Opening the transatlantic slave trade

Royal Charter of 1518

Two years after his accession to the throne, in 1518, Emperor Charles V began to grant private licenses to merchants for the importation of African slaves to the Indies. This charter marked the opening of the transatlantic slave trade.

Introduction

When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella authorized the importation of slaves on September 16, 1501, they initially sought to maintain strict control over the types of enslaved workers by restricting the slave trade to Christianized Africans from the peninsula. Though this royal decree was  initially intended to limit the exposure of indigenous populations to non-Christian religions, it set an important legal precedent, opening the doors to the African slave trade. The Spanish Crown also began to transport its own slaves to help mine gold in the Indies. Most bound laborers remained subject to private masters, however, and the number of Africans imported to Spanish America during these early years of settlement remained relatively small.

Once it became increasingly clear that the demand for African slaves greatly exceeded the available supply of legal slaves, however, restrictions on legal importations were increasingly seen as inadequate. Responding to the increasing pressure by colonists and colonial administrators, Charles V granted permission to traders to import slaves directly from West Africa. Issued to Lorenzo de Gorrevod on August 18, 1518, the charter allowed the shipment of 4,000 enslaved Africans, “both male and female, provided they be Christians,” effectively ending the requirement that slaves had to be born in territories under Christian control.

 

Further Reading
Citations

Elizabeth Donnan, Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1930), 41-2.

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Charter authorizing the importation of 4,000 black Africans to the West Indies

Charter granted by Emperor Charles V to Lorenzo de Gorrevod Our officials who reside in the city of Seville in our House of Trade of the Indies; Know ye that I have given permission, and by the present [instrument] do give it, to Lorenzo de Gorrevod, governor of Bresa, member of my Council, whereby he, or the person or persons who may have his authority therefore, may proceed to take to the Indies, the islands and the mainland of the ocean sea already discovered or to be discovered, four thousand negro slaves both male and female, provided that they be Christians, in whatever proportions he may choose. Until these are all taken and transported no other slaves, male or female, may be transported, except those whom I have given permission [to take] up to the present date. Therefore, I order you to allow and consent to the governor of Bresa aforesaid or the person or persons aforesaid who may have his said authority, should make any arrangements with traders or other persons to ship the said slaves, male or female, direct from the isles of Guinea and other regions from they are wont to bring the said negroes to these realms and to Portugal, or from any other region they please, even though they do not bring them to register in that house, they may do so provided that you take sufficient security that they bring you proof of how many they have taken to each island and that the said negroes male and female, have become Christians on reaching each island, and how they paid the customs duties there, in order that those taken be known and be not in excess of the aforesaid number.
 

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