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Where the Negroes Are Masters: An African Port in the Era of the Slave Trade Hardcover – January 6, 2014

4.3 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


If you want to know how the slave trade worked on Africa's west coast, there is no better starting point than Randy Sparks's brilliant urban biography of the Gold Coast port of Annamaboe. It elevates our understanding of the Atlantic in the age of the transatlantic slave trade to new heights. (Ira Berlin, author of Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America)

Randy Sparks takes what might appear to be a minor port on the Gold Coast and gives us a history of the whole Atlantic Basin, through the history of one carefully defined branch of the slave trade. He shows us how multiple actors from different cultures speaking a number of different languages managed to cooperate, argue, compete, and finally succeed in knitting a transatlantic community together. This is a masterpiece of turning micro-history, with its fine detail, into mega-history of the first magnitude.
(John Thornton, author of A Cultural History of the Atlantic World, 1250–1820)

This well-written and altogether gripping story is Atlantic history at its best. Randy Sparks demonstrates the complexity of enslavement itself, examining the multiple processes by which persons came to be construed as property, both on the coast of Africa and in the Atlantic trade.
(Rebecca J. Scott, co-author of Freedom Papers: An Atlantic Odyssey in the Age of Emancipation)

Randy Sparks's well-illustrated study of this Gold Coast port expands and deepens our understanding of African middlemen's importance in the Atlantic economy before 1800 and of the operations of the transatlantic slave trade.
(David Northrup, author of Africa’s Discovery of Europe, 1450–1850)

This persuasive, well-researched study of the 18th-century Atlantic slave trade takes the unique approach of examining ‘the African merchant elites who facilitated that trade,’ who, according to Tulane University history professor Sparks, ‘were as essential to the Atlantic economy as the merchants of Liverpool, Nantes, or Middleburg.’ That premise may be somewhat surprising, if not outright provocative, but he delivers proof. (Publishers Weekly 2013-10-28)

Africans entered the trans-Atlantic slave trade as more than cargo; many operated as wily merchants integral to the far-reaching Atlantic commerce that began with European contact and the search for gold in the 1430s and shifted to traffic in humans…Unveiling African merchant elites functioning as cultural brokers, literate in English and traveled in Europe and the Americas, and operating as major forces responding to 18th-century market opportunities, Sparks expands our understanding of the Atlantic connections of West Africa’s coastal trading communities. (Thomas J. Davis Library Journal (starred review) 2013-12-15)

Where the Negroes Are Masters is a pathfinding work that surely will have great influence on our understanding of ‘the largest forced migration in history.’ Sparks is a diligent researcher who shows the many ways in which the Fante leadership entrenched its position in the trade…An interesting and important book. (Jonathan Yardley Washington Post 2014-01-31)

Carefully researched, completely engaging…Sparks recounts a story that is so telling, and so profound in its implications, that it should be explored in every school in the land--and used as a touchstone for a new way of describing the birth of America. (Marc Aronson School Library Journal 2014-05-08)

About the Author

Randy J. Sparks is Professor of History at Tulane University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (January 6, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674724879
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674724877
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #848,866 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A typical "blame reassignment" game of a book. 1.) Much of Africa (including Ghana) was colonized. Ghana was colonized in 1821, the majority of African chiefs were forced to participate in slavery. 2.) Being sold is where the comparison STOPS, everything else that happened after this is all on Whites. It isn't that we were sold, it's what happened afterwards, but true to White people's need to redirect blame, this is what we get, a book like this.

there is truth and there is White people's 'truth"... sensationalism and false equivalence. I'm just going to point out some real info, regardless of this pathetic book, this was rough draft write up and I have not had the time to rework it, but it will do:

From a historical standpoint, there is no ancient recorded history of African slavery, comparable to what slavery truly is. (SLAVic enslavement) Indentured servants are not property. They are workers paying off a debt. Slaves have *no* rights, in African servitude you did.

African servitude is different from slavery. While there were instances where you could be bartered or captured because of a crime (form of imprisonment); it wasn't slavery. As slavery was and is a European concept and practice, it's where we get the word and practice from. ''Slavery simplistically, is the LEGAL and STATE use of a people to build an economy through multiple generations of BORN SLAVE status where people have few to no rights/freedoms; that is not African servitude and we need to begin to look at it from an *African* one and not a *European* one, the two are different and are NOT interchangeable.''''

People have actively sought to put the Maafa (transatlantic) and African “slavery” on the same level.
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Format: Hardcover
Where the Negroes are Masters is a close-up, narrative account of the port of Annamaboe, in modern-day Ghana, during the eighteenth century. Sparks focuses on two of the town's most prominent residents, John Corrantee, a political leader and businessman, and Richard Brew, a slave trader and official of the Royal African Company, to illustrate the texture of trade and local politics in the community. An important theme of the book is how practices such as pawning (giving West African children to European traders as short-term hostages), sending elite West African boys to Europe for their education, and European traders' taking "country wives" allowed members of each culture to learn enough about the other to collaborate successfully. The great strength of this book is that--unlike many other accounts of the African side of the Atlantic slave trade--it focuses on a single place in time, so that one can see how the trade developed, and how conflicts developed, in this particular community. I was a little disappointed, though, that the book did not build from the early narrative chapters to more methodical analysis towards the end. I was hoping that the conclusion would relate Annamaboe to the larger story of how the rise and fall of the Atlantic slave trade affected communities in West Africa, but in fact it's just a summary.
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This book does an excellent job of explaining how the African slave trade developed and the role of Africans in that trade. Most books about slavery focus on the lives of slaves after coming to America, but this book focuses on how the Africans sold slaves to the British and the relationship between the British and Africans. Randy Sparks writes mostly about the town of of Annamaboe, on the coast of today's Ghana, where the bulk of African slaves were sold to British traders. Europeans were initially interested in getting gold from that area so it became known as the Gold Coast, but in the 18th century their main interest switched from buying gold to buying slaves to be sold in the Caribbean and the American colonies. Randy Sparks gives detailed accounts of various Africans who sold slaves to the British and how they moved back and forth between the worlds of Europe and Africa. Many of the wealthy African traders had their sons educated in England and France where they learned the ways of the Europeans they were trading with.
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Format: Hardcover
Review – Where the Negroes are Masters by Randy Sparks

“Where the Negroes are Masters” is the story of the major British slave and gold trading port in West Africa, on the Gold Coast, Annamaboe. Annamaboe is a city that thrived only during the slave trade. This is the story of it's rise and fall. It still exists, but only as a mere shadow of it's former glory.

The intrigues, diplomacy successes and failures, the strong personalities, the strife between the Native Tribes (mostly Fante and Asante) and the British with extensions into the French and Spanish and Portuguese, the battles and problems of governing such a place, the cultures and empires of the Fante and the Asante, the Native merchants and rulers and peoples, and much more are well described and their interactions discussed.

Randy Sparks enables us to see the “Atlantic World” of trade between South America, North America, Europe and Africa. In this book Randy focuses on the Gold Coast and its role. The other legs of the “Black Atlantic” are in many other books. This is a side of the story seldom told til recently. We even get a chapter on slave trading in the African interior between the African Empires.

The book is well and interestingly written. The stories of power and greed and gore are well done. The reader comes away from the book with a much better understanding of Africa and the Gold Coast slave trade. The detail is amazing, gleaned from historical records and primary sources. The notes and bibliography are nearly 25% of the book.

For a more reading on the slave trade, I recommend both Meredith Martin's “The Fortunes of Africa” A 5000 Year History of Wealth Greed and Endeavor,” and Paul Lovejoy's “Transformations in Slavery (African Studies).” These two give a wide angle view of the slave trade where Sparks chose to concentrate on one major port. For a modern, not Eurocentric view, both the wide angle and the sharp focus are recommended.
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