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The Gun-Slave Cycle in the 18th Century British Slave Trade

Whatley, Warren (2014): The Gun-Slave Cycle in the 18th Century British Slave Trade.

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What explains the rapid and sustained growth in the trans-Atlantic slave trade during the 18th century? This paper addresses this question by investigating the 18th century British slave trade. I combine data from the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database and the Anglo-African Trade Statistics to build a time-series of annual observations on the British slave trade that spans the period 1699-1807. I find evidence in these data of a gun-slave cycle in the first half of the 18th century that produced large number of slaves for export. In the second half of the century British slave traders dumped excess gunpowder on Africa when it was not needed for military purposes. There is also evidence that British merchant-capital financed the expansion of African slaving between 1750 and 1789. There is little evidence in these data that slave exports responded to changes in the international price of slaves. These results support the British abolitionists’ claim that the international slave trade caused African wars rather than African wars causing the slave trade.

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