The Royal African Company

In the early part of the 17th century, British merchants and Parliament had frowned on the idea of slavery being acceptable in any part of their empire.

However, as trade with the Caribbean colonies began to grow it became obvious that there was a shortage of labour, which would need to be rectified to ensure profits could be maintained. In 1662 Parliament granted a charter to a newly formed company - The Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa - which allowed and encouraged them to involve themselves in the slave trade. To the great dissatisfaction of merchants from other cities, however, the charter provided exclusive rights to the Company, which effectively meant the merchants of London.

For various reasons, the Company was not successful, so in 1672 a new company was formed - The Royal African Company.  Once again, the merchants from London were the primary beneficiaries and were granted exclusive rights.

The slave trade now began in earnest, with many powerful merchants, such as Edward Colston, engaging wholeheartedly in shipping slaves from Africa. They had forts built on the West African coast to protect their trade and to provide holding pens for slaves. Any other slave traders, or privateers, had to pay a tax of 10% to the Royal African Company. Between 1680 and 1686 an average of 5000 slaves a year were transported to the Caribbean.

 


However, after much opposition from groups of merchants like Bristol's Society of Merchant Venturers, Parliament repealed the monopoly on slavery in 1698. The Royal African Company tried hard to win back their exclusive rights, but were unable to do so. By 1750, the Company was wound up when it became a full partner in a new company of merchants trading with Africa.

The Royal African Company

© 2002-2005 Andrew Nash