Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570-1640

David Wheat
Paperback price: $39.95
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Publisher: Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press
Imprint: OIEAHC
Cloth/Hardcover Publication Date: 08/2016
Pages: 352
Paperback ISBN: 9781469647654
Paperback Publication Date: 08/2018
Ebook ISBN: 9781469623801


This work resituates the Spanish Caribbean as an extension of the Luso-African Atlantic world from the late sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century, when the union of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns facilitated a surge in the transatlantic slave trade. After the catastrophic decline of Amerindian populations on the islands, two major African provenance zones, first Upper Guinea and then Angola, contributed forced migrant populations with distinct experiences to the Caribbean. They played a dynamic role in the social formation of early Spanish colonial society in the fortified port cities of Cartagena de Indias, Havana, Santo Domingo, and Panama City and their semirural hinterlands.

David Wheat is the first scholar to establish this early phase of the “Africanization” of the Spanish Caribbean two centuries before the rise of large-scale sugar plantations. With African migrants and their descendants comprising demographic majorities in core areas of Spanish settlement, Luso-Africans, Afro-Iberians, Latinized Africans, and free people of color acted more as colonists or settlers than as plantation slaves. These ethnically mixed and economically diversified societies constituted a region of overlapping Iberian and African worlds, while they made possible Spain’s colonization of the Caribbean.

About The Author

David Wheat is associate professor of history at Michigan State University.


James A. Rawley Prize, American Historical Association (2017)

Harriet Tubman Book Prize, Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery (2017)

Jamestown Prize (2015)


“Because Wheat’s capacity to tell such nuanced and new stories is so meticulously buttressed by his sources that it leaves readers wanting him to go even further. . . . A vital contribution to the fields of Black/African history, Caribbean history, and early modern history more broadly.”–Reviews in American History

“Expertly and imaginatively transcends the conventional parameters not just of ‘Latin American’ and of ‘Atlantic’ history but also of the conceptual conventions of studying ‘slavery’ itself, as such. Do not miss it.”–Slavery & Abolition

“[An] exceptional study that explains a misunderstood period in the early history of post-contact colonies in the Spanish Caribbean. Highly recommended.”–Choice

“Wheat’s innovative and deeply-researched book contributes to a growing body of work aimed at re-conceptualizing the Atlantic World and the roles of African people within it.”–Almanack

“[A] unique view into the archives and into a key but only partially understood early colonial period in this region [that] will interest both scholars of Iberian colonization and imperialism and students learning how to trace western Africa’s influence on the Spanish Caribbean.”–The Americas

“Extremely well documented and tightly argued. . . . A signal contribution that should reframe scholarly debates about slavery in the Caribbean for some time to come.”–H-Net Reviews

“Elegantly written and thoughtfully constructed. . . . Scholars interested in the early Spanish Caribbean and the Atlantic world will need to rethink how the two regions were interconnected and how free and unfree Africans created social and economic niches for themselves in their new environments.”–Hispanic American Historical Review

“David Wheat’s Atlantic Africa boldly rewrites the early history of the Spanish Caribbean, demonstrating how Africans and their descendants became Spain’s ‘surrogate colonists’ in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Exhaustively researched, this book reveals the indelible imprint of various groups of Africans on the history of the Spanish Caribbean.”–James H. Sweet, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Brilliantly researched and elegantly written, Wheat’s study of the centrality of slavery and Africans in the pre-sugar Caribbean challenges much of what we think we know about the early Caribbean, New World slavery, and the early Spanish empire. This is a must-read book for students of Atlantic, African diaspora, and colonial Latin American history.”–Ada Ferrer, New York University

“Wheat makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the Atlantic slave trade and the experiences of Africans and African-descended peoples in the Caribbean. The work underscores the continuing importance of the Spanish Caribbean in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and suggests that the ‘Africanization’ of the Caribbean began well before the rise of sugar economies in British, French, and Dutch colonies.”–Ida Altman, University of Florida

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