How does Equiano's narrative compare to Inikori's thesis on the Atlantic Slave Trade's impact on European economic growth?

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If you have read Olaudah Equiano's (a.k.a., Gustavus Vassa) narrative, you know that he and his sister (who were later separated) were kidnapped by fellow Africans from their family home, in what is now Eastern Nigeria, driven to the western coast, and transported to Barbados.

According to historian Alan Taylor, "the West Indies became the great magnet for transatlantic migration," and Barbados was especially popular because of its landscape, climate, location, and its plentiful population of pigs which served as the meat supply for mariners. Also, the native Carib population was virtually non-existent by the 1600s, making it possible for the English to set up without resistance.

Early settlers failed to cultivate sugar, focusing instead on tobacco. When that crop proved to be unprofitable, they tried sugar again. However, sugar cultivation was expensive, requiring "costly equipment, precise timing, [and] technical knowledge." Fortunately for them, wealthy Dutch traders were able to help. In Amsterdam, the Dutch had developed the best sugar refineries in all of Europe, and they had learned the secrets of sugar cultivation from the Portuguese. 

However, sugar cultivation was dangerous and monotonous work. Cut sugar cane spoiled quickly if it was not processed. Moreover, "harvesting, milling, and boiling required close synchronization and quick work." A large work force would be needed -- particularly a work force that could labor on in tropical conditions. By the 1650s, political leaders in England began to question the righteousness of inflicting "plantation servitude upon white men," even those who had prisoners. White men who performed the labor also had great difficulty handling the climate; and some succumbed to disease. These circumstances led to the Atlantic Slave Trade.

It is important to note that Africans were not much hardier, initially. Planters brought 130,000 Africans into Barbados between 1640 and 1700, but only 50,000 survived until 1700. Some died on the voyage to the New World; others succumbed to tropical diseases, the brutality of the work regimen, inadequate diet, and cruelty. 

Enough slaves remained, however, to make the planters very wealthy. In 1668-69, sugar crops from the West Indies sold for about 180,000 pounds after paying 18,000 pounds in taxes. Chesapeake tobacco planters, on the other hand, paid far more in taxes. Sugar planters became wealthy because they could keep much of what they earned. Such wealth would have allowed planters to purchase land in England or elsewhere; to invest in new businesses and industries; and to help establish new institutions at home and in the New World.

Equiano was not deemed "saleable" at a slave market in Barbados (thankfully, for him and for us, as he may have died on the island). So, he was shipped north to Virginia, which was the base of the tobacco trade. He arrives in Virginia in the 1750s. By this time, European demand for tobacco had improved, causing the price to go up. Also, the tax burden had been diminished, allowing tobacco planters to become wealthy.

Virginia planters, because they were generally better educated than their peers, built a reputation for being "gentlemanly." They built great brick mansions, dressed handsomely, and associated with members of the upper-class in both the New and Old Worlds. 

This presumed sophistication is alluded to in Chapter Three of the narrative. Equiano is summoned into the room where his master is napping. There, he is to fan "the gentleman" while he sleeps. While doing so, Equiano indulges himself in looking around the room, "which to [him] appeared very fine and curious." He notices a watch that hung on the chimney. He observes a picture (a portrait, it seems), "which appeared constantly to look at me." Equiano is miserable in this house, where he has no one to talk to (the same passage mentions a slave woman, cooking in the kitchen, while an iron muzzle covers her face). He is thankful to be purchased by a naval captain and taken to England. He arrives in the spring of 1757, at the age of 12.

By the 1750s, England is in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. The textile mills of London were supplied with cotton from the colonies, soon to become the United States. After the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, cotton cultivation would expand westward into what are now Alabama, Mississippi, and eastern Texas. Sugar, as well as cotton, would be cultivated in Louisiana. 

While in England, Olaudah Equiano took up with British abolitionists, including the co-founder of Sierra Leone, Granville Sharpe, to end the slave trade. The trade was abolished with the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which was enacted ten years after Equiano's death. The United States ended the importation of slaves in the same year. England would abolish slavery altogether in 1833. Nevertheless, both America and England continued to profit from the perpetuation of slavery in the American South until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. 

Without the existence of slavery in the West Indies and the United States, the textile industry would not have been nearly as profitable as it was. The profits from industries that employed slaves funded a number of other endeavors, including the construction of American universities. Brown University and the University of Virginia are significant examples. 

Though slavery ended in the New World, the demand for cheap labor did not. Historian Sven Beckert, in his book, "Empire of Cotton: A Global History," argued that the end of slavery in America, coupled with the persistent need to exploit labor for industrial gains, likely inspired European colonialism in Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

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