The Royal African Company of London was initiated by King Charles II in his ambition to expand the slave trade of England. King Charles II and the duke of York invested their own funds into the company to establish it. Initially it was known as the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa company and was only involved in gold trading and was created by the Stuart family and London merchants once the former retook the English throne in the English Restoration of 1660.The company was granted a monopoly over the English slave trade by a charter issued in 1660 and was given the mandate to capture any English rival ship transporting slaves. The company later collapsed since it could not meet the due huge demands of slaves in England among other issues (Miers 45).
England first got involved in slave trade in the 16th century; a move pioneered by John Hawkins an English man whose business was to deport Africans from the west coast of Africa to the West Indies” (Walter 72). At first, trading directly with other European countries was common in Virginia, but the Navigation Act of 1660 brought such relations to an end and only English-owned ships could enter colonial ports. It was at this time that the Royal African Company was formed to supply Virginia planters with labor since England had realized there was a lot of wealth in the trade.” The Royal African Company traded mainly for gold and slaves and the majority of whom were sent to English colonies in the Americas. Its headquarters was Cape Coast Castle, modern-day Ghana; it also maintained many forts and factories in other locations such as Sierra Leone, the Slave Coast, the River Gambia, and additional areas on the Gold Coast” Weeden 63).
The Royal African Company lost its monopoly in 1698, although it continued to engage in the slave trade until 1731. It was replaced by the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa in 1752.’ 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 (Blackburn 212). Other slaves were branded with the company’s initials, RAC, on their chests and its profits made a major contribution to the increase in the financial power of those who controlled London “The British greatly benefited from this lucrative enterprise and approximately 1.5 million ,people were enslaved by the them, London was the biggest trading centre because of its transport links provided by river Thames and the London docks (Alpers, Campbell & Salman 256).
Britain as a country enormously benefited from the trade since slaves were exchanged for cutlery and, military supplies, which they would then exchange in West Indies to get raw materials for their industries and the products sold at huge profits. According to Bryan (106), “There can be little doubt that such a system of trade substantially boosted the development of Britain’s commerce and manufacturing.” However, there were different lines of slave trade such as the Pacific and the Atlantic; England was mostly involved in the Atlantic slave trade. The slave trade was also known as the Trans-Atlantic slave trade; it was the biggest and it mainly dealt with Africans. It lasted from the 16th century to the 19th when slave trade was abolished (Carlos 330).
The trade involved many countries like the Portuguese, Brazilians, the British, the French, the Spanish, the Dutch, and the North Americans. The slaves were mostly from west and central Africa who were captured during trade at the coast while others were kidnapped from their homes or raided at their homes. They were sold to North and South American merchants to work in their sugar, coffee, cocoa, cotton, and rice plantations while others worked in the gold mines and silver mines (Drescher 77).
Curlin (169) notes that more than 12 million Africans were enslaved under this trade which is referred to as maafa by Africans (literally meant ‘great disaster’), and the trade involved four continents, four centuries and millions of people. “The first documented arrival of Africans to Virginia the first place where slaves were deported was in 1619, when a Dutch trading vessel docked in Hampton. There were 20 Africans who were traded to the English as much-needed workers to cultivate tobacco, the new cash crop of Virginia” (Engerman 79). The institution of slavery slowly crept into Virginia legislation and by 1660 it was fully established in Virginia, since tobacco was extremely labor-intensive, and more and more workers were needed and also the sale of Africans to Virginia planters promised to be a profitable endeavor which really flourished (Brown 51).
Nevertheless, Kwaku (4) states that slavery can be traced back to Africa itself, where Africans practiced slavery and was a part of their traditions. Africans sold slaves to Arabs before the arrival of the European who took the trade to a higher level. The Atlantic trade happened in two systems: the first and the second Atlantic systems. The first system involved sale of slaves to South America colonies of the Portuguese and the Spanish empires. It only accounted for a small percentage of the Atlantic trade about 3%. Later, Portugal was attacked by the Dutch and the British therefore weakening the trade (Martin 98). The second system involved enslavement of Africans to work in the Caribbean colonies of Brazil and North America. The slave trade was triangular; the starting point was Europe goods were transported from Europe to Africa they were given to African leaders, kings and merchants in exchange of slaves, this goods included guns, medicine, ammunition and other factory manufactured goods. The slaves were then transported to America through the Atlantic and the final part was returning of goods from America to Europe for manufacturing these goods were sugar, tobacco ,coffee, rum and moll assess. However Brazil the main importer of slaves then manufactured the goods in South America and traded directly with the Africans (Maugham 56).
The trade was encouraged by many reasons but shortage of labor was the main one. This was due to discovery of the “new world” hence there was a lot of cheap land available and the owners definitely wanted workers because the amount of labor was too much as they practiced intensive planting, harvesting and processing (Eltis 98). The trade also developed because of the willingness of Africans to sell fellow Africans for goods from Europe. Those convicted also for wrong doing in Africa were sold to slavery as punishment since there were no prisons. Inikori (45) argues that warfare in Africa was also a major contributor of the slave trade, there were many wars taking place at that time, for example the Congo civil war Oyo and Asante empires crisis.
Patterson (10) and Clarke (75) note that although Africans practiced slavery themselves, it was very different from that of the new world. Whereas in Africa slave’s children were not enslaved, in America they were enslaved at birth. In Africa they were treated well and in some communities they were considered as adopted and had the permission to marry, in contrary to America where they were not allowed to marry, they were ruthlessly bitten and even branded to show ownership although they were not used for sacrifices like it happened in Africa. Countries involved actively or passively in the trade were: Senegal Denanke Kingdom, Kingdom of Fouta, Jolof Empire, and Kingdom of Khasso, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone Ghana, Asante Confederacy and Mankessim of Nigeria, Benin Kingdom of Dahomey, and the Republic of Congo (Cheeves 102).
About 1.2 – 2.4 million Africans died during the middle passage and others died soon after their arrival. The number of people who died during the capture and kidnapping of the Africans is countless but it remained higher than those actually enslaved. Most of the slaves sold were prisoners from African conflicts which the European fueled to their advantage, this trade led to the led to the destruction of individuals and cultures (Cooper, Holt & Scott 120; David 84).
The second part of the slave trade triangle was the most important is known as the middle passage of African people from Africa to the new world (Reynold 85). Ships departed to Africa with merchandise to trade in Africa for slaves, business took place at the coast since the Europeans feared to get into the interior because of tropical diseases. Voyages were organized by companies or groups of merchants and not individuals because they considered it as a major investment opportunity. Millions of Africans were imprisoned, enslaved, and removed from their communities, 15% of those captured died at sea during transportation that is about 2 million, and those that died as a result of slavery in America were more than 4 million African deaths (Roberts 92; Robin Law, British Academy, Royal African Company 106).
In the eighteenth century about 6 million slaves were enslaved and Britain accounted for 2.5millon of them being the largest importer then. The duration of the transatlantic voyage varied depending on the weather many took six months; although as centuries went by the more the importers took less time because they were getting experienced and a voyage would even take six weeks (Williams 56; Cateau & Harrington 96).
Slave ships usually would have several hundreds of slaves and about thirty crew members. Men were chained together in pairs ‘right leg to the next man’s left leg’ in order to save space, while women and children had some little space to themselves. The slaves in transit were fed once a day on beans, corn, yams, rice or palm oil. Some slave holders would let their captives move around the ship daytime but most did not, they tied them throughout the grueling journey (Willis & Miers 480). Disease and starvation were the main causes of death and amoebic dysentery and scurvy caused the majority of deaths. There were also disease out breaks like, smallpox, syphilis, measles, and other diseases spread rapidly in the in the squeezed compartments. The longer the voyage took the more slaves would die due to the harsh conditions, the quality and freshness of food disappeared every passing day. Another cause of death was depression because of the loss because of the loss of freedom, family, security, and their own humanity (Zuberi 156; Fage 198).
Some slaves would take courage and resist their oppressors most of them refused to eat and this would make them sick and eventually die and hence a loss to the holder. Others would commit suicide by throwing themselves overboard, as well as a variety of many other opportunistic means. Over the centuries very many Africans committed suicide, which they preferred since they believe they would meet with their families in the afterlife. A former slave was quoted saying “When we found ourselves at last taken away, death was more preferable than life, and a plan was concerted amongst us, which we might burn and blow up the ship, and to perish all together in the flames” (Indrani 321). Both suicide and self-starving were prevented as much as possible by slaver holders hence they were even torture so that they would feed but some still managed to starve themselves. It was not just the slaves who suffered, the sailors themselves experienced terrible conditions and often were employed only through coercion. Sailors knew and hated the slave trade, so at port towns, recruiters and tavern owners would get sailors drunk, and then offer to relieve their debt if they signed contracts with slave ships. If they did not, they would be imprisoned, sailors in prison had a hard time getting jobs outside of the slave ship industry, since most other maritime industries would not hire “jail-birds,” so they were forced to go to the slave ships anyway” (Hogg 73; Michlethwait & Wooldridge 32).
This kind of treatment made many Africans depressed and left them in a severe psychological shock.” This was compounded by a common fear among the Africans that they had been taken by the Europeans to be eaten, to be made into oil or gunpowder, or that their blood was to be used to dye the red flags of Spanish ships while it was their skills as agricultural laborers’ and their adaptability to tropical climates that were sorely needed in the agricultural economy of the European colonies. Once the slaves arrived in America or other destinations they were taken to the plantations by their specific owners while others would be sold, as property, even worse there were advertisements for slaves on sale. It was not only merchants and ship captains who were involved in this trade, but also artisans and businesspeople were involved. These included blacksmiths, bakers, goldsmiths, hatters, shoemakers, tailors and tobacconists. Doctors, judges, and midwives were also among the slave sellers. Even governors owned slaves as demonstrated by an advertisement listing a “Mulatto Boy” for sale from the estate of a deceased governor” Collins 25).
In Britain, the first private slave trader was, John Hawkins, who began the trade in 1562, he left England with 100 men and 3 ships, his first point was Sierra Leone where he captured 300 slaves and sold them in Hispaniola, on his return his ship was full of goods like such as hides, ginger and sugar the queen gained interest in him and the two became business partners, the royal family slowly got into the slave trade and on the third voyage Hawkins took along Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh who also developed to be great slave traders. The Duke of York also through the queen joined the trade and he used to get his initials, ‘DY’, branded onto the left buttock or breast of each of the 3000 slaves who were his and he sold them to the Caribbean’s. Business was booming and in the 17th and18th century slave’s population in the British Caribbean was approximately 428,000 out of a population of 500,000 (Kitson 87).
Due to the growth of slave trade, the royal family decided to create a company that would control slave trade and completely abolish the private slave traders; for this reason the Royal African Company was established. The Company transported an average of 5000 slaves per year, between 1680 and1686, and received annual grants from parliament of about £90,000. King Charles II was a major a shareholder, and hence maintained the Royal family involvement in slavery. The Royal African Company had agents in Virginia to whom slaves were delivered, they were given a seven-percent commission on sales, some of the major players in trade were John Page, Colonel Nathaniel Bacon and William Sherwood were all prominent Virginians who served as factors, agents or representatives for the Company (Miers & Klein 102; Spooner 87).
Private traders were not pleased with this and pardoned the court to be allowed to continue with the trade of human cattle, however in 1698 parliament approved private traders to participate in the slave trade as long as they paid a 10% duty on English goods exported to Africa. Business went bad for the company, since private traders overtook it. Many factors led to the fall of the company some of them were: the Company was not achieving a profit and had to borrow money to pay dividends, the planters were always complaining that the company was not able to supply enough slaves and the demand was overwhelming, hence they argued that the monopoly be abolished so that more slaves could be imported. Eventually, the Company, “which was always heavily patronized by the Stuart monarchs, fell out of favor when James II was deposed and William and Mary came to the throne” this led to the abolishment of the company because it was no longer valid. The company though continued slave trade at small scale levels until 1731; it abandoned the trade and started trafficking 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” (Solow & Engerman 214).
Liverpool’s Bristol and London benefited greatly from this trade, it was booming and in the 17th century Liverpool’s first slave ship transported 220 slaves to Barbados and sold them for £4,239, this was less than £20 per slave.” In addition, Liverpool had 8 major slave traders who together could transport 25,820 that worked out around 50-550 per ship.” However, England signed the ‘Treaty of Utrecht’ with Spain in 1733, which granted England monopoly of the Spanish slave trade for 30 years as England promised at least 144,000 slaves at the rate of 4,800 slaves per year. In 1772 Lord Mansfield came to proclaim it illegal to remove any person forcibly from England, though this did not make any big change because many of the major politicians were deeply involved with slavery. For example, Richard Pennant who was Liverpool’s Member of Parliament from 1777 to 1790, owned 8,000 acres of sugar plantations and over 600 slaves in Jamaica. Similarly, three out of 41 councilors in Liverpool were slave ship owners or major investors in the slave trade and during the years of 1787 and 1807, all 20 mayors who held office in Liverpool financed or owned slave ships.”
The slave trade was abolished in 1808 over 100 years after the British Empire became involved in slave trading, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was abolished within the Empire and also in the United States. However it was not until 1827 that Britain declared the slave trade illegal, and in 1833 slavery was abolished throughout Europe, the Emancipation Act went through British parliament. It still took another 11 years until 1838 before slavery was fully abolished within the British Empire.
The new system however gave some £20,000, to the planters as compensation although nothing was awarded to any former slaves. The system even made things worse for the former slaves due to the high taxes on smallholdings, high rates for licenses on small traders and contracts to shackle the laborers to the large plantations; hence they were forced to continue working in arduous conditions on the plantations. In 1844 there was labor shortage and this led to the introduction of indentured labor from another of Britain’s colonies, India. The Indian laborers made conditions worse for former slaves as they undermined any attempts to get better working and living conditions through strikes.
By 1917, 145,000 Indians had been transported to Trinidad and 238,000 to Guyana. Jamaica was also affected with around 39,000 immigrants. The only island not affected was Barbados. It evident that the slave trade led to the growth of the populations of Europe and America while those of Africa remained stagnant. Revenues from slavery were used to build Europe and America’s economies and especially the industrial revolution was funded by the profits from agricultural activities which were done by the slaves. Scholars have argued that Britain’s industrial development is owed to slavery and that Britain thrives on slavery wealth. Some also have claimed that by the time it was completely abolished its importance was long gone and its abolishment was an advantage for Britain, some though think differently and argue that slavery was useful to the end.
In 1787, the first anti slavery movement was formed “The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.” The first countries to petition against slavery were Cuba and Jamaica, United States followed suit and later on Britain, Portugal and in some other parts of Europe. The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) was the leading movement in Britain that called for abolition of slavery, the movement was joined by many and began to protest against the trade, but they were opposed by the owners of the colonial holdings. Denmark was the first country to ban slave trade through a parliamentary legislation in 1792, which took effect in 1803.
In 1807, Britain banned the trade but not slavery itself, although the slave trade had become illegal, slavery remained a reality in British colonies. Wilberforce himself was convinced that the institution of slavery should be entirely abolished, but he also knew there was little political will to do so by the politicians. The Emancipation Bill was taken to parliament, it was supposed to officially abolish slave trade in Britain if passed, and it gathered support and received its final commons reading on 26 July 1833. Slavery was to be abolished planters would be well compensated; slaves on plantations were required to remain for a further six years.
Those who petitioned for abolition argued that slavery made Africans to go into constant wars so that they could capture prisoners who would be sold as slaves to meet the ever growing demand for slaves. People avoided details of the middle passage issue because it would have caused great animosity and only talked about the massive deaths it caused and hence the need to an end of slavery. They also argued that despite the conditions at sea the whole ordeal of slave trade was grueling and had to stop immediately. The trade also led to the birth of the black social identifies and European superiority, which led to the slow development of the African race. They however agreed that the trade was important for the stability of the economy which was obviously not important than human rights. The debate over slavery went on for decades before abolition was finalized.
Davies (86) observes that “The Royal Navy, which then controlled the world’s seas, moved to stop other nations from filling Britain’s place in the slave trade and declared that slaving was equal to piracy and was punishable by death.” They forced other nations to quit the trade to so as to protect their economy and also make their colonies uncompetitive. Other European countries were left with no option but to stop and when that happened the British navy took its supremacy to the west coast so as to secure the sea and they were stationed there for the next 50 years. Action was taken for African leaders who refused to stop slave trade activities. Antislavery treaties were signed all over Africa by 50 leaders (Boddy-Evans 10; Carlos & Kruse 291).
In conclusion England’s involvement in the slave trade as viewed from the National Gallery in London, slave trade was a respected occupation then and many of the London merchants who were taking almost 3/4 of the sugar imported from the West Indies lived in South London in Blackheath. It can be said Europe and America are built on funds made through the sale of African’s ancestors because they labored and toiled on the plantations to many of the banks in this countries today and so are the their families. Slavery is not over but entrenched at the heart of London’s wealth. In 1998, UNESCO designated August 23 as International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. Since that occurrence, a number of events surrounding the recognition of the effect of slavery on both the enslaved and enslavers have come to pass. At the World Conference against Racism, South Africa, African nations demanded a clear apology for slavery from the former slave-trading countries. Some nations were willing to do so but some refused such as the United Kingdom, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, and the United States. The countries feared that they would be asked to pay compensation. Apologies on behalf of African nations, for their role in trading their countrymen into slavery, also remain an open. On November 27, 2006, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a partial apology for Britain’s role in the African slavery trade. However, African rights activists denounced it as “empty rhetoric” and it did not address the issue like it should. The apology was just mere talk and they say he should have not even said it. On August 24, 2007, Ken Livingstone (then Mayor of London) apologized publicly for London’s role in the slave trade. “You can look across there to see the institutions that still have the benefit of the wealth they created from slavery”, he said pointing towards the financial district, before breaking down in tears. He said it was still haunted by the memories of slavery. Jesse Jackson praised Mayor Livingstone, and added that reparations should be made. On January 30, 2006, Jacques Chirac (the then French President) said that 10 May would henceforth be a national day of remembrance for the victims of slavery in France, and when marking the day in 2001 when France passed a law recognizing slavery as a crime against humanity. On July 30, 2008, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution apologizing for American slavery and subsequent discriminatory laws. The language included a reference to the “fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and segregation (Howard 21).