Sweden’s History of Racism: Part 1 – Colonies

Ah yes, racism in Sweden. Very much present, and not at all new. In this series I’ll go over why. We’ll start with the colonies.

I have to make this post. Last week we had a Swedish journalist come out with an article claiming Sweden isn’t racist, and that Sweden doesn’t have anything in common with the US thus we shouldn’t try to import their issues and make them our own. The actual truth though which he missed is that black people in America paved the way and shaped what modern black activism is today, and there’s no shame in us adopting their blueprint in hopes of dealing with our own issues with racism alongside with showing solidarity for their struggle. Especially since Sweden’s got quite the nasty history of it’s own which all too often seems to be forgotten. When I was a kid, we didn’t learn about this in school, which leads me to believe that most people don’t have the slightest idea of Sweden’s roll in the transatlantic slave trade. In later parts of this series I’ll go over various major events in Sweden’s history of racism, in this part I’ll briefly cover Swedish colonies. ‘Cause Sweden had colonies. Not for a very long time. Not very large ones, but colonies none the less. We don’t get to act like we didn’t have them. Here’s a list: Nya Sverige, Cabo Corso, Guadeloupe, Porto-Novo and Saint Barthélemy.

First out is Nya Sverige (New Sweden). Located on the east coast of north america, in a small area along the south side of the Delaware river (an area which today is part of the states Delaware, Maryland New Jersey and Pennsylvania), this colony was founded in 1638. The land was purchased by the Company of New-Sweden (Nya Sverige-kompaniet) from the local indigenous Leni Lenape people in exchange for wares, as part of Sweden’s colonization of America and was the first permanent Swedish settlement in the area. So to put it briefly, the settlement was struggling from the beginning due to illness and poverty, however things started getting really bad towards the end of it’s run. When the swedes arrived back in -38 (accompanied by some Dutch people due to a co-operative agreement) the first building they set up was Fort Christina (still there today), a base of defense, named after the Swedish Queen Kristina who was ruling at the time. The Dutch, residing further up the river, also on the south side, weren’t feeling it, so they proceeded to establish a second base of their own 12 km (7 miles) from the Swedish one – to mess with them. Tension was growing between the Swedes and their Dutch neighbors next door. The Swedish settlements’ governor at the time was ruling with an iron fist and seizing property to gear up in case a battle were to break out, this made the settlers unhappy so they started running away to seek refugee over on the dutch side. The governor then hired local Leni Lenape to hunt down the runaway mutinous Swedes and bring them back dead or alive. Fast forward a bit, (past some squabble back and forth), the Dutch governor lays siege to Fort Christina in 1655, the Swedish governor gives up, and so after 17 years since establishment the colony was no more. (Or well, most Swedish people decided to stay, but now the colony was under dutch rule and they renamed the base Fort Altena.)

Then there’s Cabo Corso, with it’s prime location along Africa’s gold coast in present day Ghana. The land was purchased by the Swedish Africa Company (Afrikanska kompaniet) in 1650 after making a deal with the King of the local Akan people (Efutu Kingdom). (It got to keep it’s Portuguese name Cabo Corso after the previous Portuguese settlers.) That same year, the first Swedish ship of settlers, under the leadership of Henrik Carloff arrived and built the base Carlousborg (still there today) and the settlements main export/import was intended to be gold, timber and slaves. The Swedish Africa Company, that was mentioned earlier, was founded by Louis De Geer (ill talk about him more in another blog-post later on, he’s important) after getting a special permit from Queen Kristina to establish a trade post here The queen also granted the company monopoly on all Swedish trading beyond the Canary Islands, aka they we’re making a lot of money. So what happened? They were geared up for success? Well, remember the Carloff guy, leader of the first group of settlers? He was made director of the island, however a few years in, he got accused of dealing in some off-the-record trading of his own and got fired. He left the colony pissed, went to Denmark (whom Sweden recently been at war with), spoke to the King, and the King was like mess with some Swede’s? I’m down. So Carloff returned to Ghana with a brand new gun-heavy ship, hired 2000 local Asafo (Akan warrior groups) and conquered Carlousborg. Now the colony was Danish. Carloff appointed his colleague Schmidt responsible for the settlement, and left for Denmark again taking ships and riches with him. Side note: this was one of the things that sparked Swedens second war with Denmark lol. Later when the Swedish government and King Karl X Gustav dealt with the danish to reclaim what was stolen, Carloff ghosted with the treasure and there’s been no record of him since. So after the Swedish-Danish peace treaty that was signed in 1660, Denmark was supposed to return the colony to Sweden, but uhm, you know Schmidt? Carloffs sidekick? He sold it. He sold the colony to the Dutch and ghosted with the money. Thus, our gold coast settlement was no more after 11 years. The end.

Just kidding, next up is Guadeloupe, an archipelago located in the Caribbean right above the Dominican Republic. This was a short one, it was ours for a whole 14 months, between 1813-1814. When talking about Guadeloupe, we also gotta talk about Napoleon Bonaparte and Jean Baptiste Bernadotte. We’ll start with the last guy here, if you’re Swedish and reading this you might know him as King Karl XIV Johan. So briefly summed up the crown prince, king to be, died abruptly, leaving Sweden with no heir, at least none the nobility liked. So this one guy called Georg Adlersparre made up a story about needing a co-sign from Napoleon to instate this random duke as an heir and convinced everyone to let him go to Paris. The real reason he wanted to go was to fetch a French heir, since he believed the only person who could lift Sweden out of their post-war financial crisis and restore it to it’s former glory was a french guy. French people were very popular (and obviously not popular) in Europe at the time due to Napoleon making a name for himself trying to conquer everyone. So he got there, spoke to a bunch of important generals, and picked out one of Napoleons favorites, Jean Baptiste Bernadotte. He was like – come and be our next king, and Jean was like sure. The old king then adopted him and he was renamed Karl Johan. So, to the Guadeloupe part, the archipelago was under British rule (previously french) and the brits were fighting Napoleon in the ongoing war. Sweden (clearly) sided with the french, so the Brits were like – Hey side with us, help us take down Napoleon and we’ll gift you this colony we got. Sweden was like ok cool. We started putting a crew together to sail down and claim it as our own, but before we even set sail the island had been returned to its french former owners and all promises got flushed. The brits payed us some money instead as a sorry.

Then there’s Porto-Novo. Lol, so uhm. In 1733 Sweden tried to gain a hold in India with the Swedish East India Company, so they started building a factory in the city of Porto Novo (today’s Parangipettai), then got sacked by the brits and the french a month in. That’s it.

Lastly we got Saint Barthélemy (Saint Barts), the most commonly known one and the colony Sweden held onto the longest. Sweden bought the island, (located in the Caribbean, off the coast of Puerto Rico), from France in 1784. A remnant of the ownership can for example be seen today if you look at St Barthélemy’s capital, Gustavia, founded by the first Swedish settlers that docked at La Carénage harbor and named after the Swedish King Gustav III who bought the island. French was kept as the predominant language and Swedish was reserved for the senior officials and wealthy merchants. The island produced a moderate amount of goods, mainly cocoa, cotton, sugar, tobacco and fruit. Slave trade was permitted, and special laws regarding taxation were written to cover slave trade alone. There was also a specific set of rules put together by Governor Pehr Herman von Rosenstein called the Code Noir (the Black Code) which was set to control the life of the island slaves. The code noir split the population into the assigned groups: white people, liberated colored people and black slaves. In the early years, the colony made a lot of money due to it’s favorable position along popular trading routes, but towards the end the colony was losing money due to other routes gaining popularity as well as a series of devastating hurricanes so Sweden sold it back to France in 1878. This was our last colony.

Sweden’s part in the transatlantic slave trade:
I put Saint Barts last, because around the same time as the colony was slowly coming to an end (from 1813 and forward) Sweden also started discussing abolishing slavery in their colonies outside Europe. It was going out of style. On St Barts, as mentioned above, during it’s peak both Swedish and international slave trade was conducted. It was officially abolished in 1847, when the Swedish government bought all the remaining slaves on St Barts and set them free. People like to point out that there was ”only” 10-50 ”documented” Swedish shipments of slaves, and even less so only 10 of which were registered to have been done with Swedish ships. I put ”only” and ”documented” because the numbers aren’t exact, since there hasn’t been a thorough survey of our old documents, there simply hasn’t been an interest. We also paid Brits/Danes/French and American’s to ship slaves for us. We bought people, we sold people, we made deals with surrounding islands. We also had a bonus on St Barts that shipments (of people) straight from Afrika could be imported taxfree if they went through us, all to make St Barts lucrative. – 50 shipments tho? that’s only like 0,1% of all slave trade that took place. That’s like nothing, yeah but then we’re not counting that our economical involvement was far greater. I wish I could find records of the total amount of trips funded by Sweden, all the deals we made money from through tax and what-not, our numbers would definitely go up. Sweden made money off of transatlantic slave trade, it’s part of our heritage and helped fund what we are today, whether we like it or not. We whipped, killed, hot branded ”livestock” and used iron collars, just like the other countries involved.

Fun fact, slave-trade has actually been illegal in Sweden since 1335, however, it obviously was not outside of Sweden. So Swedish people brought their business elsewhere. It’s odd though, because Swedish Kings and Queens were involved in establishing every single one of these colonies, both financially and as acting hands in negotiations, yet here it was illegal… it’s almost as if there was a double standard… It reminds me of how in history class we’d talk about the Holocaust, and how the division of tasks enabled the entire thing to go on as it did, because everyone involved could go – No no I just oversee this or that I’m not really responsible or involved. As in how the real racism and slave trade is going on somewhere else, not on our porch, so Sweden’s hands are not clean. Not only are we not taught about it in school, but whenever you try to look it up or read about it in your own time, the opening-lines to all the texts tend to ring the same with their –First things first, Sweden’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade was so teeny tiny minuscule… I don’t care. I didn’t come to read about it because it was ”less” than other countries involvement, I came to read about it because it should’ve been a part of the school curriculum from the start. Just because it was ”less” doesn’t mean we get to write it out, and bump it down the roster below Magnus Ladulås (Swede’s will get this reference).

Anyways, this concludes part one with a brief introduction of the colonies, I’ll continue with part two next week which will cover some other aspect of our history of Racism. Until then, stay hydrated. (It’s 30°C outside (86°F) in Sweden right now and it’s new to us.)





Some extra links (some are in Swedish and some are available in both Swedish and English):

Swe/Eng:
Svenska kolonier

Det svenska slavfortet

Fort Christina

Cabo Corso

Swe:
Lätta fakta om Saint Barthélemy – Sveriges sista koloni

Kolonin Saint Barthélemy

När Sverige skulle bli kolonialmakt

Sveriges slavhistoria avslöjad

Svensk slavhandel

The display picture is: Drottninggatan, Gustavia 1840 – by Anton Molander

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