The Royal African Company fights for a monopoly on the slave trade (1 of 2)

[Thomas Pindar,] The British Interest on the Coast of Africa Consider’d, with the Interest of other Europeans, and the Politicks they used for Carrying on that Trade. [London: Royal African Company, ca. 1708.]
Letterpress broadside on laid paper, printed area 15 ¾”h x 9 ¾”w on a 15”h x 9 ½”w sheet of laid paper, untrimmed. Two lines of headline type surmounting one column of text. Docketed in type on verso. Some mends and restorations to wear along folds, including tiny losses to parts of four letters. Very good overall, with excellent appearance.

An exceptionally rare 1708 broadside arguing for the restoration of the Royal African Company monopoly on the slave trade, with substantial reference to the central role of slavery to the economy of Britain’s American “plantations.” Written with a Colonial audience in mind, with copies sent to the Caribbean and Virginia.

Chartered by Charles II in 1672 and headed by his brother the Duke of York (later James II), for more than two decades the Royal African Company held a monopoly of trade with Africa. In the reign of King William III, however, Parliament passed the Trade with Africa Act (IX Will III c.26, 1797-98) terminating the Company’s monopoly and allowing “separate traders” to enter the market. The law was to remain in effect for 13 years but softened the blow to the Company by requiring the separate traders to pay it 10% of the value of the goods they exported to Africa.

Soon enough the separate traders came to resent the levy, and in March 1707 they unsuccessfully petitioned Parliament for its abolition. As the termination date of the 1698 law approached, the Company sought the reinstatement of its monopoly, arguing that the expense of maintaining on its own its network of coastal forts was ruinous, even as they benefited its competitors. It also argued that the presence of rival traders in the coastal areas was driving down the price of trade goods while inflating the price of slaves. The separate traders, their numbers strengthened by Scottish merchants following 1707 Act of Union, naturally fought to maintain the open market.

The broadside
The parties to the dispute conducted an extensive and sustained propaganda campaign in support of their case, in an attempt to influence stakeholders both in Great Britain and its overseas colonies.  In or around 1708 Thomas Pindar, a merchant with interests in the Leeward Islands and, from 1703-10, Deputy Governor of the Royal African Company (Pettigrew, p. 130), produced “several pamphlets to be written, printed, and circulated throughout London, the provinces, and the colonies… as part of the company’s attempts to compete with the separate traders’ transatlantic propaganda machine and prevent them from increasing their foothold in the colonies.” (ibid., p. 132) According to Pettigrew, “thirty of each were printed for Barbados, twenty for Antigua, ten for Montserrat, twenty for Nevis, ten for Saint Christopher, twenty to Jamaica, and thirty for Virginia.” (p. 133 note 23)

Offered here is one of Pindar’s polemics in broadside format, bearing the title The British Interest on the Coast of Africa Consider’d, with the Interest of other Europeans, and the Politicks they used for Carrying on that Trade (Though Pettigrew describes Pindar’s works as “pamphlets,” ESTC and OCLC record this title in broadside only.)

Pindar begins his argument by summarizing the strategy of the Dutch on the West African coast:  This involved the formation of a joint-stock company “with very great Privileges and Encouragements,” including above all a monopoly on trade; the establishment by that company of “fortifications and settlements” along the coast; the development of alliances with as many native “kings” as possible; and, in return for exclusive trading relationships, a commitment to supply these allies with arms and “presents” and to “protect and assist them so often as they shall be oppress’d by their Neighbors.”

He then argues that the Royal African Company had followed the Dutch strategy with great success, until “the Trade became managed under separate Interests by an open Trade, the Preservation of the English Interest on the Coast, required much greater Trouble and Charge to preserve it; and so from time to time increased, to the great Hazard of its total Loss.”  He ends by presenting the worst-case scenario, should the Company’s monopoly not be restored:

“…it will plainly appear, that Fortifications and Alliances on the Coast of Africa are not to be supported under any Regulation, whilst Persons of different Interests have liberty to Trade to them; and that there is no other way to support them but by a Joint-Stock, by which means Negroes can only be bought Cheap on the Coast; and consequently Sold at moderate Prizes in the Plantations : And that unless Fortifications and Alliances, as aforesaid, be kept up and supported, the Trade will be totally lost to this Nation, and end in Destruction of the Plantations.”

In the end, the Royal African Company’s monopoly was confirmed in 1714, “due mainly to the West Indian planters who switched their support from the separate traders to the Royal African company” (Inikori, p. 626). Presumably polemics such as Pindar’s played a significant role in this change of allegiance.  In the end, it was all for naught, as Parliament abolished the monopoly once and for all in 1726. By the time the Company was dissolved in 1750, it had been responsible for shipping hundreds of thousands of slaves to British plantations in North America and the Caribbean.

ESTC T12395 (as of May 2019 recording three locations only: British Library, National Library of Scotland, Longleat House). OCLC gives the British Library and National Library of Scotland holdings, plus a host of what appear to be digital editions.

Background on the West Africa Company from Monsieur Joseph Inikori, “The Volume of the British Slave Trade, 1655-1807.” Cahiers d’études africaines, vol. 32 no. 128 (1992), pp. 646-47. History of Pindar’s polemical pamphlets from William A. Pettigrew, Freedom’s Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013).

Offered in partnership with James Arsenault & Company of Arrowsic, Maine.