African Slaves Suffered Royal Branding

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Monarchs Personally Involved in Human Trafficking

Transatlantic slave traders branded their slaves like cattle. Now the design of one of those brands has thrown new light on the involvement of British monarchs in the enslavement of Africans.

The Washington Post has reported that British monarchs were personally involved in the transatlantic slave trade and in at least some cases had slaves branded with a royal emblem.

While researching in the British Library Nicholas Radburn is reported to have found an illustration of a brand apparently used by the South Sea Company. The design includes a crown and the letters S and C, a reference it seems to that company. Text accompanying the illustration states that it was “the Mark henceforward, to be put upon the Bodys of the Negros to be sold & Dipos’d of in the Spanish West Indies”.

Slaves were commonly branded to assert ownership and for identification. This brand was unusual, however, in the connection it made between the slave trade and the British Crown.

Nicholas Radburn, told the Post that “This clearly demonstrates the close connection between the crown, be it Queen Anne personally or the institution more broadly — with the South Sea Company and its activities, in this case, enslaving and branding people.”

University of California historian Alex Borucki told the newspaper that Spanish records show that slaves traded as part of an agreement between Spain and Britain were branded on the back with the South Sea Company brand, and on the chest with a royal Spanish band.

British queens and kings, the country’s hereditary heads of state, oversaw the commerce in human beings for 270 years. But new research is producing evidence “that successive British monarchs played a more intimate role than previously recognized, reaping profits that continue to benefit British royals today”, according to the newspaper.

Recently it was shown that King William III received a gift of shares in the Royal African Company from slave trader Edward Colston.

Researcher Camilla de Koning has found evidence that “kings and queens weren’t just figureheads” in the slave trade, according to the Post. She has uncovered evidence that Queen Anne’s skilled diplomacy was “crucial” in Britain being awarded the “asiento”, a contract with Spain that allowed the transport 4,800 African slaves a year to the Spanish colonies. She says that the contract was made specifically with the British monarchy, not the the country.

Anne delegated the contract to the South Sea Company but had a quarter share in that company.

There are reports in secondary documents of enslaved Africans being branded “DY” for Duke of York. The Duke became a king, James II. Historian Brooke Newman told the Post that she will be publishing evidence that some slaves were branded “RACE”, for Royal African Company of England.

“It’s not just even that they invested in these companies and made dividends off of or got customs revenue,” Brooke Newman told the Post. “It’s that they were willing to have their brand literally branded into the flesh of people. This was because, at the time, the slave trade was seen as the way to build an empire and the way to make money to funnel money back into the royal pocketbook.”

The current British hereditary head of state has said he “takes profoundly seriously” the royal involvement in the slave trade and supports research into this.