British Empire
The rise of the British empire - Africa
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Extracts from the records of the Royal Africa Company on the supply of slaves to Barbados in 1676
(Catalogue ref: CO 268/1)
  • There are two sources here, which are part of the government's records of the Royal Africa Company. The first source is a complaint by the owners of sugar plantations in Barbados that they cannot get enough African slaves (whom they call 'negroes'). They also complain that the price of the slaves is too high. The second source rejects this accusation.
  • The Royal Africa Company was set up in the 1600s to exploit the growing trade with West Africa. At first, the main goods traded were gold and exotic foods like cola nuts. However, as the century wore on slaves became much more valuable.
  • This was because the British colonies in the West Indies were finding the sugar trade profitable.
  • The first workers used by the planters were English and Irish. They were often prisoners or indentured labourers. This meant they worked for a plantation owner for a certain number of years and then their contract gave them their own plot of land.
  • By the late 1600s, the land was running out and the planters needed large numbers of good workers. West Africans had the skills needed and were able to work in the tropical conditions of Barbados. They were usually sold by African slave dealers in return for guns, other factory-made goods and alcohol.
  • The source talks of casualties and also gives an idea of how many slaves were packed into the ships. This gives some clues about the terrible conditions that the African slaves had to suffer.
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