This article argues that conflicts and competition over the form of English slave trading in the Atlantic world during the late seventeenth century elicited the use of a common language of government corruption. Contrary to common historiographical assumptions that government officials could pursue private investments through their public duties without controversy in the English colonies during this period, contested slave trade networks both in the Caribbean and Carolina reveal that colonists actively applied typical English notions of entrusted power to police the borders of acceptable government conduct. Whether in the African slave trade or in the trade in Indigenous captives, monopolies and other regulatory regimes required the active support of government officials on the ground. As a result, these officials became the primary vectors for undermining slave trade regulations and promoting smuggling. Evidence of the extent to which government officials were complicit in illicit slave trading survives in the archive primarily because English observers in Atlantic ports chose to protest such conduct using a recognized metropolitan language of corruption.