Trading with Africa

The plantations in the Americas created a rush of traders to the African coast. Trade there expanded enormously and became a source of great European rivalry and strategic positioning.

The initial ad hoc ventures gave way to licensed companies, chartered and monitored from London.

A string of major trading posts were developed on the West African coast. The major forts and castles were designed more to protect gold and local officials, rather than to house enslaved Africans waiting for the slave ships.

Most captured Africans were herded on board ships from beaches, from barracoons on the shore, from river stations, or were rowed out to the waiting vessels.

The Africa trade quickly emerged as a massive and lucrative form of international trade. By 1720 its most important branch was the dispatch of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic. But even that simple assertion does an injustice to its complexity.

The outbound slave ships to Africa were packed with British goods, such as metal goods, firearms, textiles and wines for exchange for human cargo. Vessels returning from the colonies heading to their home port were filled with plantation produce.

Here was a trading network on an integrated international scale, lubricated by slavery, and all approved, regulated and monitored by Parliament.

Dozens of Acts were passed specifically to encourage, regulate and monitor the trade in Africans.

Legislation relating to the more personal and private aspects of the slave trade, brought its consequences directly into the Parliamentary arena.

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