Recently someone asked why we selected August 23rd as the day the project will remember the transatlantic slave trade and its abolition. I could be flippant and state that it’s arbitrary, any day would do since enslavement occurred 365 days/year, but that is not quite true. We have adopted that day because the international community selected it in honor of the abolition of slavery in the British colonies in 1833. The British were major slavers; their nation profited greatly from the atrocity and many in the forefront of this effort to establish this day were former British colonies. If it works for the world it certainly is good enough for us. The monumental effort it took to dismantle this particular system of exploitation and oppression cannot be easily dismissed.
There are, of course, other pivotal days that could have worked just as well within the frame of developing the transatlantic slave trade:
October 12, 1492 – “Discovery” of America by Italian Christopher Columbus for the Spanish empire. Africans made the voyage with him, but whether or not they were enslaved I do not know.
June 7, 1494 – The Treaty of Tordesillas granted Portugal the monopoly on west African coastal slave trading.
January 22, 1510 – King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella authorized shipment of 50 African slaves to Santo Domingo, Hispaniola
December 27, 1512 – Laws of Burgos were issued by King Ferdinand of Spain to begin the regulation of relations between native Americans and the Spanish which eventually led to the Asiento de Negros in 1538 granting the license to trade Africans for slave labor. The laws were repeatedly modified over the years but the initial action by King Ferdinand was based upon Bartolome de Las Casas’ seminal work A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies in which he reported what he had witnessed over the first 30 years of Spanish colonialism and he recommended that Africans be enslaved rather than the indigenous people. Las Casas later regretted that alternative and eventually became an opponent of all human slavery. By 1600 King Phillip III of Spain outlawed the use of native American slaves throughout the Spanish colonies.
April 2, 1513 – Ponce de Leon became the first European reported to reach the coast of North America (Florida).
April 18, 1518 – Charles V of Spain granted Flemish merchant, Laurens de Guemenot permission to import 4,000 Africans to Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico annually.
January 22, 1532 – Martin Afonso de Souza established the first Portuguese colony at Sao Vicente, Brazil. Sugar production started immediately with African slave labor.
April 11, 1713 – The Treaty of Ultrecht was signed by Spain and gave the British the asiento reducing the Dutch and Portuguese African slave trading monopoly and placing it in the hands of a nation fully committed, at all costs, to mercantilism.