Slave Ship Provisioning in the Long 18th Century: A Boost to West African Commercial Agriculture?


To what extent did the 18th century intensification of the trans-Atlantic slave trade boost commercial agriculture in the coastal areas of West Africa? Exploring the provisioning strategies of 187 British, French, Dutch and Danish slave voyages conducted between 1681 and 1807, we call for a major downward adjustment of available estimates of the slave trade induced demand impulse. We show that during the 18th century, an increasing share of the foodstuffs required to feed African slaves were taken on board in Europe instead of West Africa. We also document considerable variation in provisioning strategies among slave trading nations and across main regions of slave embarkation. We explain these trends and variation in terms of the relative (seasonal) security of European versus African food supplies, the falling relative costs of European provisions and the increasing risks in the late 18th century trade, putting a premium on faster embarkation times.