A Portuguese Feitoria (Factory)
Updated: Jan 25
Long before the first African slave was brought to the Caribbean, slavery had been a part of the trade system in the Atlantic world. The first European traders who bought and sold West African slaves were the Portuguese.
The Portuguese had been sailing along the West African coast during the mid-fifteenth century. As they explored further and further along the coast, they soon realized that attacking villages to force Africans to trade with them was not going to be very successful. Africans may not have had the sailing ships or the technology to launch open sea voyages as the Portuguese did, but in the fifteenth century they were definitely able to defend their coastlines from Portuguese raiders.
So instead of raiding, the Portuguese settled on trading. In order to make trading easier, Europeans built Factories - also called Castles - along the West African coast. The Portuguese built some of the first of these along an area that came to be known as the Gold Coast [around the area of modern-day Ghana]. Here Africans and Europeans could discuss trade, goods could actually be exchanged, and ships could load their cargoes to begin the journey to the next stage on the trading route – usually the Caribbean.
African men, women, and even children who were captured or sold into slavery were held here while the details of their purchase were hashed out. Then they were loaded onto ships just as if they were pieces of goods rather than people.
While the Portuguese were the first to establish these permanent factories, other European countries eager to take advantage of the trading opportunities soon built their own trading sites. One of these was the British Cape Coast Castle. At Cape Coast Castle, which was the main headquarters for British trading activity in Africa there was a governor in residence, soldiers to make sure the people who lived there were safe, and livestock animals so there would be food to eat.
Communities of African suppliers settled around the Castle and provided everything from canoes to ferry goods out to the ships anchored away from the crashing surf, to wives for the Europeans who lived there. Many of these factories and castles remained active until the 19th century when one-by-one European countries began to push to end the trading of Africans into slavery.
The image of the map came from Wikipedia – University of Florida George A. Smathers library – A 1729 map showing the Slave Coast