Africans and The Making of the Americas: Part 2, Mining


The first great source of wealth for the Americas came from gold, silver and diamond mines of Mexico, Peru, and Brazil. Their products, when shipped to Europe fueled the growth of a mercantile capitalist economy. Many of the Africans coming to the Americas had lived in gold mining areas such as Bambuk, Bure or the Akan country of the Gold coast, and they had considerable experience in shaft mining and panning for gold in waterways. Though they were usually outnumbered by Native Americans in the mines of Mexico and Bolivia, African miners were in great demand and were granted special privileges. In the Minas Gerais region of 20,000 in 1710 to 100,000 in 1735-in the 1750’s, about 60% of the Africans arriving in port of Salvador de Bahia were assigned to work in the mine of the interior. Work in the mines were brutality hard and few men survived more than a dozen years. On the other hand miners were often allowed to prospect on their own after meeting a specified quota; in this way, many Black miners were able to accumulate enough capital to purchase their own freedom.

In the U.S, coal from eastern Virginia became an essential commodity during the late 18th century, and much of the mining was done by African Americans. A French traveler who visited a Virginia mine in 1796 reported that the owner knows very little of the operation and depended on 500 enslaved miners to make the venture work. The Black Heath Pits, which produced the highest quality coal in the region, employed large numbers of Black men, who were often entrusted with the most difficult and complex tasks, such as operating the steam engines at the pitheads.

In 1858, a company of 600 African American gold miners made some successful strikes in California, only to find that new legislation deprived them of the right to own property or to give evidence in a court of law against Whites, while requiring them to wear special badges that identified them as “Coloreds”. These newly wealthy miners organized an emigration society and moved to British Columbia, Canada, where the governor guaranteed them the rights and protection of all the other citizens.


Book: Schomburg Center For Research in Black Black Culture, African American Desk Refernce

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  1. Thanks for sharing such great information. So much injustice! But I am so glad we are learning of the importance of our forefathers’ labor in the so-called great economies of the world. It’s like talking about the importance of slaves in Europe: nobody tells you that African slaves built some of the streets and buildings of France, it only seems as if slaves were just taken to the new world.



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