Americans in South Africa, 1784-1870
Booth, Alan R.
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This study discusses the course and consequences of Americans -- traders, whalers, explorers and missionaries -- in South Africa between 1784 and 1870. Sources for the study included logbooks, personal and business papers of merchants and ship captains, colonial records, and missionary letters. Research was carried on in libraries and archives in the United States and Great Britain. Yankee whalers found by the late eighteenth century that South African waters, especially in the vicinity of Walvis and Delagoa Bays, abounded with right whales. The whalers' activities in Cape waters included not only conventional trade at Cape Town and Simons Town, but also considerable trade and intercourse with Africans along the coasts. The trade of Americans with South Africa began as the result of their quest for new world markets prompted by the withdrawal of trade advantages by Great Britain after the American Revolution. The Cape of Good Hope came to be valued by merchants as a place where a general cargo might be sold and another loaded for markets either in the Orient, the West Indies, or the United States. Located on a major trade route, the Cape was valued as a place where information on world markets could be obtained. American trade was discouraged and frequently interrupted by British and Dutch regulatory acts and discriminatory duties. But after the early thirties, with the rise of the American glove, shoe and tanning industries, the importation of hides and skins from South Africa firmly established the trade. With the rise of the wool trade by the late forties, commercial relations were further strengthened. Thereafter, while the Cape continued to be a limited market, it was conditions in America which primarily influenced the commerce: the American Civil War and various United States tariff acts determined the quantity and character of the staple Cape export to America, wool. Missionaries from the American Board arrived in South Africa in 1835. Motivated largely by the millenarian tradition, they came to preach the gospel and save "heathen" souls before the Second Coming. Their early efforts were unsuccessful. The Interior Mission to Mzilikazi was plagued by sickness, and finally withdrew after the Boer attack on Mosega in 1837. In Natal, after a more encouraging start with Dingaan's Zulus, the Maritime Mission was again forced to flee after the massacre of the trekboers in February, 1838. Two missionaries remained in South Africa, and by 1839 they had returned to Natal. The growth of the Mission over the next three decades was steady but moderate, marred in part by the missionaries' prejudices and conservative attitudes toward African customs and education. Gradually more tolerant attitudes began to prevail among the missionaries, with the resultant strengthening of the Mission. Churches were formed and became self-supporting, and by 1870 there were African pastors in the field. By the thirties, the sum total of American involvement had brought sharp reaction from Cape Europeans. American munitions smuggling to the Zulus was a cause of concern, and there were fears that American trading and missionary activity in Natal signified colonial ambitions there on the part of the United States. It was an American merchant ship in Port Natal which finally prompted Governor Napier's decision in 1841 to reoccupy Natal. American consuls in South Africa were relatively inactive until the American Civil War, when the Alabama captured a Union merchantman in Table Bay. Ensuing complications, including a supposed American territorial violation at Angra Pequena, clouded American-British relations until the Geneva Arbitration award in 1872.
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