Slavery, Race, and Finance in the British Cape Colony, C.1800-1834

Kara Dimitruk, Stellenbosch University
Kate Ekama, Stellenbosch University
Christie Swanepoel, University of the Western Cape

There has been renewed attention on slavery, its functioning, and connections to broader economic change during the nineteenth century (Wright 2022; Logan 2022). Though much work by economic historians and historians helps us understand slavery as a system of labor organization, financial markets in slave societies remain understudied – especially in societies outside of the United States. Because the enslaved could be used as collateral, and how records were kept, the research on financial markets that does exist tends to examine borrowing and lending of slaveowners. We document new facts about credit markets in the Cape Colony primarily during the early nineteenth century, when the slave system was perhaps the most developed and prior to full emancipation in 1838. We identify ‘free black’ individuals from inventories taken at death during the nineteenth century and identify borrowers and lenders by race. ‘Free black’ is a translation of vrijswart - a term used by authorities for a person who had been previously enslaved and manumitted or freed (Newton-King 2012). We supplement these records with other archival materials. We find that borrowing and lending networks tended to be segmented by race but that free black individuals had more variety in their financial transactions compared to white settlers. The evidence suggests that financial markets facilitated other market transactions, perhaps because of cash shortages. Patterns of purposes of borrowing suggest financial transactions were both ‘formal’, such as guaranteed by a bond, and short-term or ‘informal’, such as for the payment of wages. A significant number of transactions from these probate records are linked to the labor and housing markets. We supplement these observations with two case studies that illustrate how manumission and skill could impact a free black person's financial life.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 197. The Consequences of Racial Differences