Coat of arms
|Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa|
|Founders||House of Stuart (British Royal Family)|
|James II, Charles II|
|Products||Gold, silver, ivory, slaves|
The Royal African Company (RAC) was an English mercantile (trading) company set up by the royal Stuart family and City of London merchants to trade along the west coast of Africa. It was led by the Duke of York, who was the brother of Charles II and later took the throne as James II.
Its original purpose was to exploit the gold fields up the Gambia River, which were identified by Prince Rupert during the Interregnum. It was established after Charles II gained the English throne in the Restoration of 1660. But its agents soon engaged in the slave trade, as well as with other commodities. It traded mainly with the peoples of the Gold Coast, which is now Ghana. In 1752, RAC's assets were transferred to the new, African Company of Merchants, which lasted until 1821.
Originally known as the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa, by its charter issued in 1660 it was granted a monopoly over English trade along the West coast of Africa, with the principal objective being the search for gold. In 1663 a new charter was obtained which also mentioned the trade in slaves. With the help of the army and navy, it established forts on the West African coast that served as staging and trading stations, and was responsible for seizing any English ships that attempted to operate in violation of the company's 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.
The company fell heavily into debt in 1667, during the war with the Netherlands. It had started the war when its Admiral Robert Holmes had attacked the Dutch African trade posts in 1664, as the RAC had lost most of its forts on the African coast except for Cape Corse. 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.
In 1672, the original Company re-emerged, re-structured and with a new charter from the king, as the new Royal African Company. 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 and African slaves. At the end of 1678, the licence to the Gambia Adventurers expired and its Gambian trade was merged into the company.
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In the 1680s the Company was transporting about 5,000 slaves a year to markets primarily in the Caribbean across the Atlantic. Many were branded with the letters "DY", 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.
Between 1662 and 1731, the Company transported approximately 212,000 slaves, of whom 44,000 died en route. By that time, they also transported slaves to English colonies in North America. Ship’s crew mortality rates were often similar and sometimes greater than the mortality rates amongst the slaves. Its profits made a major contribution to the increase in the financial power of those who controlled the City of London.
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.
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. To maintain the company and its infrastructure and end its monopoly, parliament passed the Trade with Africa Act 1697 (9 Will. 3 c. 26). Among other provisions, this 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. This development 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.
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.
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 known as factories: Fort William, 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.