Slavery in European colonies

François-Auguste Biard (1799–1882), Proclamation of the Abolition of Slavery in the French Colonies, 27 April 1848. Oil on canvas, 1849. Château de Versailles.


The slave economy shifted at the end of the Middle Ages from the Mediterranean toward the Atlantic. Sugar plantations first appeared on the islands off the coast of Africa, and then on the islands of the Caribbean (where they would reach their peak during the eighteenth century, notably in Santo Domingo), as well as in Brazil. Other slave economies developed at the same time in the Americas, in accordance with successive cycles (coffee in Brazil, cotton in the United States, etc.). The plantation gave rise to an unequal and compartmentalized society, in which hierarchies linked to the race barrier did not prevent a certain malleability. The slave economy was a striking mix of early modern and archaic characteristics.