Royal African Company

2011-02-26 13:56:52

In 1672, the Royal African Company was granted a monopoly in the British slave trade in order to ensure an adequate labor force for the plantations of the Caribbean and the southern colonies of the Atlantic seaboard of North America. The company flourished between 1672 and 1698, when Parliament opened the slave trade to all merchants.
Africans were brought to America in small numbers beginning in 1619, when a Dutch warship landed about 20 workers at Port Comfort, Virginia (see African forced migration). Slavery as a legal institution was not provided for in the colonies, however, until 1661, and most Africans in English colonies until the 1650s were probably servants. With the passage of the first navigation acts in 1650–51 and the advent of a royal policy under Charles II (r. 1660–85) discouraging the emigration of indentured servants (see indentured servitude), a labor shortage ensued on southern plantations. In order to provide a more stable labor force for tobacco, rice, and indigo farmers, in 1660, the British government chartered the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa. During the second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–67), the company failed but was reorganized in 1672 as the Royal African Company. By the 1680s, it was averaging more than 25 annual voyages to Africa and transporting 5,000 slaves a year. Still, the company was unable either to turn a profit or supply the demand for slave labor. By 1713 the company was virtually bankrupt, although it maintained some forts on the West African coast until it was formally dissolved in 1821.