“Infested with piratts”: piracy and the Atlantic slave trade
Sutton, Angela Christine
Drawing on the extensive records of the Royal Africa Company as well as eyewitness reports by important actors in the slave trade, this paper addresses current assumptions held about piracy and the Atlantic slave trade. The quantitative data in David Eltis’ Slave Voyages Database suggests that despite the lucrative nature of the Slave Trade, pirates and privateers did not go after human slave cargo as often as material goods. From the works of the main historians of piracy or the slave trade, we know that the difference between pirate attacks on slave ships and merchant ships is staggering: for every slave ship taken by pirates, twenty merchant ships were attacked, and yet historians have only speculated as to the reasons why. The records of the voyages of the Royal Africa Company, (the company that held the Atlantic slave monopoly in the 17th and 18th centuries), and the account of Captain Snellgrave, whose slave ship was taken by pirates off of Africa’s slave coast, show a very different story: the allure of the precious cargos of slaves packed alongside planks of exotic hardwoods, barrels of fragrant beeswax and tusks of ivory worth as much as those of the Spanish silver galleons were such that few pirates could ignore. The company’s ships were inundated with pirate attacks, and this paper explores these incidents in greater detail to illustrate that piracy had a significant effect on the Atlantic Slave Trade.