Throughout history, blame for the introduction of slavery to America has been squarely placed upon the male slave traders who ravaged African villages, the merchants who auctioned off humans as if they were cattle, and the male slave owners who ruthlessly beat both the spirits and the bodies of their helpless victims. There is, however, above all these men, another person who has seemingly been able to avoid the blame that is due her.
The origins of the English slave trade -- the result of which is often described as America's shame -- can actually be traced back to a woman, England's Queen Elizabeth I.
In The Queen's Slave Trader, historian Nick Hazlewood examines one of the roots of slavery that until now has been overlooked. It was not just the money-hungry Dutch businessmen who traded lives for gold, forever changing the course of American and world history, but the Virgin Queen, praised for her love of music, art, and literature, who put hundreds of African men, women, and children onto American soil.
During the 1560s, on direct orders from Her Majesty, John Hawkyns set sail from England. His destination: West Africa. His mission: to capture humans. At the time, Elizabeth was encouraging a Renaissance in her kingdom. Yet, being the intelligent monarch that she was, the queen knew her country's economy could not finance the dreams she had for it. An early entrepreneur, she saw an open market before her and sent one of her most trusted naval commanders, Hawkyns, to ensure a steady stream of wealth to sustain all the beauty that was her passion.
Like his fellow Englishmen, Hawkyns believed the African people's dark skin stood for evil, filth, barbarity -- the complete opposite of the English notion of beauty, a lily white complexion and a virtuous soul, as exemplified by the queen. To him it was simple. If the white English were civilized and pure, the dark Africans must be savage. It was a moral license for Hawkyns to capture Africans.
After landing on the African coast, he used a series of brutal raids, violent beatings, and sheer terror to load his ships. The reward for those who survived the attacks: seven weeks chained together in a space not meant for human beings, smallpox and measles, dehydration and malnourishment. Hawkyns realized the cruelty inflicted on these people, and he hoped they would survive. After all, a dead African was a dent in his profit margin.
John Hawkyns was the first English slave trader, and his actions and attitudes toward his cargo set the precedent for how those following him, over the next two hundred years, would act. To fully understand the mind-set of the men who made their living trafficking human souls, one needs to look at the man who began it all -- and the woman behind him.