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Slave prices, the African slave trade, and productivity in the Caribbean, 1674–1807

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  • DAVID ELTIS
  • FRANK D. LEWIS
  • DAVID RICHARDSON

Abstract

We draw wide‐ranging implications about slave productivity change by making use of newly collected data on the prices paid for nearly 230,000 slaves as they arrived in the Americas from Africa between 1674 and 1807. Prices for the product that most slaves were destined to produce‐sugar‐are also available. Together the comprehensive series allow us to derive annual measures of average slave productivity and to compare productivity trends across different sectors of the Caribbean. Average productivity rose throughout the Caribbean, and the pattern of average productivity change across regions was similar, indicating an open slave market. These averages mask sharp differences in the growth of demand for slaves among regions, as reflected by their slave populations. Between 1700 and 1790 the increase in demand ranged from 90 per cent in Barbados to 600 per cent in Jamaica and Cuba; while total factor productivity overall may have doubled. The slave trade accommodated the rising demand. It also served to offset population attrition among the slaves.

Suggested Citation

  • David Eltis & Frank D. Lewis & David Richardson, 2005. "Slave prices, the African slave trade, and productivity in the Caribbean, 1674–1807," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 58(4), pages 673-700, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:ehsrev:v:58:y:2005:i:4:p:673-700
    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.2005.00318.x
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Mancall, Peter C. & Rosenbloom, Joshua L. & Weiss, Thomas, 2001. "Slave Prices And The South Carolina Economy, 1722–1809," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 61(3), pages 616-639, September.
    2. J. R. Ward, 1978. "The Profitability of Sugar Planting in the British West Indies, 1650-1834," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 31(2), pages 197-213, May.
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    1. The Baptist Question Redux: Emancipation & Cotton Productivity
      by pseudoerasmus in Pseudoerasmus on 2015-11-05 19:46:39

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Willert, Bianca, 2018. "Masters and slaves: A matching approach with heterogeneous workers," Thuenen-Series of Applied Economic Theory 159, University of Rostock, Institute of Economics.
    2. Justin R. Bucciferro, 2017. "The economic geography of race in the New World: Brazil, 1500–2000," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 70(4), pages 1103-1130, November.
    3. Burnard, Trevor & Panza, Laura & Williamson, Jeffrey, 2019. "Living costs, real incomes and inequality in colonial Jamaica," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 71(C), pages 55-71.
    4. Michael Rauscher & Bianca Willert, 2019. "Slavery, Corruption, and Institutions," CESifo Working Paper Series 7944, CESifo.
    5. Ran Abramitzky & Leah Boustan, 2017. "Immigration in American Economic History," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 55(4), pages 1311-1345, December.
    6. Rauscher, Michael & Willert, Bianca, 2020. "Modern slavery, corruption, and hysteresis," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 64(C).
    7. Dalton, John T. & Leung, Tin Cheuk, 2015. "Dispersion and distortions in the trans-Atlantic slave trade," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(2), pages 412-425.
    8. Rauscher, Michael & Willert, Bianca, 2019. "Slavery, corruption, and institutions," Thuenen-Series of Applied Economic Theory 164, University of Rostock, Institute of Economics.
    9. Cherniwchan, Jevan & Moreno-Cruz, Juan, 2019. "Maize and precolonial Africa," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 136(C), pages 137-150.
    10. Angeles, Luis, 2012. "On the causes of the African Slave Trade," SIRE Discussion Papers 2012-91, Scottish Institute for Research in Economics (SIRE).
    11. Luis Angeles, 2013. "On the Causes of the A frican Slave Trade," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 66(1), pages 1-26, February.
    12. John T. Dalton & Tin Cheuk Leung, 2014. "Why Is Polygyny More Prevalent in Western Africa? An African Slave Trade Perspective," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 62(4), pages 599-632.
    13. Ron Rogowski, 2013. "Slavery: a dual-equilibrium model with some historical examples," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 155(3), pages 189-209, June.

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