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The African Slave Trade & European Attitudes

In The African Slave Trade by Basil Davidson, the author traces the development of attitudes on the part of European settlers not only toward black slaves but toward the Indian encountered on the frontier. The slave trade developed at the same time as Europe began exploring new realms and encountering new peoples, and it was necessary for the white European to develop some an attitude which placed himself and the "noble savage" he encountered in the wild on some sort of scale. The idea of the noble savage would give way to the view that the savage was simply inferior, but in the beginning explorers like Charles Wheeler saw the savage as closer to nature and thus more noble and happier in contrast to the European:

A Guinean. . . by treading in the paths prescrib'd by his ancestors, paths natural, pleasant, and diverting, is in the plain road to be a good and happy man; but the European has sought so many inventions, and has endeavour'd to put so many restrictions upon nature, that it would be next to a miracle if he were either happy or good (99).

This attitude would be seen in antislavery campaigns as some Europeans fought against slavery. As a consequence, two opposing conceptions developed in Europe:

Henceforward, Europeans would be increasingly divided into two opposed views: one, the traditional, tending to hold that Africa had never possessed cultures that were worthy of respect or even of serious investigation; the other, the scientific, tending to argue the reverse (100).

Davidson shows how ideas changed not just with reference to the slaves but with reference to their homeland. Some, such as Charles Wheeler and others who thought the same, considered Africa to be a country which had developed its own civilization, much of which had disappeared. There was evidence that archaeologists and others would unearth that this was so, but the idea did not fit with the prejudices developing in the European mind over the...

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The African Slave Trade & European Attitudes. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 23:22, February 26, 2017, from