Royal African Company

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1686 guinea showing the company's logo, an elephant and castle, under bust of James II

The Royal African Company was a mercantile company set up by the Stuart family and London merchants to trade along the west coast of Africa. It was led by James, Duke of York, Charles II's brother. Its original purpose was to exploit the gold fields up the Gambia River identified by Prince Rupert during the Interregnum, and it was set up once Charles II gained the English throne in the English Restoration of 1660.[1] However, it was soon engaged in the slave trade as well as with other commodities.

History[edit]

Originally known as the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa, it was granted a monopoly over English trade with West Africa, by its charter issued in 1660. With the help of the army and navy it established forts on the West African coast that served as staging and trading stations, and it was responsible for seizing any English ships that attempted to operate in violation of their monopoly. In the prize court the King received half of the proceeds and the company half.[2]

The company fell heavily into debt in 1667 during the war with the Netherlands – the very war it started by having company Admiral Robert Holmes attack the Dutch African trade posts in 1664 – as it had lost most of its forts on the African coast except Cape Corse.[3] For the next several years the company maintained some desultory trade, including licensing single trip private traders, but their biggest effort was the creation in 1668, to start 1 January 1669, of the Gambia Adventurers[4] which was separately subscribed and granted a ten year license for African trade north of the Bight of Benin.[5] In 1672, the company re-emerged, re-structured and with a new Royal Charter, as the new Royal African Company. Its new charter was broader than the old one and included the right to set up forts, factories, maintain troops and to exercise martial law in West Africa, in pursuit of trade in gold, silver and slaves.[6] At the end of 1678, the license to the Gambia Adventurers expired and Gambian trade was merged into the company.[7]

In the 1680s it was transporting about 5,000 slaves per year. Many were branded with the letters 'DY', after its chief, the Duke of York, who succeeded his brother on the throne in 1685, becoming James II. Other slaves were branded with the company's initials, RAC, on their chests.[8]

Between 1672 and 1689 it transported around 90,000-100,000 slaves. Its profits made a major contribution to the increase in the financial power of those who controlled London.

From 1694 until 1700, the company was a major participant in the Komenda Wars in the port city Komenda in the Eguafo Kingdom in modern-day Ghana. The company allied with a merchant prince named John Cabess and various neighboring African kingdoms to depose the king of Eguafo and permanently establish a fort and factory in Komenda.[9]

In 1689, it acknowledged that it had lost its monopoly with the end of royal power in the Glorious Revolution.[10] This became enacted in law in 1698 with an act opening African trade to any English Merchants, provided the pay a ten per cent levy to the Company on all goods exported from Africa. [11]This was advantageous for merchants in Bristol, even if, like the Bristolian Edward Colston, they had already been involved in the trade. The number of slaves transported on English ships subsequently increased dramatically.

The company continued purchasing and transporting slaves until 1731, when it abandoned slaving in favour of ivory and gold dust. Charles Hayes (1678–1760), mathematician and chronologist was sub-governor of Royal African Company till 1752 when it was dissolved. Its successor was the African Company of Merchants.

The Royal African Company's logo depicted an elephant and castle.

From 1668 to 1722 the Royal African Company provided gold to the English Mint. Coins made with this gold bear an elephant below the bust of the king and/or queen. This gold also gave the coinage its name—the guinea.[12]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Carrington, Charles (1950). The British Overseas: Exploits of a Nation of Shopkeepers. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 217. OCLC 1083162. 
  2. ^ Davies, Kenneth Gordon (1999). The Royal African Company. Routledge/Thoemmes Press. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-415-19077-0. , originally published in London by Longmans, Green in 1957.
  3. ^ Zook, George Frederick (1919). The Company of Royal Adventurers Trading Into Africa. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Press of the New Era Printing Company. p. 20.  also published as Zook, George Frederick (1919). "The Company of Royal Adventurers Trading Into Africa". The Journal of Negro History 4 (2): 134–231, page 155. 
  4. ^ The "Gambia Adventurers" is sometimes known as The Gambian Merchants' Company.
  5. ^ Zook 1919, p. 23
  6. ^ Kitson, Frank. (1999) Prince Rupert: Admiral and General-at-Sea. London: Constable, p.238.
  7. ^ Davies 1999, p. 215
  8. ^ Micklethwait, John, and Adrian Wooldridge. The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea. New York: Modern Library, 2003. ISBN 0-679-64249-8.
  9. ^ Law, Robin (2007). "The Komenda Wars, 1694-1700: a Revised Narrativ". History in Africa 34: 133–168. 
  10. ^ Although no law was passed by parliament, the company ceased issuing letters of marque.Davies 1999, p. 123
  11. ^ P.E.H Hair & Robin Law, 'The English in West Africa to 1700', in The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume 1, The Origins of Empire: British Overseas Enterprise to the close of the Seventeenth Century, ed. Nicholas Canny (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 259
  12. ^ Davies 1999, p. 181

Further reading[edit]

  • Davies, Kenneth Gordon. The Royal African Company (Routledge/Thoemmes Press, (1999).
  • Pettigrew, William A. Freedom's Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752 (University of North Carolina Press; 2014) 262 pages; examines the political aspects of the regulation, deregulation, and re-regulation of the British transatlantic slave trade.

External links[edit]