GLC 1st Annual International Conference

Domestic Passages: Internal Slave Trades in the Americas, 1808-1888

October 22-24, 1999
Yale University and Mystic Seaport

The papers delivered at the Domestic Passages conference are now available in a published volume: Walter Johnson, editor. The Chattel Principle: Internal Slave Trades in the Americas (Yale University Press, 2005).

Conference Papers (Abstracts)


We invite you to participate in the first annual Gilder Lehrman Center International Conference on the internal slave trades within Brazil, the British West Indies, and the United States South. The Conference will be held at Yale University and Mystic Seaport on October 22-24, 1999.

In recent years the Atlantic Slave trade—the infamous “Middle Passage”—has received extensive attention from scholars. However, far less is known about the internal movements of slaves within geographical and political units, even though the total volume of this trade involved millions of involuntary workers. Our Conference will seek to sketch the broad comparative outlines of this neglected phenomenon, as well as to acquaint scholars and students of slavery with the key issues and controversies specific to each geographic region.

The Conference will bring together specialists in the history of these three regions to explore common themes and contrasts in the migration of slaves, along with the demographic, economic, and political aspects of these internal slave trades. Two particular subjects we are concerned with are the impact of patterns of slave migration on the viability of the institution, and the response of abolitionists to such involuntary movements of labor. For example, British abolitionists succeeded in limiting the flow of slaves from the older Caribbean colonies to new frontier zones such as Trinidad and Guiana. Some American abolitionists contended that the Constitution allowed Congress to regulate or stop the interstate trade in slaves. Much public and scholarly attention has been given to the saga of the captured Africans of the schooner La Amistad, and the combined efforts of the black and white abolitionists who successfully argued for their freedom in U.S. courts. But though the U.S. Supreme Court maintained that the Amistad Africans had been wronged by an illegal external slave trade, from Sierra Leone to Cuba, the Spanish and Cuban governments argued that La Amistad had been engaged in a domestic or internal slave trade from Havana to Puerto Principe at the time of the revolt, and President Van Buren’s administration supported this claim.

In general, we are most interested in pursuing themes that cross boundaries of specializations, e.g., that are of importance to scholars of different geographical regions, and of different historical subspecialities—such as students of slavery and students of abolitionism; economic historians and legal or social historians.