Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
EconomicsPart of Economic, Social and Political Science

0921 The Maintenance of British Slaving Forts in Africa (H. Paul)

Discussion Paper 0921, "The maintenance of British Slaving Forts in Africa: The activities of Joint-Stock Companies and the Royal Navy", by Helen Paul

The Royal African Company used fortified locations along the African coast as part of its slave trading activities. These forts have occupied a peripheral role in the business history of the company and the economic history of its trading routes. Traditionally, the forts have been seen as a burden upon the company, if a necessary one. Beyond that, it has been noted that they were not usually impregnable fortresses, but often rather small affairs. This paper aims to use the history of the forts to illustrate wider issues about the fiscal-military state. At first glance, the forts were tangible expressions of the power of European states. However, they were built upon land rented from African kingdoms. The forts did not lead directly to European colonisation. Paradoxically, it was the ability of European states to compete with each other, which undermined European ambitions. Certain African kingdoms were able to capitalise upon this competition at times. Each European state concerned felt obliged to maintain forts. In the case of the English (later British), there were various solutions proposed.³ The period considered here is the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth. During these decades, the government experimented with different ways of maintaining the trade and the forts. It also clearly treated the forts as an extension of English interests in the region and not as purely private buildings. It used the Royal Navy to protect the forts but also to survey their condition. These activities provide evidence of the contemporary attitude of mixing trade and warfare. The forts themselves were usually insufficient to withstand a long siege. They were part of a mixed strategy of defence, diplomacy, trade and warmongering which was necessary to maintain Europeans’ access to slaves.

Keynames: Slave trade, Hotelling model, Fiscal-military state, Africa, Royal African Company

JEL Classification: N43, N47, N97

Useful Downloads

Need the software?PDF Reader
Privacy Settings