Whenever slave masters or slave traders are mentioned, the images of men usually come to mind.
History books mainly reflect the involvement of men while brushing aside the involvement of women in upholding the institution. During the slave trade, about two million Africans were uprooted from their homes.
Through their harrowing experiences on the ships, many of these enslaved Africans even died before reaching their new homes. For the many who survived, it was the beginning of sleepless nights, several hours of work on plantations on empty stomachs and the constant reminder that in their new lives they were nothing but a commodity to their owners.
Most of these owners were thought to be mostly wealthy, white individuals but historical accounts have shown that black people were also involved in the sale and ownership of slaves. What has become more surprising is the fact that black women were also active participants in the selling and buying of slaves.
Hitherto, these women were seen as passive people, who were just looking on as their men wreaked havoc. But recent writings and documentaries have sought to reverse these thoughts. Just as the men who owned the enslaved, these women built up their own plantations and others inherited estates from deceased husbands.
Below are some of the biggest black female slave owners who are not widely discussed but changed the course of history:
Elizabeth Frazer Skelton
She was the daughter of the Afro-American John Frazers, who had been banished from Liberia as a slave owner.
She married William Skelton and founded the famous trading house of Skelton. She and her husband founded a new fort which they named ‘Victoria’ in 1825.
After the demise of her husband, Mammy Skelton, as she was called, dominated the upper river Nunez as a powerful force even as a widow.
At that time, the slave trade was banned by the British and United States but continued in practice. She had a powerful position as a dominant figure in the regional business community and was for a time responsible for half of the export of the region. In about 1840, under the pressure of the British West Africa Squadron and the Blockade of Africa, the slave traders of the region gradually shifted to growing peanuts with slave labour, an industry in which she also became one of the leading figures, according to Emmanuel Kwaku Akyeampong’s Dictionary of African Biography.
Bibiana Vuz de França
She became so powerful and influential that she was accused of rebellion, trading with foreigners, and tax evasion and was imprisoned with her younger brother and another co-conspirator and taken to Cape Verde Islands all in a bid to rip her of her influence and power.
She was able to obtain a royal pardon and free her younger brother after leading a coup against the Crown’s representatives.
The Authorities sought to criminalize her but failed because she was too powerful and too influential. All charges against her were dropped and she was once more considered loyal to the crown.
Silences and Soundbites: The Gendered Dynamics of Trade and Brokerage in the Pre-colonial Guinea Bissau Region cited that in 1687, Bibiana Vaz was arrested and taken to São Tiago, today as Santiago, and held as a prisoner. Unable to confiscate her property, Portuguese authorities granted her a pardon in exchange for an indemnity and a promise that she would construct a fort in Bolor on the Cacheu River. She never constructed the fort.
Fenda Lawrence operated in the Saloum town of Kaur as an 18th-century African slave trader.
Her marriage to an Englishman gave her the privilege to act as a go-between for the British and French traders and the local Africans.
Lawrence trafficked slaves between America and her homeland of Senegambia. In May 1772, she visited Georgia with five personal slaves and established herself in Savannah as a merchant and slave trader and later became a free black woman for both tourism and trade.
The once Gambian slave trader, after becoming a freed black woman, also became a wealthy merchant.
Caty Louette, one of the most powerful female traders on Goree Island, was born to Frenchman Nicolas Louët, an official of the French East India Company.
Caty Louette is described as one of the most successful and prominent profiles in the slave trade of Gorée.
What distinguished her from others was the fact that she could read and write, which at the time, was uncommon.
She was described as the richest woman of the island and for some time the biggest slave owner of Gorée. In 1767, she owned 68 slaves in a community where most Signares sold slaves rather than keeping them for their personal use. In 1756, she commissioned the eldest of the still-standing grand European stone houses which came to be so famous for Gorée in the 18th century.
Married to Paul Faber, an American ship captain who had opened a factory in the upper Pongo around 1809, Mary Faber of Sangha in the upper reaches of the Rio Pongo was described in 1838 as a Nova Scotian from Freetown.
Paul and Mary Faber established a factory at Sangha in the Bangalan branch of the Rio Pongo. During this period, Paul Faber carried slaves to the Americas, while Mary remained at Sangha where she maintained the family business and gave birth to a son, William.
Mary Faber was supported by a resident Fula governor and soon became the most powerful trader in the upper river. She had, in effect, inherited the power base held by John Ormond, Jr., in the early 1830s.
The Faber commercial empire expanded in the Bangalan and Fatala branches where it maintained large groundnut plantations into the mid-1850s, according to tubmaninstitute.ca.