nearly all societies that practice slavery, and are amongst the most feared events for slaveholders. Famous historic slave rebellions have been led by Denmark… …   Wikipedia

  • Slave Coast — the coast of W equatorial Africa, between the Benin and Volta rivers: a center of slavery traffic 16th 19th centuries. * * * ▪ region, West Africa       in 18th and 19th century history, the section of the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, in Africa,… …   Universalium

  • Slavery — Slave redirects here. For other uses, see Slave (disambiguation). Part of a series on …   Wikipedia

  • History of slavery — The history of slavery uncovers many different forms of human exploitation across many cultures throughout history. Slavery, generally defined, refers to the systematic exploitation of labor traced back to the earliest records, such as the Code… …   Wikipedia

  • Slavery in the colonial United States — The origins of slavery in the colonial United States are complex and there are several theories that have been proposed to explain the trade. Indentured servitudeSome historians, notably Edmund Morgan, have suggested that indentured servitude… …   Wikipedia

  • Traites négrières — Les traites négrières, également appelées traite des Nègres ou traite des Noirs, désignent des commerces d esclaves dont ont été victimes, par millions, les populations de l Afrique subsaharienne durant plusieurs siècles[1]. Pour la définir, il… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Pratique de l'esclavage par les Juifs — La pratique de l esclavage par les Juifs est autorisée par la halakha, la loi juive, sous certaines conditions restrictives et l on retrouve de fait au cours de l histoire des Juifs impliqués dans le commerce des esclaves ou possédant des… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Gustav III of Sweden — Infobox Swedish Royalty|monarch name = Gustav III title = King of Sweden caption = Gustav III painted in 1775 by Alexander Roslin. reign = 12 February 1771 – 29 March 1792 coronation = 29 May 1772 predecessor = Adolf Frederick successor = Gustav… …   Wikipedia

  • Esclavage — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Esclave. L esclavage est le système socio économique reposant sur le maintien et l exploitation de personnes dans la condition d esclaves. Ce terme qualifie également, et originellement cette condition autant… …   Wikipédia en Français

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”