African Heritage
Goree Island The Video ...Click here


Senegambia had been the main source of the Atlantic slave trade during the mid-sixteenth century, but after 1640, it probably never furnished more than 10 percent of the trade. Senegambia remained an important source of the slaves brought to Louisiana throughout the eighteenth century.

The slave trade to Louisiana was organized by the Company of the Indies, a private company licensed by the king of France that controlled, administered, and held an exclusive trade monopoly in both Senegal and Louisiana during the years of the African slave trade to the latter colony.

The Company of the Indies' Senegal concession stretched from Arguin Island southward to Sierra Leone. Fort St. Louis, the headquarters of the Company of the Indies in Africa, was located on   an island near the mouth of the Senegal River. The island of Goree, near the   present city of Dakar, was the best port in the Senegal concession. It was the main  "warehouse" of the slave "merchandise."  Slaves were brought to Goree from all trading posts of the Senegal concession to await ships departing for America.

The French presence was well established in Senegambia long before the Africa slave trade to Louisiana began. French traders had asserted their right to a monopoly of trade in Senegambia in 1664. French trading posts had long been established at Goree, at St. Louis at the mouth of the Senegal River, and far up the Senegal River at Galam.

Between 1726 and 1731, almost all the slave-trade voyages organize

by the   Company of the Indies went to Louisiana. Thirteen slave ships landed in   louisiana during these years; all but one of them left from Senegambia. Over half   the slaves brought to French Louisiana,   3,250 out of 5,987, arrived from Senegambia during this five -year   period. The last ship, arriving in 1743, also came From Senagel



It is relevant, therefore, to look to Senegambia for the African roots of Louisiana's Afro-Creole culture. During   the early eighteenth century, the Senegal Valley was described as rich and   productive: a huge area, well integrated, with excellent soil made extremely fertile   by the flooding of the river. French observers compared it with the Valley of   the Nile. All the major crops of eighteenth-century Louisiana were   grown in this area . Rice was domesticated independently along the middle Niger about 3,500 years ago, well before the arrival of Asian rice.   Corn was widely cultivated.

The metalworkers were highly skilled   and multitalented. They were  goldsmiths, silversmiths, armsmakers,   blacksmiths, horseshoemakers, and   coppersmiths. "In a word, they unite in   one single person all the workers who   use hammer and anvil." They worked   with iron as wwell as with gold and   silver. They made knives, hatchets,   axes, and blades for cutting iron that,   according to Labat, they tempered at   least as the Europeans could.

The metalworkers made sword handles   and plaques for decorating ovens, "and   other similar things which demonstrate   their intelligence and their dexterity, and   they would be perfectly good workers if   they were taught and were a little less   lazy." Most of them drank no wine or   liquor. They fasted for Ramadan. They   worked hard, their land was well   cultivated, they had an abundance of beef,   sheep, goats, and fowl, but kept no pigs.

Portrait of "Calalou"
a young quadroon featured in love song.

They liked commerce and long voyages. They loved and willingly helped each other and never captured each other. The only captives among them were those enslaved as punishment for a crime. They were polite, fine, witty, and clairvoyant. Almost all of them could read and write. They had public schools where the Marabout taught the children to read and write the Arab language, and they used the Arabic characters to write the Mandinga language.

According to Labat, all the women of   Senegambia worked hard. It was their job   to thresh the rice, the corn and the millet.   They made the couscous and the sanglet,   prepared the food and the drinks, spun the   cotton, made the clothes, dyed the thread   and the cloth (pagnes), cultivated the   tobacco and the grains, cleaned the huts,   cared for the animals, collected the wood,   and brought the water.

 French men stationed at St. Louis were   particularly attracted to Wolof women   because of their dark skin. According to   Labat, the Fulbe women did not have the   beautiful, lustrous black skin ( beau noir   lustre) of the Wolof women who lived south   of the river. "It is claimed that this results   from their alliances with the Moors, who   imbued them with the reversies of the Koran   and at the same time, ruined their beautiful   black color by passing on to them their   brown color.

Bambara slaves were brought to Louisiana   in large numbers and played a preponderant   role in the formation of the colony's   Afro- Creole culture. Both Mandingo and   Bambara were Mande peoples claiming   descent from Mali empire established by   Sundiatta during the thirteenth century, but   there were strong religious differences   between them..

 The Bambara played a special role in the Senegal concessions.


They were used as domestics at the trading posts of St. Louis and Goreé and at the forts of Galam and Arguin. The French used the Bambara to man the boats they operated on the Senegal   River and as guides and interpreters.   Bambara served as reinforcements for detachments of Europeans troops, and Bambara became a generic name for slave soldier . They were considered brave and loyal, and skillful combatants. They had twice destroyed Moroccan armies much larger than their own, using only bows, arrows, and swords.

Taken from:
E.W. Kemble's 1885 portrait drawings of two black new Orleanians.

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