Monday, September 16, 2013

The Company of Royal Adventurers

The very name smacks of romance and derring-do, exciting battles on the high seas, stalwart men, and brave deeds.  But there is another, ugly side to this coin.
Notice the little elephant under the royal image
The literal coin was gold—the one that gave English currency the name guinea.  The precious metal was brought to London by The Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa (its full name, later called just Royal African Company).

The Stuart family, along with some London merchants,  chartered the group in 1660, just after Charles II was restored to the English throne.  He put his younger brother James, the Duke of York, in charge.   (James was also Duke of Albany.  See my post last week about the city of that name—here: )

James and his cohorts had as their goal the exploitation of African gold fields, which had been discovered during the British interregnum.  With the help of the King’s army and navy they soon set up forts on the West African coast, where they had the “right” to enforce martial law.  They divided their profits 50-50 with the King. 

Here comes the ugly part:  By 1672, they were taking not only gold and silver, but human beings as slaves.  Throughout the 1680’s they transported 5,000 slaves per year, most of them to the Caribbean and the American South.  For the first half of that infamous decade, they branded their human captives DY for the Duke of York.

After James ascended to the throne in 1685, they changed their branding irons to read RAC for Royal African Company.  Around one hundred thousand Africans got this “royal treatment” between 1672 and 1689.  The profits from this trade were a major contributor to the financial power of England.

By 1689, the RAC had lost its monopoly on the English slave trade, which by then included the Bristol merchants mentioned in my blog on that city (for which see

In 1731, the RAC gave up the devil’s work and switched its trade to ivory and gold dust.  It was dissolved in 1752 and folded into the African Company of Merchants—a name that carries no gloss of romance and adventure.

Annamaria - Monday


  1. Just goes to show that modern corporations have a LONG history in the practice of "Greed Is Good." (Or, "Greed Is God" in some circles.) "Damn the morality, full speed ahead!"

    Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

    All that remains for us mere mortals is to live our lives in simple awareness, and that prevents corruption and abuse, and leads to a long and happy life. See what it's done for Jeff?

    1. Simple awareness here. Yep, it helps, for if I took to heart the actual slave trade these days I'd be as miserable as mere mortals (with a soul). When I read the US State Department's 2010 Report on Worldwide Human Trafficking, the number of adults and children in forced labor, bonded labor, and forced prostitution was 12.3 million, victims identified, less than 49,105, and successful prosecutions 4,166.

  2. Everett, Plus ça change, indeed. The juxtaposition of the bound slave and the King's ermine are a metaphor for life in many places today. By one estimate that I read recently, more people are enslaved in one way or another today than the total of all the slaves of the past. It boggles my mind.

  3. The human race is a mixture of good and horror. I remember reading something about the man who fought to end the slave trade in England. His name escapes, of course.

    1. William Wilberforce, a Yorkshireman. Thanks to his movement, the British navy fought on the high seas and suffered disease and distress on the ground to end the slave trade. You are right, Lil. The Brits come out as the good guys and the bad guys in this story.

  4. Was just reminded about a film called "Amazing Grace," about Wilberforce and the anti-slavery campaign. Has anyone seen it?