With Qualifiersplathilios [Common Spelling Variation], platilhas [Portuguese]
Textiles, Modifiers, and Values
Choose a textile from the dropdown list on the upper left. Select modifier(s) for your selected textile, if any. The bar graph will generate visualizations that reflect your selections. X- and y-axis variables can also be changed.
A note about modifiers: The modifier dropdown list will include only those modifiers that relate to the selected textile. Choose OR to see results that match any of the selected modifiers. Choose AND to see results that match all of the selected modifiers. You can select more than one modifier in each field.
Platillas are fine, bleached linens made in Silesia, but perhaps also Hamburg, Flanders, and Germany. In our current data set (1700-1724), platillas are never described with any attributes, such as different colors, patterns, or geographies. It is possible that platillas are a variety, or grade, of Silesian linen (called Silesias), a broad category of linen made in the central European region from where it got its name (sletias is a common alternative spelling for Silesias). However, whereas Silesias ranged in quality from coarse to fine and were often dyed a range of colors, platillas seem to be exclusively fine and bleached. This accords with the two extant samples of platillas we have found thus far, which are both white and very fine.
The price of platillas is remarkably consistent over the twenty-five-year period covered by our data set, averaging between 10.5 and 13.6 guilders per schock (4 pieces). This consistency of price and the lack of descriptive modifiers seems to suggest that platillas were not enhanced with decorative patterns, colors, or other embellishments that might increase the price.
Our data indicates that between the years 1700 and 1724, platillas were loaded exclusively onto WIC ships headed to the western coast of Africa; there appears to be no corresponding platillas market for the VOC in Asia. Of the three major ports in West and West Central Africa, the strongest market for platillas appears to have been Benin (the former “Slave Coast”), where over 15,000 schock of platillas (more than 60,000 pieces) were shipped during this time period, as compared to fewer than 2,000 schock (8,000 pieces) to Angola and fewer than 6,000 schock (24,000 pieces) to Ghana (the former “Gold Coast”).
It is unclear why platillas were preferred in Benin to other types of linen, although it is not hard to imagine how its fineness would have been desired for garments. Although seventeenth-century travel writers have much to say about the uses of linen in general (see slaaplakens glossary entry), they say little about platillas. They do, however, mention Silesian linen. Pieter de Marees, in his 1602 Description and Historical Account of the Gold Kingdom of Guinea, writes: “In the first place we bring them large amounts of Silesian linen, which sells there in great quantities, because they clothe themselves with it and it is the most popular cloth which they use to wear.” As with other types of linen, then, Silesian linens—including platillas—may have been used as clothing. It is critical to note, however, that our data set includes a rich assortment of linens with different material characteristics—not only platillas, but also slaaplakens, servietten, and lhymenias, among other linens produced in France, Germany, Holland, and Flanders. Even a cursory view of our web applications reveals that different types of linen were being shipped in greater or lesser amounts to different geographical regions of West and West Central Africa, suggesting sophisticated and discerning consumers who desired different qualities of linen, likely for a range of uses.
While it is unclear to what precise purpose platillas were put in a local African context, documents suggest that this fine linen fabric played an outsized role in the slave trade in Benin. The horrific 1668 document below carried on the WIC ship, Wapen van Amsterdam—which traveled from the Kingdom of Ardra (in the southern region of today’s Republic of Benin) to Curaçao, shows how the lives of 85 and ½ enslaved people were valued at 684 platillas—2 schoks, or 8 pieces, per person.
Other documents confirm the significance of platillas for the slave trade. Willem Bosman, the WIC factor stationed in Ouidah in Benin at the end of the seventeenth century, records the guidelines for participating in local trade in a 1700 letter. After detailing the obligatory gifts to be presented to the king as well as the subsequent trade negotiations that needed to occur, he lists a number of commodities (mostly textiles and cowries) and the corresponding amount of enslaved people that could be purchases with them. He writes that ten pieces of platillas would enable a Dutch factor to purchase 8 enslaved people from the merchants working directly under the king. This is another harsh reminder of how closely intertwined were the textile and transatlantic slave trades.
 Florence Montgomery and others have suggested that “Silesias” is the root of the term “sleazy.” Montgomery, Florence M. Textiles in America, 1650-1870 (New York: Norton, 1984), 348. See also Alpern, “What Africans Got for Their Slaves: A Master List of European Trade Goods,” History in Africa 22 (1995), 9. On the production of Silsias in the second half of the eighteenth century, see Anke Steffens, “A Cloth that Binds: New Perspectives on the eighteenth-century Prussian economy,” Slavery and Abolition, v. 42, n. 1 (2021): 105-129. See also footnote 5.
 Secondary sources suggest that there was indeed an American market for platillas as well, but our data currently only covers the trade between the Netherlands and Africa.
 Pieter de Marees, Description and historical account of the Gold Kingdom of Guinea, A. van Dantzig and A. Jones (trans.), (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 51.
 Johannes Postma. The Dutch in the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600-1815 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 363-363.
 Anka Steffen and Klaus Weber have studied the rural production of Silesian linen and its ties to African—and other—export markets, demonstrating the often-overlooked connections between eastern European economies and the transatlantic slave trade. Anka Steffen and Klaus Weber, “Spinning and Weaving for the Slave Trade: Proto-Industry in Eighteenth-Century Silesia” in Slavery Hinterland: Transatlantic Slavery and Continental Europe, 1680-1850, edited by Felix Brahm and Eve Rosenhaft, NED-New edition., 87–108. Boydell & Brewer, 2016.