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10 October 2016
A new display at the Museum of London Docklands will explore the history of London’s slave trade during the 17th and 18th centuries. The display will tell the story of an African prince sold into slavery and his connection to one of the largest companies involved in the slave trade at the time, the Royal African Company.
Founded in 1672 as a joint venture between the Duke of York, who was to become King James II, and leading merchants in London, the Royal African Company held a monopoly over the slave trade in West Africa. The company shipped cloth, guns and alcohol to West Africa in exchange for enslaved Africans who were then transported to Barbados and Jamaica. The Company shipped more enslaved Africans than any other English organisation during the entire period of that trade – a figure of nearly 150,000 people.
This display will focus on the history of this company by telling the story of an African prince, William Sessarakoo, otherwise known as ‘The Royal African’. Sessarakoo was the son of the head of a leading family in West Africa. He grew up in the Royal African Company’s fort at Annamaboe which was located in present day Ghana.
He was sent by his father to London to be educated but he was tricked and sold into slavery in Barbados by an independent slave trader in 1744. He spent around four years in slavery until he was freed by the Royal African Company who wanted to keep good relations with his father and brought him to London.
The Royal African display will be housed within our London, Sugar & Slavery gallery and is set to open on 25 November. The display aims to examine the complex workings of the slave trade through the life of Sessarakoo and will examine how the slave trade expanded as the Royal African Company’s monopoly collapsed.
Alex Werner, Head of History Collections, said:
“This is a very important story to be told at the Museum of London Docklands. Our site is steeped in the history of slavery and in our gallery, London, Sugar & Slavery, we explore how the slave trade shaped London. This new display, within this gallery, offers a new perspective and reveals the complex politics and bitter power struggle in London for the control of the slave trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth century.”
Dr William Pettigrew co-curator of The Royal African, said:
“The Royal African Company was London’s most important contribution to the slave trade. Visitors to this display will discover how the government used the Royal African Company to develop the trade in enslaved African human beings and how Londoners led the parliamentary campaign to end the Royal African Company’s monopoly over the slave trade.”
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The Museum of London Docklands is located at West India Quay in east London. Opened in 2003, this grade one listed converted Georgian sugar warehouse specifically tells the story of the port, river and city – focusing on trade, migration and commerce in London.
The museum is open daily 10am – 6pm and is FREE to all, and you can explore the Museum of London Docklands with collections online – home to 90,000 objects with more being added. www.museumoflondon.org.uk.