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Modern Voices
David Blight on the formation of the Royal African Company
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Q: Can you walk me through the formation of the Royal African Company?
David Blight

A: Well, as the labor system of the American South began to transform out of indentured servitude into racial slavery in that period -- the 1660s to 1700, to the end of the 17th century -- the British are becoming more and more heavily involved in the Atlantic slave trade. They establish the Royal African Company with a monopoly in the late 17th century. But, after the turn of the 18th century, the Royal African Company ceased to have a monopoly on the trade, and the slave trade on the west coast of Africa was open to any British citizen who wanted to participate in it. And this is when you begin to see the boom towns -- Bristol and Liverpool -- the economies of which were rooted in the slave trade with West Africa. And eventually, by the 1730s and 1740s, the British are dominating the African slave trade. The vast majority of slaves brought to the whole new world after the 1720s and 1730s came in British ships. So that by the time we're talking about these American colonies in the middle of the 18th century, leading toward the American Revolution, they are part of a British empire that is now deeply involved in the Atlantic slave trade. It has become one of the most important cogs in the whole of the Atlantic trade for the British.
David W. Blight
Professor of History and Black Studies
Amherst College

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