|Hamburg’s and Central Europe’s Links with the Atlantic Slave Trade and Plantation Economies, 17th to 19th Centuries|
|In contrast with the widespread image of Germany as a country that was commercially backward in comparison with its Western neighbours, and hardly integrated with the Atlantic economy, German financiers and manufacturers were heavily involved with the development of the Atlantic plantation economy and with the slave trade. They not only oversaw slave ships under the Portuguese, French, Spanish, British or Danish flag, but also ran plantations in the respective colonial empires. Even more important for the development of Central European economies was the high proportion of their products among the commodities exchanged for slaves, since the earliest phases of the trade.
Many slavers leaving Europe had far more than half of their cargo made up of German textiles, brass and metal ware. Lower labour costs in central European proto-industrial regions provided a key advantage against western European competitors. Most of these goods were channelled through the ports of Hamburg and Altona. As German products were widely paid for with barter commodities such as sugar, coffee and tobacco, the same proto-industrial regions also became important markets for colonial goods. Again, Hamburg played a key role in receiving these products, in processing and redistributing them to Central and Eastern European markets. In the course of the 18th century, Hamburg became Northern Europe’s single most important place in sugar refining, due to the cheap labour, a steady supply of high quality English coal, and excellent commercial relation into the French Colonial Empire, the world’s foremost producer of sugar. By the 1740s, the Hanseatic City had left competitors such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam far behind. Hamburg merchants established in places like Bordeaux and London ensured that even during periods of crisis, e.g. the Seven Years War, the supply with Caribbean sugar never suffered.
Hamburg and its hinterland stimulated the plantation economy both by the input of manufactures and by the absorption of its products and thus formed one of its integral elements, hitherto neglected by most scholarly works on the economic effects of the slave trade.
(this paper is meant for the session “The Role of Hamburg in Early Modern World Economy”, organised by Prof Toshiaki Tamaki)|