History

Timelines: Timeline of African Slavery in the Former German Empire, 1526 – 1919

Shalom, everyone! Germany did not formally become a colonial power until the late 19th century, although Germans had been involved in the trafficking and exploitation of enslaved Africans since the 16th century. The following is a timeline of African slavery in the former German Empire from 1526 to 1919. Please note that this post is a work-in-progress. As more information becomes available, this timeline will be updated:


Year Historical Event
1526 Hieronymous Seiler and Heinrich Ehinger of Konstanz become the first Germans on record to have become involved in the African slave trade.
1528 The Venezuela Province (modern-day Venezuela), also known as the “Province of Caracas,” originally a possession of the Spanish Empire, was given by King Charles I of Spain to the wealthy German banking family headed by Bartholomeus V. Welser, as payment of debts owed to them by the Spanish Crown. The Welsers establish a German colony in the territory called “Klein-Venedig” or “Little Venice.” The primary motivation of the Welsers was to find the legendary golden city of El Dorado. The Welsers were obligated to pay for the exploration of the province using their own funds, and restricted to use only Spanish or Flemish troops.
1528 – 1546 The Welsers continue exploration and prospecting of gold deep into the interior of Klein-Venedig. They establish sugar plantations in the province. They import 150 Germans to mine for gold, and 4,000 enslaved Africans to work on the sugar plantations. Most of the Germans die off from disease or are killed by the indigenous peoples.
1546 The Spanish retake possession of Klein-Venedig. The few Germans remaining granted safe passage to leave the province.
1596 Queen Elizabeth I of England orders a German slave trader, Caspar van Senden, to round up all “Blackamoors” (Africans) in England and remove them from the realm. They were most likely sold into slavery in the Americas.
1682 Brandenburg African Company (Brandenburgisch-Afrikanische Compagnie) granted a charter by Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg, to establish a colony in West Africa consisting of two settlements on the Gold Coast in modern-day GhanaGroß Friedrichsburg (Hollandia/Pokesu), and Fort Dorothea (Accada/Akwida).
1685 Brandenburg African Company took control Arguin, a Portuguese slave fort in Mauritania.
1685 – 1721 Brandenburg African Company lease the island of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands from the Danish West India Company. Under an agreement with the Danish, the Brandenburg African Company import many enslaved Africans, hosting some of the largest sale auctions in the Americas on the island of St. Thomas. The Danish and the Germans work together on slaving expeditions to the Gold Coast.
1721 Germans sold all Gold Coast African settlements to the Dutch, annexing into the Dutch Gold Coast. With the sale of the Gold Coast territories to the Dutch, the Brandenburg Africa Company terminates its lease of St. Thomas.
1721 – 1884 German merchants and missionaries maintain a presence in the Gold Coast.
1871 The unification of Germany into one nation-state. The territory in Central Europe now known as Germany was previously was a loose federation of roughly 300 dukedoms and principalities.
1884 Germany participated in the Berlin Conference or “Scramble for Africa.” The German East Africa Company was established to colonize territory in East Africa, consisting of modern-day Tanzania and Zanzibar (Tangyanika), Burundi, Rwanda, Wituland in modern-day Kenya, and Mozambique. The motivation was to seize Africa‘s vast and valuable natural resources.
1884 – 1914 Germans did not abolish slavery in its East African colonies but the practice declined over time.
1884 The German West Africa Company was established to administer Germany‘s interests in West Africa. Germany colonizes territory in West Africa consisting of German Cameroon (Kamerun) and Togoland. German Cameroon covered parts of modern-day Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon, GuineaNigeria, and the Republic of the Congo. Togoland covered modern-day Togo and parts of Ghana.
1884 Germany colonizes territory in southwest Africa called German South West Africa. The territory colonized is now modern-day Namibia. The colony attracts German settlers to mine for gold, diamonds, and copper. Of the approximately 200,000 inhabitants, only 2,500 were Germans. The majority of the people are the indigenous people the Herero, Ovambo, and Nama, who were collectively referred to as the Hottentots.
1884 – 1919 The Germans routinely used the indigenous peoples of German South West Africa as slave labor in the mines and on farms. Native lands are confiscated to make way for German farms, mines, and urban settlements.
1893 – 1894 The first uprising the Herero and Nama people revolt against the Germans led Henrik Witbooi, a Namaqua chief.
1904 – 1908 The Herero and Namaqua genocide. The Herero and Nama people, led by Henrik Witbooi and Samuel Maharero, carry other another uprising against the cruel injustice of the German colonizers. The Germans confiscated more large tracts of native lands from the indigenous peoples. The Germans respond with even greater cruelty with intense military force. Germany dispatched 14,000 troops to German South West Africa. They employ a scorched-earth policy by cutting off the water supplies of the Herero and Nama. German soldiers were given orders to shoot and kill Herero and Nama men, women and children. Those who were not killed in the field were rounded up into concentration camps in inhuman conditions. Thousands died of disease in the camps. Others were held in private businesses, government projects and ships offshore. Prisoners in these camps were used as slaves in mines, to build railroads, used for medical experiments, sexually assaulted and tortured by German soldiers. Thousands of Herero skulls were sent to German for further experiments. By the end of the conflict, approximately 100,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama were killed, including leader Michael Witbooi
1905-1907 The Maji-Maji Rebellion in German East Africa. This was an armed rebellion by the Matumbi, Ngoni tribes, and other Tanganyikans against German colonial authorities. By the end of the rebellion, almost 100,000 Africans were killed by German troops.
1914 – 1918 Due to World War I, British troops from South Africa attack and occupy German South West Africa. German prisoners are transported to prison camps near Pretoria.
1915 German South West Africa surrendered to South Africa.
1916 Territories in German West Africa (Kamerun and Togoland) were surrendered to Britain and France.
1919 Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the peace treaty which brought an end to World War I, German East Africa was divided among Belgium (Ruanda-Urundi), Britain (Tangyanika, Kenya), and Portugal (part of Mozambique); German West Africa was divided between Britain (Ghana, British Cameroon) and France (Togo, French Cameroon), and German South West Africa becomes a League of Nations mandate called South West Africa.

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