What were the reasons for the small number of enslaved Africans in the Caribbean before 1600?

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There were not many whites in the Caribbean to own slaves before 1600. The French and Spanish debated the morality of the African slave trade, but they also noted that poor whites died soon due to the intense work in the sugarcane fields and the prevalence of malaria, which Africans did not seem to get as often. One also has to consider that before 1600 the Spanish and French were the key players in the New World, and the Spanish were still trying to get the gold out of the North American continent. The English would not be major players until after 1600, though there would be considerable numbers of English pirates preying on the supplies of Spanish and French colonies in the Caribbean.

While slavery would be vital to the history of the Caribbean, it would not explode until the 1700s. During that time, many in Spain, France, and England would consider the Caribbean islands more productive than North America due to their sugarcane fields worked by slaves.

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A few different instances resulted in African slaves being brought over to the New World, including the Caribbean, in the 1500s. Most of the events that resulted in slaves being brought to the Caribbean only brought a few slaves at a time.

The first record of African slaves in the Caribbean occurred during Diego Cólon's time as the governor of the Spanish empire in the Caribbean. Cólon believed that Native American slaves were not hard workers, therefore he started the process of petitioning for African slaves to be shipped there. King Ferdinand of Spain allowed for the shipping of 50 African slaves to be sent to the Caribbean in 1510.

Throughout the course of the rest of the century, slaves were sent to places like the West Indies and Jamaica, to work in tobacco and sugar fields, but the slave trade did not increase to large numbers before 1600 because several countries, including France and even Spain, fiercely debated the legality and ethics of slave trade.

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