For the Bristol merchants the slave trade seemed an unmissable opportunity to prosper. For example, the Warmley Brass Company, owned by the Goldney and Champion families, exported "Guinea" cooking pots, which we highly desired by African traders. The outward voyage from Bristol also included trinkets, beads, copper rods, cotton goods, guns and alcohol which were to be traded for slaves off the coast of West Africa.
This is part of a record kept by a Bristol merchant of a cargo list for a ship going to Africa from Bristol in the 18th century.
An estimate for a cargo to purchase 250 Negroes at Bonny
80 rolls of blue chintz cloth
100 rolls of cotton cloth with fine small stripes (small)
100 rolls of cotton cloth with fine small stripes (large)
100 cotton rolls with red and blue mixed stripes
30 cloths blue and white checked
300 muskets bright barrels
300 muskets black barrels
40 pair common large pistols
2 tons lead in small bars
14 tons iron 1000 copper rods
80 cases bottles of brandy
5 cases pipe beads
All goods could be traded profitably, although African slave traders were not to be treated lightly and would drive a hard bargain. According to the French merchant Jean Barbot, who spent some time on the Gold Coast in the late 17th Century, the African traders had at first been swindled, because it never entered their thoughts that white men would cheat them.
However, they soon learned better and became very careful traders. Both sides cheated when they could, as the trade was rough and unregulated, with blackmail and deceit more common than honest dealing.
There was one French captain who bought a large quantity of gold and sailed home, congratulating himself on having made a fortune in exchange for his trashy goods, only to discover when he arrived home, that he had actually bought a worthless load of old brass filings.
Slaves were held in holding forts, which sprung up all over the trading coastline, until slave ships arrived to transport them across the Atlantic Ocean. The holding conditions were often very cruel and fetid, where mistreatment of the captives was rife.
One such fort was Cape Coast Castle which was the headquarters of the English Royal African Company, eight miles along the coast from El Mina
An impressive and impregnable building in its prime, it could hold a thousand slaves in its dungeons. "The keeping of slaves thus underground", a Frenchman remarked, "is a good security to the garrison against any insurrection."