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Freedom's Debt

The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752

William A. Pettigrew

Publication Year: 2013

In the years following the Glorious Revolution, independent slave traders challenged the charter of the Royal African Company by asserting their natural rights as Britons to trade freely in enslaved Africans. In this comprehensive history of the rise and fall of the RAC, William A. Pettigrew grounds the transatlantic slave trade in politics, not economic forces, analyzing the ideological arguments of the RAC and its opponents in Parliament and in public debate. Ultimately, Pettigrew powerfully reasons that freedom became the rallying cry for those who wished to participate in the slave trade and therefore bolstered the expansion of the largest intercontinental forced migration in history.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations and Tables

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pp. ix-x

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Prologue: “This African Monster”

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pp. 1-8

When a wave broke directly onto the outer wall of the castle prison, its force conducted along the arches of the ceiling, drowning out the noise as much as the darkness obscured the captives’ sight of one another. The vibration and the wind that followed it nonetheless provided some comfort to those contained...

Part One. Deregulation, 1672–1712

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One: The Politics of Slave-Trade Escalation, 1672–1712

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pp. 11-44

The Royal African Company of England shipped more enslaved African women, men, and children to the Americas than any other single institution during the entire period of the transatlantic slave trade. From its foundation in 1672 to the early 1720s, the African Company transported close to 150,000...

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Two: The Interests: “A Well-Governed Army of Veteran Troops” versus “an Undefinable Heteroclite Body” of “Pirates” and “Buccaneers”

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pp. 45-82

In January 1690, when the African Company began its parliamentary appeal to obtain statutory support for its monopoly, its directors had every reason to be confident of success. The Hudson’s Bay Company had recently received a statute to support its operation. The African Company had received the endorsement...

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Three: The Ideas: Challenging the “Tales of . . . Mandevil”

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pp. 83-114

The conspicuous emergence of a population of independent slave traders and their wish to associate themselves with certain areas of the country and particular ideas led contemporary observers of the Africa trade debates to develop a stereotype of the independent slave trader. Thomas Southerne’s slave-trading...

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Four: The Strategies: “As Witches Do the Devil”

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pp. 115-150

Daniel Defoe left the public gallery of the House of Commons late on March 17, 1709. As he hurried past chamber porters whose pockets stretched with bribes, into the Court of Requests filled with tireless lobbyists, printers, petitioners, and beleaguered members of Parliament, and out into a cold...

Part Two. Re-regulation, 1712–1752

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Five: The Outcomes: Tropical Burlesques

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pp. 153-178

In the summer of 1712, the Africa trade appeared in a confused state. Each side in the slave-trade debates claimed that the expiration of the 1698 act favored its cause. The expiration seemed to favor the separate traders because the 10 percent duty had expired with the act. In June 1712, however, the African...

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Six: The Legacies: Free to Enslave

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pp. 179-210

The Royal African Company and the separate traders disagreed publicly about a lot of things. Their political disputes rose above one shared assumption, however: that the forced transportation of enslaved Africans to the British American colonies was legitimate, moral, and of national strategic importance...

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Epilogue: Confused Commemorations

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pp. 211-218

Like the Royal African Company, the separate traders also established a legacy that influenced the movement to abolish the slave trade. Two features of the independent slave traders’ political campaign from the 1690s would be central to the abolitionists’ political campaign from the 1780s: their natural rights argument...

Appendix 1: Data Supplements for Annual Slave-Trading Voyages, 1672–1752

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pp. 219-226

Appendix 2: A Directory of Independent Slave Traders, 1672–1712

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pp. 227-234

Appendix 3: A Directory of Lobbying Independent Traders, 1678–1713

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pp. 235-236

Appendix 4: A Directory of Royal African Company Directors, 1672–1750

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pp. 237-239

Appendix 5: Africa Trade Petitions to Parliament on the Royal African Company’s Monopoly, 1690–1752

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pp. 240-246

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pp. 247-248

Many people helped me complete this book. I am obliged to the staff at the following libraries: the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, especially Mary Robertson; the Upper Reading Room and Duke Humphreys Library at the Bodleian Library in Oxford; the Vere Harmsworth Library and Rothermere American Institute in Oxford; Lincoln’s Inn...


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pp. 249-262

E-ISBN-13: 9781469611839
E-ISBN-10: 146961183X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781469611815
Print-ISBN-10: 1469611813

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 4 halftones, 4 figs., 4 tables
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia
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OCLC Number: 879306121
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Freedom's Debt

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Slave-trade -- Political aspects -- Great Britain -- History -- 17th century.
  • Slave-trade -- Political aspects -- Great Britain -- History -- 18th century.
  • Royal African Company -- History.
  • Slave-trade -- Africa -- History.
  • Slave-trade -- West Indies, British -- History.
  • Slavery -- Law and legislation -- Great Britain -- History.
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