Royal African Company
FormerlyCompany of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa
Company typePrivate
IndustryMercantile trading
Founded1660 (1660) in London, England
FoundersHouse of Stuart
City of London merchants
Defunct1752 (1752)
Key people
James II, Charles II
ProductsGold, silver, ivory, humans

The Royal African Company (RAC) was an English trading company established in 1660 by the House of Stuart and City of London merchants to trade along the West African coast.[1] It was overseen by the Duke of York, the brother of Charles II of England; the RAC was founded after Charles II ascended to the English throne in the 1660 Stuart Restoration, and he granted it a monopoly on all English trade with Africa.[2] While the company's original purpose was to trade for gold in the Gambia River, as Prince Rupert of the Rhine had identified gold deposits in the region during the Interregnum, the RAC quickly began trading in slaves, which became its largest commodity.

Historians have estimated that the RAC shipped more African slaves to the Americas during the Atlantic slave trade than any other company. The RAC also dealt in other commodities such as ivory, which were primarily sourced from the Gold Coast region. After William III of England rescinded the company's monopoly in 1697 under pressure from the Parliament of England, the RAC became insolvent by 1708, though it survived in a state of much reduced activity until 1752, when its assets were transferred to the newly founded African Company of Merchants, which lasted until 1821.[3]



On the west coast of Africa the few Europeans lived in fortified factories (trading posts). They had no sovereignty over the land or its natives, and very little immunity to tropical diseases. The coastal tribes acted as intermediaries between them and the slave-hunters of the interior. There was little incentive for European men to explore up the rivers, and few of them did so. The atmosphere might have been one of quiet routine for the traders had there not been acute rivalries between the European powers; especially the Dutch, who made use of native allies against their rivals. Before the Restoration, the Dutch had been the main suppliers of slaves to the English West Indian plantations, but it was part of the policy of the English Navigation Acts to oust them from this lucrative trade.[4] Between 1676 and 1700, the value of gold exports from Africa was similar to the total value of slave exports. After the Peace of Ryswick in 1697, the price of slaves in Africa and the number of slaves exported doubled; from then, until trade diminished after 1807, slaves were clearly the most valuable export of Africa.[5]

Company of Royal Adventurers Trading into Africa

1686 English guinea showing the Royal African Company's symbol, an elephant and castle, under the bust of James II

Originally known as the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading into Africa, by its charter issued on 18 December 1660 it was granted a monopoly over English trade along the west coast of Africa, with the principal objective being the search for gold. The company was to be run by a committee of six: the Earl of Pembroke, Lord Craven, George Caveret, Ellis Leighton and Cornelius Vermuyden. In 1663, a new charter was obtained which also mentioned the trade in slaves.[6] This was the third English African Company, but it made a fresh start in the slave trade and there was only one factory of importance for it to take over from the East India Company, which had leased it as a calling-place on the sea-route round the Cape. This was Cormantin, a few miles east of the Dutch station of Cape Coast Castle, now in Ghana. The 1663 charter prohibits others to trade in "redwood, elephants' teeth, negroes, slaves, hides, wax, guinea grains, or other commodities of those countries".[7] In 1663, as a prelude to the Dutch war, Captain Holmes's expedition captured or destroyed all the Dutch settlements on the coast, and in 1664, Fort James was founded on an island about twenty miles up the Gambia river, as a new centre for English trade and power. This, however, was only the beginning of a series of captures and recaptures. In the same year, de Ruyter won back all the Dutch forts except Cape Coast Castle and also took Cormantin. In 1667, the Treaty of Breda confirmed Cape Coast Castle to the English.[4][8]

Forts served as staging and trading stations, and the company was responsible for seizing any English ships that attempted to operate in violation of its monopoly (known as interlopers). In the "prize court", the King received half of the proceeds and the company half from the seizure of these interlopers.[9]

The company fell heavily into debt in 1667, during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. For several years after that, the company maintained some desultory trade, including licensing single-trip private traders, but its biggest effort was the creation in 1668 of the Gambia Adventurers.[10] This new company was separately subscribed and granted a ten-year licence for African trade north of the Bight of Benin with effect from 1 January 1669.[11] At the end of 1678, the licence to the Gambia Adventurers expired and its Gambian trade was merged into the company.[12]

Royal African Company of England

The African Company was ruined by its losses and surrendered its charter in 1672, to be followed by the still more ambitious Royal African Company of England. Its new charter was broader than the old one and included the right to set up forts and factories, maintain troops, and exercise martial law in West Africa, in pursuit of trade in "gold, silver, negroes, slaves, goods, wares and merchandises whatsoever".[13][14] Until 1687, the company was very prosperous. It set up six forts on the Gold Coast, and another post at Ouidah, farther east on the Slave Coast, which became its principal centre for trade. Cape Coast Castle was strengthened and rose to be second in importance only to the Dutch factory at Elmina. Anglo-Dutch rivalry was, however, henceforward unimportant in the region and the Dutch were not strong enough to take aggressive measures here in the Third Anglo-Dutch War.[4]

Slave trade

In the 1680s, the company was transporting about 5,000 enslaved people a year to markets primarily in the Caribbean across the Atlantic. Many were branded with the letters "DoY", for its Governor, the Duke of York, who succeeded his brother on the throne in 1685, becoming King James II. Other slaves were branded with the company's initials, RAC, on their chests.[15] Historian William Pettigrew has stated that this company "shipped more enslaved African women, men and children to the Americas than any other single institution during the entire period of the transatlantic slave trade", and that investors in the company were fully aware of its activities and intended to profit from this exploitation.[16][17]

Between 1672 and 1731, the Royal African Company transported 187,697 enslaved people on company-owned ships (653 voyages) to English colonies in the Americas. Of those transported, 38,497 enslaved people died en route.[18] The predecessor Company of Royal Adventurers (1662–1672) transported 26,925 enslaved people on company-owned ships (104 voyages), of whom 6,620 died during the passage.[18]

Later activities and insolvency

From 1694 to 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 neighbouring African kingdoms to depose the king of Eguafo and establish a permanent fort and factory in Komenda.[19] The English took two French forts and lost them again, after which the French destroyed Fort James. The place appears to have been soon regained and in the War of Spanish Succession to have been twice retaken by the French. In the treaty of Utrecht it remained English. The French wars caused considerable losses to the company.[4]

In 1689, the company acknowledged that it had lost its monopoly with the end of royal power in the Glorious Revolution, and it ceased issuing letters of marque.[20] Edward Colston transferred a large segment of his original shareholding to William III at the beginning of 1689, securing the new regime's favour.[21][22] To maintain the company and its infrastructure and end its monopoly, parliament passed the Trade with Africa Act 1697 (9 Will. 3 c. 26).[23] Among other provisions, the Act opened the African trade to all English merchants who paid a ten per cent levy to the company on all goods exported from Africa.[24]

The company was unable to withstand competition on the terms imposed by the Act and in 1708 became insolvent, surviving until 1750 in a state of much reduced activity.[4] In 1709 Charles Davenant published Reflections upon the Constitution and Management of Trade to Africa, in which he "reverted to his normal attitude of suspicion and outright hostility towards the Dutch."[25] This pamphlet advocated renewing the Royal African Company's monopoly on slave trade on the basis that the Dutch competition "necessitated the maintenance of forts, which only a joint-stock company could afford."[25]

The company continued purchasing and transporting slaves until 1731, when it abandoned slaving in favour of ivory and gold dust.[26]

From 1668 to 1722, the Royal African Company provided gold to the English Mint. Coins made with such gold are designed with an elephant below the bust of the king and/or queen. This gold also gave the coinage its name, the guinea.[27]

Members and officials

At its incorporation, the constitution of the company specified a Governor, Sub Governor, Deputy Governor and 24 Assistants.[28] The Assistants (also called Members of the Court of Assistants) can be considered equivalent to a modern-day board of directors.[29][30]

List of notable investors and officials

For a full list of officials and investors in 1672, when the new charter was granted, see List of officials and shareholders in the Royal African Company, 1672.


Map of Royal African Company factories transferred to the African Company of Merchants.

The Royal African Company was dissolved by the African Company Act 1750, with its assets being transferred to the African Company of Merchants. These principally consisted of nine trading posts on the Gold Coast known as factories: Fort Anomabo, Fort James, Fort Sekondi, Fort Winneba, Fort Apollonia, Fort Tantumquery, Fort Metal Cross, Fort Komenda and Cape Coast Castle, the last of which was the administrative centre.[52]

See also


  1. ^ "The King Grants the Right to Trade in Africa". National Archives. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  2. ^ Carrington, Charles (1950). The British Overseas: Exploits of a Nation of Shopkeepers. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 217. OCLC 1083162.
  3. ^ Jesus College Cambridge Legacy of Slavery Working Party (25 November 2019). Jesus College Legacy of Slavery Working Party Interim Report (July-October 2019) (PDF) (Report). pp. 9–10. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 March 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e Clark, Sir George (1956). The Later Stuarts, 1660–1714. The Oxford History of England: Oxford University Press. pp. 331–333. ISBN 0-19-821702-1.
  5. ^ A Note on the Relative Importance of Slaves and Gold in West African Exports. Author(s): Richard Bean. The Journal of African History, 1974, Vol. 15, No. 3 (1974), pp. 351-356. Cambridge University Press. Accessed Wed, 31 Jan 2024
  6. ^ Davies, K. G. (Kenneth Gordon) (1999) [originally published in London by Longmans, Green & Co in 1957.]. The Royal African Company. London: Routledge/Thoemmes Press. p. 41. ISBN 041519072X. OCLC 42746420.
  7. ^ Sainsbury, W Noel, ed. (1889). America and West Indies: September 1672 - "Sept. 27. Westminster.". Vol. 7, 1669–1674. Digitised by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. London: Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies; Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office. pp. 404–417. Archived from the original on 11 August 2020.
  8. ^ 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): 155. doi:10.2307/2713534. JSTOR 2713534. S2CID 224831616.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Sometimes known as The Gambian Merchants' Company.
  11. ^ Zook 1919, p. 23
  12. ^ Davies 1999, p. 215
  13. ^ Kitson, Frank (1999). Prince Rupert : admiral and general-at-sea. London: Constable. p. 238. ISBN 0-09-475800-X. OCLC 1065120539.
  14. ^ Sainsbury, W Noel, ed. (1889). America and West Indies: September 1672 - "Sept. 27. Westminster.". Vol. 7, 1669–1674. Digitised by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. London: Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies; Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office. pp. 404–417. Archived from the original on 11 August 2020.
  15. ^ Micklethwait, John, and Adrian Wooldridge. The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea. New York: Modern Library, 2003. ISBN 0-679-64249-8.
  16. ^ Pettigrew, William Andrew (2013). Freedom's Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672–1752. UNC Press Books. p. 11. ISBN 9781469611815. OCLC 879306121.
  17. ^ "Legacy of Slavery Working Party recommendations". Jesus College, Cambridge. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
  18. ^ a b "Voyages Database". Retrieved 5 March 2022.
  19. ^ Law, Robin (2007). "The Komenda Wars, 1694–1700: a Revised Narrative". History in Africa. 34: 133–168. doi:10.1353/hia.2007.0010. ISSN 0361-5413. S2CID 165858500.
  20. ^ Davies 1999, p. 123
  21. ^ Gardiner, Juliet (2000). The History Today Who's Who In British History. London: Collins & Brown Limited and Cima Books. p. 192. ISBN 1-85585-876-2.
  22. ^ Conn, David (6 April 2023). "The Colston connection: how Prince William's Kensington Palace home is linked to slavery". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  23. ^ "William III, 1697-8: An Act to settle the Trade to Africa. [Chapter XXVI. Rot. Parl. 9 Gul. III. p. 5. n. 2.] | British History Online".
  24. ^ 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
  25. ^ a b Waddell, p. 286.
  26. ^ "Royal African Company of England". Archives Hub. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  27. ^ Davies 1999, p. 181
  28. ^ Davies, Kenneth Gordon (1975). The Royal African Company. Octagon Books. ISBN 0-374-92074-5. OCLC 831375484.
  29. ^ Evans, Chris, 1961- (2010). Slave Wales : the Welsh and Atlantic slavery, 1660-1850. University of Wales Press. ISBN 978-0-7083-2303-8. OCLC 653083564.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  30. ^ Dresser, Madge (1 October 2007). "Set in Stone? Statues and Slavery in London". History Workshop Journal. 64 (1): 162–199. doi:10.1093/hwj/dbm032. ISSN 1363-3554. S2CID 194951026.
  31. ^ Dunn, Richard (1972). Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713. The University of North Carolina Press. p. 160. ISBN 978-0807811924.
  32. ^ Statue of Edward Colston A Grade II Listed Building in Bristol, listing at, accessed 10 June 2020
  33. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainAnderson, Robert Edward (1891). "Hayes, Charles". In Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 25. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  34. ^ The Changing Terrain of Race and Ethnicity
  35. ^ "Postlethwayt, Malachy |".
  36. ^ a b c d e Andrea Colli (22 December 2015). Dynamics of International Business: Comparative Perspectives of Firms, Markets and Entrepreneurship. Routledge. p. 46. ISBN 978-1-317-90674-2.
  37. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Pettigrew 2013, p. 25
  38. ^ a b Blackburn, Robin (1998). The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492–1800. Verso. p. 255. ISBN 9781859841952.
  39. ^ "Estates within 10 miles of Bristol | Profits | From America to Bristol | Slavery Routes | Bristol and Transatlantic Slavery | PortCities Bristol". Retrieved 9 June 2020.
  40. ^ "'The City of London & the Slave Trade'". 8 December 2020.
  41. ^ Harris, Tim; Taylor, Stephen (15 October 2015). The Final Crisis of the Stuart Monarchy: The Revolutions of 1688–91 in Their British, Atlantic and European Contexts. Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 9781783270446.
  42. ^ "City of London statues removed over 'slavery link'". BBC News. 21 January 2021. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  43. ^ Spurr, John (2011). Anthony Ashley Cooper, First Earl of Shaftesbury 1621–1683. Ashgate. ISBN 978-0754661719.
  44. ^ Antonia Quirke, "In Search of the Black Mozart: A Revealing Look at Handel's Investment in the Slave Trade," New Statesman (4 June 2015), [1]; David Hunter, "Handel Manuscripts and the Profits of Slavery: The 'Granville' Collection at the British Library and the First Performing Score of Messiah Reconsidered," in Notes 76, no. 1 (Sept 2019): 27ff [2]; "Artists respond to Handel’s investment in the transatlantic slave trade," St Paul Chamber Orchestra Blog (11 December 2020) [3].
  45. ^ Kaufmann, Miranda (2007). English Heritage Properties 1600–1830 and Slavery Connections: A Report Undertaken to Mark the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the British Atlantic Slave Trade. English Heritage.
  46. ^ "The Rulers of London 1660-1689 A Biographical Record of the Aldermen and Common Councilment of the City of London". British History Online. Retrieved 3 March 2022.
  47. ^ John Locke at National Portrait Gallery, London, accessed 9 June 2020
  48. ^ "Samuel Pepys - National Portrait Gallery".
  49. ^ Henige, David (1980). ""Companies Are Always Ungrateful": James Phipps of Cape Coast, a Victim of the African Trade". African Economic History (9): 27–47. doi:10.2307/3601386. ISSN 0145-2258. JSTOR 3601386 – via JSTOR.
  50. ^ "SHAW, Sir John (c.1615-80), of Broad Street, London and Eltham Lodge, Kent". History of Parliament. Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  51. ^ Davies, K. G. (Kenneth Gordon) (1999). The Royal African Company. London: Routledge/Thoemmes Press. ISBN 0-415-19072-X. OCLC 42746420.
  52. ^ Adams, Robert; Adams, Charles (2005). The Narrative of Robert Adams, A Barbary Captive: A Critical Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Further reading