From African to Creole


In the previous post I already discussed the following:

  • Creole” can mean many more things than just referring to Louisiana Creoles.
  • Cape Verdean Creoles/Crioulos are probably the historically oldest self-identified Creole population in the world.
  • In the colonial era the term “Creole” was also used to distinguish between African born slaves and locally born (within the European ruled colonies) slaves.
  • The dating of the socalled Creolization process/transition is fundamental for tracing back African ethnic roots.

I will continue this discussion but in this post I will apply it more generally for Afro-descendants in the Americas and in more detail for African Americans. Starting with this chart taken from the slavevoyages database:

From African to Creole

It shows the percentage of disembarked slaves from documented slavevoyages according to century of arrival. A couple of things standing out:

  • The Hispanic Americas received most of the earliest arrivals (1500’s/1600’s), relatively speaking and specifically the Dominican Republic (“Santo Domingo”) and Central America (incl. Mexico and Colombia).
  • Puerto Rico and especially Cuba however show a big share of late arrivals (1800’s). The same goes for Trinidad and southeast Brazil. Historians often assume that socalled African retention (the preservation of ethnically/regionally recognizably African cultural heritage) is most noticeable for places where slave imports continued the longest into the 1800’s while Creolization is assumed to be most pronounced for regions where slave imports were mostly in the 1600’s/1700’s.
  • Most of the English and French speaking Caribbean as well as the USA fall in between. Meaning that for Afro-descendants in these countries most of their African born ancestors can be traced to the 1700’s.


Getting more specific for African Americans we can see a clear difference between Virginia and South Carolina, the main points of entry for Africans into the USA. South Carolina also having a minor but significant share of African arrivals in the early 1800’s of about 30%. While Virginia’s African imports were mostly occurring before 1750, implying a rather early Creolization, that is a locally born slave population of mixed African ethnic origins starting to develop its own regionally specific Afro-Diasporan culture. Comparable to what took place in Cape Verde in the 1500’s/1600’s. It is known that Virginia was one of the earliest places within the Americas where slave populations had a positive population growth. Fully reproducing themselves so that additional slave imports from Africa were no longer necessary unlike most of the Caribbean and Brazil where slave mortality was so high that slave imports continued on a massive scale right till the end of slavery.



Estimates of share African bornin the USA


Percentage African born VA

The last chart is based on estimates calculated by Ph. D.Morgan in his book, Slave Counterpoint which provides an excellent analysis of the differences and similarities between 18th century slaves in Virginia and South Carolina. Studying this period, the 1700’s, will be essential for African Americans wanting to trace back their African ethnic origins as ultimately, because of the domestic slave trade, most of their USA-born ancestors might  be from either Virginia and/or South Carolina. That is going back 6-8 generations and not just based on where your grandparents are from. Virginia probably having an edge because it started exporting slaves to other parts of the USA, especially the Deep South, earlier and in greater numbers than South Carolina. I will post more about this later on.

For anyone looking for some quick introductional information follow these links:

Quote from that last source:

“Creoles, the First African Americans, and Creolization 

In North America, the African population that came over as slaves had begun to reproduce itself by the 1730s.  Before the 1730s, the Black population had to be constantly replenished by the slave trade, because most Blacks either died without reproducing or died before reaching adulthood.  During the 1730s this changed and what emerged was a locally-born African-American population that we call creole Blacks.  These creole Blacks were the first African Americans, and their process of bridging African and American worlds is what we refer to as creolization.   African-Americans creoles, born after the 1730s, were unlike their ancestors in many respects because they were born in America.  By about 1820, almost 90 percent of Black American slaves were American-born.  We must, therefore, distinguish the African-born population, which became quite negligible by 1800, and the American-born Creole population that became dominant after 1820, because African-American culture begins with this Creole population.

2 thoughts on “From African to Creole

  1. There is so much diversity in those who were brought over from Africa. It would be fantastic to see what of parts of the culture from different African sources is seen in the different parts of the Americas!

    Liked by 1 person

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