‘Voyage iron’: an Atlantic slave trade currency, its European origins, and West African impact

Chris Evans, Göran Rydén

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    Abstract

    An array of goods were traded to Africa in the era of the transatlantic slave trade. Many were eye-catching consumer goods; other were far more prosaic. Among the latter was ‘voyage iron’: bars of malleable iron that acted as a currency along the West African coast. This paper examines the geography of voyage iron production in Europe, finding that originated in places – primarily Sweden – that are not often thought of as being connected to Atlantic commerce. The paper then considers the impact that voyage iron had on West Africa where, paradoxically, iron smelting was very well-established. Contrary to the views of some distinguished Africanists, we find that European iron had a major impact. It underpinned an agricultural transformation of the coastal zone. Voyage iron was a superficially unremarkable producer good but, we conclude, it contributed to a profound reshaping of the economic geography of West Africa.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)41-70
    JournalPast & Present
    Volume239
    Issue number1
    Early online date8 Jan 2018
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - May 2018

    Keywords

    • Economic history
    • Agriculture
    • Slave Trade
    • Sweden
    • Africa
    • Iron

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