“A Pack Of Knaves”: The Royal African Company, the development of the Jamaican plantation economy and the benefits of monopoly, 1672‒1708
- Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 21, Number 2, Summer 2020
- View Citation
- Additional Information
The Royal African Company is a difficult institution to defend, given that its principal intention was to provide enslaved Africans to the burgeoning plantation economy of British America. Its close connections with the deposed James VII and II and its severe financial problems meant that it was an easy target for self-interested London merchants and their parliamentary supporters when they attacked it as an ineffective monopolist in 1698 and 1708. Yet when the Company made a defence of itself as a public-spirited institution that promoted development in the plantation colonies, it had a point. As this article argues, the Royal African Company allowed for a certain kind of development in Jamaica—one in which the success of the large integrated plantation was not foreordained but which allowed space for ordinary men outside the sugar economy to buy African enslaved persons at reasonable prices. The ending of its monopoly was a factor in the rise of the large planters and the large plantation system they preferred as a form of social and economic organisation in British America in the early eighteenth century. Thus, the decades in which the Royal African Company was replaced by private traders in the Atlantic slave trade had wide societal impacts, shaping the eighteenth-century British Empire in the Americas.