Established in 1595, the Asiento de Negros was a monopoly trading contract awarded by the Spanish crown to supply its American colonies with a predetermined number of African slaves and other trading goods. The asiento was given to individuals, private join stock companies, or governments for a period of five to thirty years. Although access to Spanish colonial markets had long been viewed as the key to political and economic success in Atlantic commerce, the asiento contract also posed significant risks since taxes were calculated based on the terms specified in the agreement, rather than the number of enslaved people actually delivered. It was first granted to the British and signed on behalf of Queen Anne and Philip V in 1713 as part of the Treaty of Utrecht, a series of agreements between European powers concluding the War of Spanish Succession. Given the official character of the treaty, the Asiento was widely recognized as international law.
Responsibility for the conduct of the trade was eventually transferred to the South Sea Company (founded in 1711), which received its cargo of enslaved Africans from the Royal African Company. Like most asientas before, the South Sea Company struggled to fulfill its annual quota of 4,800 slaves, and ongoing hostilities between Spain and Britain in the early eighteenth century further undermined the Asiento trade. It did, however, precipitate and strengthen Britain’s involvement in the expanding transatlantic commerce in slaves, which mobilized capital and human migrations on an unprecedented scale.
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