The Swedish slave trade
occurred in the early
history of Sweden
, and again
during the 17th century, around the time Swedish overseas colonies
established in North America
and in Africa
(1650). It remained legal until
treaties with England and France concerning
slave trade, with Swedish vessels involved in the trans-Atlantic slave
trade. Between 1784 and 1878, the country held minor
colonies in the Caribbean. The Swedish island Saint-Barthélemy functioned as a duty free port and became a major
center for the Caribbean slave trade.
Slaves were brought in
tax free by both Swedish and foreign vessels and the Swedish
authorities made a profit by collecting an export tax when slaves
were shipped out. Sweden was also a major supplier of iron chains
used in the slave trade.
was initially outlawed in 1335 by Magnus IV of Sweden for thralls "born by Christian parents" in Västergötland and Värend.
1847, slavery was abolished in all parts of Sweden, including the
colonies, on the basis of a decision taken in 1846. Slavery was
ruled in Saint-Barthélemy under the Ordinance concerning the
Police of Slaves and free Coloured People
dated 30th july
1787, original in french dated 30th june 1787. The last legally
owned slaves in the Swedish colony of Saint-Barthélemy were bought
free by the state on October 9, 1847.
Viking and pre-Viking slavery
In pre-Viking times, as well as during the Viking
period, Swedish tribes regularly made slaves
of members of neighbouring tribes. Viking society was to a certain
extent a stratified caste system. The Thralls
, who according to Viking mythology were
descended from a god of the same name, were at the bottom of the
caste system. Thralls could be born into slavery, or become slaves
by committing crimes. These conditions were common in Scandinavia
Swedish Vikings travelled east into Gardariki
, and were known to have traded
extensively in slaves. Slaves also came from Germanic, British and
other northern European tribes, and were sometimes sold to Arab and
Jewish traders, who in turn traded them further afield. Slavery in
Sweden was (temporarily) made illegal in 1337.
Trading Stations in Africa
Sweden established trading stations along the West African coast, with bases in an area called
the Swedish Gold Coast which was
later a part of the West African
Gold Coast, and which is
today part of Ghana.
Sweden and Denmark were
competing for positions as regional powers during this period, and
the Danes followed the Swedes to Africa, setting up stations a
couple of years later.
In 1663, the Swedish Gold Coast was
taken over by the Danish colonial power and become part of the
Danish Gold Coast
. There is no
historical documentation that shows that slaves were ever traded in
the trading stations during their 13-year Swedish possession,
rather it is assumed to be the case.
trading stations reappeared in the 18th century, when Sweden
established a colonial presence in the Caribbean.
Slave trade under King Gustav III
In 1771, Gustav III
King of Sweden. He wanted Sweden to re-establish itself as a
European "Great Power". Overseas colonies were a symbol of power
and prestige at that time, so he decided to acquirecolonies for
Sweden. Denmark received
large revenues from its colonies in the West Indies, so in 1784, Gustav acquired the West Indian island
of Saint-Barthélemy from France.
On August 23
the king informed the Privy
that Sweden now owned an island in the West Indies.
This apparently came as a surprise for many of the Councilors. The
first report concerning the island came from Simon Bérard, Swedish
consul-general in L'Orient, the only town. He reported that:
- It (Saint-Barthélemy) is a very insignificant island, without
strategic position. It is very poor and dry, with a very small
population. Only salt and cotton is produced there. A large part of
the island is made up of sterile rocks. The island has no sweet
water; all the wells on the island give only brackish water. Water
has to be imported from neighbouring islands. There are no roads
According to Bérard, there was no possibility of agriculture
because of the poor soil. The island's one desirable feature was a
Bérard recommended that the island be made a free port
. At that time, France had trouble
providing sufficient slaves to its colonies in the area. Sweden
could try to export a certain number of slaves to the French
colonies in the area each year.
If Saint-Barthélemy was a success, Sweden could later expand its
colonial empire to more islands in the area. Gustav also knew that
the leading slave trading nations in Europe made large amounts of
money from it. Gustav III followed Bérard's recommendations and
tried to make Saint Bartholomew into a center for slave trading.
In the autumn of 1786, the Svenska Västindiska Kompaniet
(Swedish West India Company) was established on the island. Gustav
told investors that they could expect big profits in the future.
Anyone who could afford it was allowed to buy shares, but Gustav
kept 10 percent of the shares for himself, which made him the
largest shareholder. The king received one quarter of all profits
of the Company and the other shareholders three quarters, even
though the king owned only 10 percent of the Company.
On October 31
of the same year, a
privilege letter was made for the West India Company. The Company
was granted the right to trade slaves between Africa and the West
Indies. Paragraph 14 in the letter states: "The
Company is free to operate slave trade in Angola and the
African coast, where such is permitted."
On March 12, 1790, a new custom tax and constitution were
introduced to the island. Both were designed to make
Saint-Barthélemy into a haven for slave traders. The new laws gave
astonishing opportunities for traders from all over the
There was no duty on slaves imported from Africa to
Saint-Barthélemy: Free import of slaves and trade with black
slaves or so called new Negroes from Africa is granted to all
nations without having to pay any charge at the unload.
People from all over the Caribbean came to buy slaves. The
government charged a small export duty on slaves sold from
Saint-Barthélemy to other colonies. This duty was halved for slaves
imported from Africa on Swedish ships, generating increased profits
for the West India Company and other Swedish traders.
The new constitution stated: Freedom for all on Saint
Bartholomew living and arriving to arm and send out ships and
shipments to Africa to buy slaves on the places thus is permitted
for all nations. That way a new branch for the Swedish
trade in Africa and the Coast of Guinea should
Sweden was awarded control of Guadeloupe, a nearby French colony temporarily under British
In 1814, though, with the fall of Napoleon
, Sweden gave the island back
In 1788, the English Committee for the
Abolition of Slavery
sent a Swedish opponent of the slave
trade, Anders Sparrman
, to Gustav
III. The committee feared that other nations would expand their
trade if England stopped its own. They sent books about the issue
and a letter, in which the king was encouraged to hinder his
subjects to participate in this disgraceful trade. In the response
letter, delivered through Sparrman, he wrote that no one in the
Country had participated in the slave trade and that he would do
all that he could to keep them from doing so.
During the early 19th century, movements against slavery became
stronger, especially in England. Slave trade was outlawed in England in
1807, and in the United
States in 1808, after which other countries started to
Sweden made slave trade illegal in 1813, but
allowed slavery until October 9, 1847.
During the 19th century, the British
patrolled the African coast to catch illegal slave
traders. The Swedish vessel Diana was intercepted by the British
authorities close to the coast of Africa while engaged in carrying
slaves from Africa to Saint Bartholomew during this period. The
case was taken to court in order to test if slave trade could be
considered contrary to the general law of nations. However, the
vessel was returned to the Swedish owners on the ground that Sweden
had not prohibited the trade and tolerated it in practice.
Once the slave trade became a hot issue, the Swedish government
abandoned the slave trade in the Caribbean, but did not initially
outlaw slavery. The West Indian colonies became financial burdens.
The island of Guadeloupe was returned to France in 1814, against a
compensation in the sum of 24 million francs. A Guadeloupe Fund
was established in Sweden
for the benefit of the Swedish Crown Prince and Regent Charles XIV John of Sweden
Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, a French national and former Marshal of
France under Napoleon I
. He and his heirs were
paid 300,000 riksdaler per year up until
1983 in compensation for their loss of prestige in France when
Sweden joined England against
France in the Napoleonic
In Saint Bartholomew, the Swedish government bought
the remaining slaves to give them freedom. According to Herman Lindqvist
(8 October 2006), 523 slaves were
bought free for 80 riksdaler
Exactly how many slaves were brought to the New World on Swedish
ships is yet impossible to know, since most of the archives
documents have not been investigated seriously in that respect, and
many of them are by now not accessible because of their bad
preservation and non microfilming. Nevertheless, a few datas, mostly
concerning the former Swedish island Saint-Barthélemy, are now available online.
- Traité d'Alliance Entre Sa Majesté Le Roi de Suede et Sa
Majesté Le Roi du Royaume Uni de la Grande Bretagne et de l'Irlande
(1813). [Source: 'Comité de Liaison et d'Application des Sources
Historiques', Saint-Barthélemy. URL :
- Traité, Pour la répression de la Traite des Noirs, entre Sa
Majesté le Roi de Suède et de Norvège d'une part, et Sa Majesté le
Roi du Royaume uni de la Grande Bretagne et de l'Irlande de l'autre
(1824). [Source: 'Comité de Liaison et d'Application des Sources
Historiques', Saint-Barthélemy. URL :
- Traité pour la répression de la Traite des Noirs entre Sa
Majesté le Roi de Suède et de Norvège et Sa Majesté le Roi des
Français (1836). [Source: 'Comité de Liaison et d'Application des
Sources Historiques', Saint-Barthélemy. URL :
- Integrations- och jämställdhetsdepartementet. Dir.2007:114, Kommittédirektiv:
Tilläggsdirektiv till Delegationen för mänskliga rättigheter i
Sverige (Ju 2006:02), s. 2. In Swedish.
- Träldom. Nordisk familjebok / Uggleupplagan. 30.
Tromsdalstind - Urakami /159-160, 1920. (In Swedish).
- Cobb, Thomas Read Rootes. An Inquiry Into the Law of Negro
Slavery in the United States of America To which is Prefixed An
Historical Sketch of Slavery, 1858. Page cxcii.
- Swedish «Black Code»
- «Code Noir» Suédois
- 9 octobre 1847 et Abolition de l’esclavage à
Saint-Barthélemy (In French).
- Phillips, Mike. Slavery: Catalogue reference (PRO) FO 84/1310.
Migration Histories: Caribbean. Origins. Moving Here,
United Kingdom. Retrieved 29 November 2007.
- Kent, James (1987). Commentaries on American Law. 4
vols. New York, 1826-30. Online at The Founders' Constitution, Volume 3, Article 1,
Section 9, Clause 1, Document 26. The University of Chicago
Press, 1987. Retrieved 29 November 2007.
- La longue agonie des archives suédoises de
Saint-Barthélemy (In French)
- "Répertoire" des expéditions négrières: