Senegambia had been the main source of the Atlantic slave trade during
the mid-sixteenth century, but after 1640, it probably never
furnished more than 10 percent of the trade. Senegambia remained
an important source of the slaves brought to Louisiana throughout
the eighteenth century.
The slave trade to Louisiana was organized by the Company of
the Indies, a private company licensed by the king of France
that controlled, administered, and held an exclusive trade monopoly
in both Senegal and Louisiana during the years of the African
slave trade to the latter colony.
The Company of the Indies' Senegal concession stretched from
Arguin Island southward to Sierra Leone. Fort St. Louis,
the headquarters of the Company of the Indies in Africa, was
located on an island near the mouth of the Senegal
River. The island of Goree, near the present city
of Dakar, was the best port in the Senegal concession. It was
the main "warehouse" of the slave "merchandise."
Slaves were brought to Goree from all trading posts of
the Senegal concession to await ships departing for America.
presence was well established in Senegambia long before the
Africa slave trade to Louisiana began. French traders had asserted
their right to a monopoly of trade in Senegambia in 1664. French
trading posts had long been established at Goree, at St. Louis
at the mouth of the Senegal River, and far up the Senegal
River at Galam.
Between 1726 and 1731, almost all the slave-trade voyages organize
by the Company
of the Indies went to Louisiana. Thirteen slave ships landed
in louisiana during these years; all but one of
them left from Senegambia. Over half the slaves
brought to French Louisiana, 3,250 out of 5,987,
arrived from Senegambia during this five -year period.
The last ship, arriving in 1743, also came From Senagel
It is relevant, therefore, to look to Senegambia for the
African roots of Louisiana's Afro-Creole culture. During the
early eighteenth century, the Senegal Valley was described as
rich and productive: a huge area, well integrated,
with excellent soil made extremely fertile by the
flooding of the river. French observers compared it with
the Valley of the Nile. All the major crops of eighteenth-century
Louisiana were grown in this area . Rice was domesticated
independently along the middle Niger about 3,500 years ago,
well before the arrival of Asian rice. Corn was
The metalworkers were highly skilled and multitalented.
They were goldsmiths, silversmiths, armsmakers, blacksmiths,
horseshoemakers, and coppersmiths. "In a word,
they unite in one single person all the workers
who use hammer and anvil." They worked with
iron as wwell as with gold and silver. They made
knives, hatchets, axes, and blades for cutting iron
that, according to Labat, they tempered at least
as the Europeans could.
The metalworkers made sword handles and plaques
for decorating ovens, "and other similar things
which demonstrate their intelligence and their dexterity,
and they would be perfectly good workers if they
were taught and were a little less lazy." Most
of them drank no wine or liquor. They fasted for
Ramadan. They worked hard, their land was well cultivated,
they had an abundance of beef, sheep, goats,
and fowl, but kept no pigs.
|Portrait of "Calalou"
a young quadroon featured in love song.
They liked commerce
and long voyages. They loved and willingly helped each other
and never captured each other. The only captives among them
were those enslaved as punishment for a crime. They were
polite, fine, witty, and clairvoyant. Almost all of them could read
and write. They had public schools where the Marabout taught
the children to read and write the Arab language, and they
used the Arabic characters to write the Mandinga language.
According to Labat, all the women of Senegambia
worked hard. It was their job to thresh the
rice, the corn and the millet. They made the couscous
and the sanglet, prepared the food and the drinks,
spun the cotton, made the clothes, dyed the thread
and the cloth (pagnes), cultivated the tobacco
and the grains, cleaned the huts, cared for the
animals, collected the wood, and brought the water.
French men stationed at St. Louis were particularly
attracted to Wolof women because of their dark skin.
According to Labat, the Fulbe women did not have
the beautiful, lustrous black skin ( beau noir lustre)
of the Wolof women who lived south of the river.
"It is claimed that this results from their
alliances with the Moors, who imbued them with the reversies
of the Koran and at the same time, ruined their
beautiful black color by passing on to them
their brown color.
Bambara slaves were brought to Louisiana in large
numbers and played a preponderant role in the formation
of the colony's Afro- Creole culture. Both
Mandingo and Bambara were Mande peoples claiming
descent from Mali empire established by Sundiatta
during the thirteenth century, but there were strong
religious differences between them..
The Bambara played a special role in the Senegal concessions.
They were used
as domestics at the trading posts of St. Louis and Goreé
and at the forts of Galam and Arguin. The French used the Bambara
to man the boats they operated on the Senegal River
and as guides and interpreters. Bambara served as
reinforcements for detachments of Europeans troops, and Bambara
became a generic name for slave soldier . They were considered
brave and loyal, and skillful combatants. They had twice destroyed
Moroccan armies much larger than their own, using only bows,
arrows, and swords.
E.W. Kemble's 1885 portrait drawings of two black new