Get access

Slave prices, the African slave trade, and productivity in the Caribbean, 1674–1807



We draw wide-ranging implications about slave productivity change by making use of newly collected data on the prices paid for nearly 230,000 slaves as they arrived in the Americas from Africa between 1674 and 1807. Prices for the product that most slaves were destined to produce-sugar-are also available. Together the comprehensive series allow us to derive annual measures of average slave productivity and to compare productivity trends across different sectors of the Caribbean. Average productivity rose throughout the Caribbean, and the pattern of average productivity change across regions was similar, indicating an open slave market. These averages mask sharp differences in the growth of demand for slaves among regions, as reflected by their slave populations. Between 1700 and 1790 the increase in demand ranged from 90 per cent in Barbados to 600 per cent in Jamaica and Cuba; while total factor productivity overall may have doubled. The slave trade accommodated the rising demand. It also served to offset population attrition among the slaves.

Get access to the full text of this article