A 2016 display at the Museum of London Docklands, The Royal African, featured the life of William Ansah
Sessarakoo, a man from west Africa who arrived in London society in 1749. Sessarakoo was a member of the most important ‘ruling’ family living
on the coast at Anomabu, in what is now Ghana. He was sent to
England to be educated, but an English slave trader duped him and sold him into
slavery in Barbados.
The Royal African Company, which ran England’s network of
forts on the west African coast, freed Sessarakoo. They organised for the young
royal to witness the opulence of London society. We spoke to the museum’s Head
of History Alex Werner & historian Dr. William Pettigrew, author of Freedom's Debt, about
the unscrupulous motives behind the Royal African Company’s generosity.
Alex Werner: I met the historian Dr William Pettigrew in
February and he talked about his research into the Royal African Company. The story of the company
was really intriguing, and I felt that it would make an excellent exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands.
The London Sugar and Slavery gallery, which begins by explaining the rich
culture of Africa before Europeans arrived, does not really examine in depth
the history of slave trade in the 17th century. In the exhibition we look at the time when the
Royal African Company was first being established under the patronage of King
Charles II in the 1670s.
Dr. William Pettigrew: Charles gave the Company a monopoly over all
English trade on the west coast of Africa for 1000 years. So they had the
exclusive right to trade English woollen cloth, alcohol, and firearms for
African gold, redwood dyes, ivory, and enslaved people. There was a lot of
money to be made, big profits for the City of London merchants and royal
courtiers who invested in the Company. And the most prominent of those men were
King Charles and his brother the Duke of York, later King James II.