Printable Version

A Critique of the Slave Trade
Digital History ID 53

Author:   Fray Tomas de Mercado


Las Casas was not alone in recognizing the evils of slavery. In this selection, another Spanish cleric, Fray Tomas Mercado (d. 1575?), argues that the slave trade was the product of deception, robbery, and violence.

The European colonization of the New World brought three disparate geographical areas together: the Americas, western Europe, and western Africa. Some of the consequences of this inter-cultural contact are well-known, such as the introduction of horses, pigs, and cattle into the New World, and the transfer of potatoes, beans, and tomatoes to Europe. But other consequences of the Columbian exchange are less noted. As a result of the Atlantic slave trade, such New World food crops as cassava, sweet potatoes, squash, and peanuts were carried to Africa, sharply stimulating African population growth and therefore increasing the population in ways that helped make the slave trade possible.


It is public opinion and knowledge that no end of deception is practiced and a thousand acts of robbery and violence are committed in the course of bartering and carrying off Negroes from their country and bringing them to the Indies and to Spain.... Since the Portuguese and Spaniards pay so much for a Negro, they go out to hunt one another without the pretext of a war, as if they were deer; even the very Ethiopians, who are different, being induced to do so by the profit derived. They make war on one another, their gain being the capture of their own people, and they go after one another in the forests where they usually hunt.... In this way, and contrary to all justice, a very great number of prisoners are taken. And no one is horrified that these people are ill-treating and selling one another, because they are considered uncivilized and savage. In addition to the pretext, of parents selling their children as a last resort, there is the bestial practice of selling them without any necessity to do so, and very often through anger or passion, for some displeasure or disrespect they have shown them.... The wretched children are taken to the market place for sale, and as the traffic in Negroes is so great, there are Portuguese, or even Negroes themselves, ready everywhere to buy them. There are also among them traders in this bestial and brutal business, who set boundaries in the interior for the natives and carry them off for sale at a higher price on the coasts or in the islands. I have seen many acquired in this way. Apart from these acts of injustice and robberies committed among themselves, there are thousands of other forms of deception practiced in those parts by the Spaniards to trick and carry off the Negroes finally as newly imported slaves, which they are in fact, to the ports, with a few bonnets, gewgaws, beads and bits of paper under which they give them. They put them aboard the ships under false pretenses, hoist anchor, set sail, and make off towards the high seas with their booty.... I know a man who recently sailed to one of those Islands and, with less than four thousand ducats for ransom, carried off four hundred Negroes without license or registration.... They embark four and five hundred of them in a boat which, sometimes, is not a cargo boat. The very stench is enough to kill most of them, and, indeed, very many die. The wonder is that twenty percent of them are not lost.

Source: J.A. Saco, Historia de la Escalvitud de la Raza Africana, Tomo II, pp. 80-82.

Copyright 2021 Digital History