In the early part of the 17th century, British merchants and Parliament had
frowned on the idea of slavery being acceptable in any part of their empire.
However, as trade with the Caribbean colonies began to grow, it became obvious that
there was a shortage of labour, which would need to be rectified to ensure profits could
be maintained. In 1662 Parliament granted a charter to a newly formed company - "The Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa"
- which allowed and encouraged them to involve themselves in the slave trade. To the great
dissatisfaction of merchants from other cities, however, the charter provided exclusive
rights to the Company, which effectively meant the merchants of London.
For various reasons, the Company was not successful, so in 1672 a new
company was formed -"The Royal African Company". Once again, they were comprised
of merchants from London and were granted exclusive rights. The slave trade now began in
earnest, with many powerful merchants such as Edward Colston engaging wholeheartedly in
shipping slaves from Africa. They had forts built on the West
African coast to protect their trade and to provide holding pens for slaves. Any other slave traders, or interlopers, had to pay a tax
of 10% to the Royal African Company. Between 1680 and 1686 an average of 5000 slaves a
year were transported to the Caribbean.
However, after much opposition from groups of merchants
like Bristol's " Society of Merchant Venturers" Parliament repealed the monopoly
on slavery in 1698. The Royal African Company tried hard to win back their exclusive
rights to the slave trade, but were unable to do so. By 1750, the
company was wound up
when it became a full partner in a new company of merchants trading with Africa.