The Shackles of Memory Association (Les Anneaux de la Mémoire in french-speaking countries) is a non-profit association registered under the Law on Associations of 1901, whose aim is to bring closer to the general public the history of the slave trade, slavery and their modern consequences, in order to promote new partnerships on a fair and respectful basis, between the societies of Africa, the Americas and Europe.
It is also dedicated to studying and bringing a new light on some elements in the history of various towns and regions from all around the world. It first directed its attention to the city and region of Nantes (France) and its historical link to slavery. The Association is also active at international level by providing support to anyone interested in doing research on those dark chapters of human history.
Shared values of liberty, respect, equality and solidarity and a concern for scientific accuracy in its understanding of historical, social and economic factors are core principles that underpin the Association's work and projects.
In choosing its name “Shackles of Memory”, the Association intended to:
- recall the captives' shackles in African caravans, on slave ships and on plantations in the New World;
- evoke the links in the historical chain which the populations concerned can relate to;
- highlight the alliances which the people of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans can initiate for a renewed triangle cooperation made up of respectful and prosperous relationships.
The Shackles of Memory Association was created in Nantes (France) in the early 1990s. It was indeed the history of the city and its region, coupled with the amnesia of this history, that prompted the creation of the Association. Because they loved their city and wished to change the general denial of its past, the founders of the Shackles of Memory worked with the intention to bring Nantes and its inhabitants to confront their history, convinced as they were that memory can only bring better understanding to the world.
Nantes, a Slave Port
As early as the Middle Ages, Nantes established itself as a trading post for salt and wines with the rest of Europe. Its commercial and maritime rise took place at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century. Navigation and deep-sea fishing, especially cod fishing in the Newfoundland waters, developed, and Nantes also fit out a few privateer ships. Finally, exchanges with the first colonized territories became more numerous. In the 18th century, Nantes embarked in trading with the colonies and in the more risky, but often more profitable, triangular trade.
The triangle trade was not Nantes's only outlet, but the high number of ships fit out there for the slave trade compared to other cities in the kingdom gave Nantes the reputation of the chief port for “ebony” traders (“ebony” was a common euphemism used by the slave traders to refer to black slaves). The slave trade is considered today to have been the main driving force in Nantes's maritime expansion, in the 18th and 19th centuries.
- From 1700 to 1750, Nantes operated the 2/3 of the French slave trade.
- After 1815, when the trade was carried on illegally, Nantes fit out almost 70% of the French slave ships.
- 1709 out of 4420 French slave trade expeditions departed from Nantes (about 40%), which means that about 450 000 black people were transported between the 16th and the 19th centuries by slave shipowners from Nantes only.