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North Africa: ° Algeria ° Egypt ° Libya ° Morocco ° Sudan
West Africa: ° Benin ° Cameroon ° Congo ° Cote d'Ivoire ° Gabon ° (Republic of the) Gambia ° Ghana ° Guinea ° Liberia ° Mauritania ° Mozambique ° Nigeria ° Sao Tome and Principe ° Senegal (Dakar) ° Sierra Leone
East Africa (The Horn of Africa): ° Djibouti ° Kenya ° Eritrea ° Madagascar ° Somalia ° Sudan ° Tanzania ° Zanzibar

Sao Tome and Principe

Sao Tome are small volcanic islands located in the Gulf of Guinea off of West Africa, straddling the Equator west of Gabon.

Sao Tome. South-West African Islands. 1885.

Sao Tome, Atlantic Islands, South-West African Islands. 1885.

From the late 1400s Portugal began settling convicts on Sao Tome and establishing sugar plantations with the help of slaves from the mainland. The island was also important in the transshipment of slaves, which lasted into the 20th century.

The islands were believed to be uninhabited and "discovered" by Portuguese navigators between 1469 and 1472.

The first successful settlement of Sao Tome was established in 1493 by Alvaro Caminha, who received the land as a grant from the Portuguese crown. Principe was settled in 1500 under a similar arrangement. By the mid-1500s, with the help of slave labor, the Portuguese settlers had turned the islands into Africa's foremost exporter of sugar.

Sao Tome (about 330 sq mi; 859 sq km) is covered by a dense mountainous jungle, out of which have been carved large plantations. Principe (about 40 sq mi; 142 sq km) consists of jagged mountains. Other islands in the republic are Pedras Tinhosas and Rolas. About 95% of the population lives on Sao Tome.

Vasco da Gama meets Christians at Sao Tome

Vasco da Gama.

Vasco da Gama in born in 1468, presumably in Sines.

On July 7, 1497, King Manuel I entrusted Da Gama with the position of Commander in Chief of the first expedition to India. The following day, Vasco attended Mass in Belem and assumed command of the fleet: the flagship S. Gabriel of about 90 tons; the S. Rafael, of the same tonnage, captained by Paulo; the Barrio, about 50 tons, skippered by Nicolau Coelho, and an old supply vessel, 110 tons.

On July 8, Vasco da Gama led his fleet of four ships and a crew of 170 men from Lisbon.

Vasco de Gama.

In November of that year, they reached the East Coast of Africa.

In 1503, during his journeys, Vasco Da Gama met Christians at Sao Tome.

Sao Tome and Principe were taken over and administered by the Portuguese crown in 1522 and 1573 respectively.

Sugar cultivation declined and by the mid-1600s, Sao Tome was little more than a port of call for ships.

The islands' sugar-based economy gave way to coffee and cocoa in the early 1800s. Rich volcanic soils proved well suited to the new cash crop industry and soon extensive plantations (rocas) owned by Portuguese companies or absentee landlords occupied almost all of the good farmland. By 1908 Sao Tome had become the world's largest producer of cocoa still the country's most important crop.

Plantation managers abused the African farm workers. Although Portugal officially abolished slavery in 1876, the practice of forced paid labor continued. In the early 1900s an internationally publicized controversy arose over charges that Angolan contract workers were being subjected to forced labor and unsatisfactory working conditions.

The island of S o Tom was the world's largest producer of cocoa in 1908, and the crop is still its most important. Working conditions for laborers, however, were horrendous, and in 1909 British and German chocolate manufacturers boycotted S o Tom cocoa in protest.

Sporadic labor unrest and dissatisfaction continued well into the 20th century culminating in an outbreak of riots in 1953 in which several hundred African laborers were killed in a clash with their Portuguese rulers. This "Batepa Massacre" remains a major event in the colonial history of the islands and its anniversary is officially observed by the government.

Sao Tome: Journey to the Abyss
Portugal's Stolen Children

Paul D. Cohn
Sao Tome.Sao Tome.In 1485 the Portuguese Crown and Catholic Church began to kidnap Jewish children, forcibly convert the young conscripts, and ship them to Sao Tome Island off the African equator to work the government sugar plantations. The collision of slavery, sugar agriculture, and discovery of The Americas transformed this island colony into the wholesale black slave trade that infected Africa and Western commerce for the next 350 years. Sao Tome reveals the Medieval Church's complicity in the business of human bondage.

This little-known chapter of the Diaspora tells the story of young Marcel Saulo and his sister Leah abducted with other children from their synagogue in Lisbon and shipped by caravel 4,000 miles to the West-African island where they bear witness to the holocaust of African slavery. This is historical novel chronicles one man's courageous struggle against religious and racial persecution, torture, and disease, and explores the abyss of Inquisition, Portuguese and Spanish world expansion, and the blight of slavery fueled by the calamitous growth of sugar commerce. Also published in Portuguese, October 15, 2008, entitled "Rapto em Lisboa" (Kidnapping in Lisbon.)

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping.Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient CommerceMerchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.
W. S. Lindsay

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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