Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 May 2014
This paper draws attention to an ambitious project in the publication of source material for the precolonial history of West Africa, which has recently been approved for inclusion in the Fontes Historiae Africanae series of the British Academy. In addition to self-promotion, however, I wish also to take the opportunity to air some of the problems of editorial strategy and choice which arise with regard to the editing and presentation of this material, in the hope of provoking some helpful feedback on these issues.
The material to be published consists of correspondence of the Royal African Company of England relating to the West African coast in the late seventeenth century. The history of the Royal African Company (hereafter RAC) is in general terms well known, especially through the pioneering (and still not superseded) study by K.G. Davies (1957). The Company was chartered in 1672 with a legal monopoly of English trade with Africa. Its headquarters in West Africa was at Cape Coast (or, in the original form of the name, Cabo Corso) Castle on the Gold Coast, and it maintained forts or factories not only on the Gold Coast itself, but also at the Gambia, in Sierra Leone, and at Offra and Whydah on the Slave Coast. It lost its monopoly of the African trade in 1698, and thereafter went into decline, effectively ceasing to operate as a trading concern in the 1720s, although it continued to manage the English possessions on the coast of West Africa until it was replaced by a regulated company (i.e., one open to all traders), the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa, in 1750.
A version of this paper was presented to the discussion panel on “Editing and Translating African Historical Sources,” sponsored by the Association for the Publication of African Historical Sources at the African Studies Association Meeting, Seattle, November 1992.
4. Law, Robin, ed., Correspondence from the Royal African Company of England's Factories at Offra and Whydah on the Slave Coast of West Africa in the Public Record Office, London, 1678-93 (Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh: 1990).Google Scholar
5. Ibid., no.16: John Carter, Whydah, 26 May 1684; no.23: id., 28 December 1685.
6. Ibid., no.18: John Carter, Whydah, 11 December 1684.
7. Ibid., no.19: John Carter, Whydah, 24 July 1685; no.34: John Wortley, Whydah, 23 September 1690.
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10. The third volume of African material (C.747) also includes Minutes of the RAC Council at the Gambia for 1722-23 and 1729-30; since, however, this material has no organic connection with the rest of the corpus, it is not proposed to include it in the projected edition.
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26. It should be stressed that the microfilm copy is not an entirely adequate substitute for the original manuscript, since it is not always equally legible; in particular material close to the binding margin is sometimes obscured. Although much of the editorial work can be done from microfilm, therefore, it will be necessary also to check doubtful readings against the original.
27. Albert Van Dantzig, “Rawlinson C.745-747: A Selection of Letters and Papers From Offra and Whydah,” typescript, University of Ghana, 1976.
28. Law, Robin, ed., Further Correspondence of the Royal African Company of England relating to the ‘Slave Coast,’ 1681-1699: selected documents from Ms. Rawlinson C.745-747 in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Madison: African Studies Program, 1992).Google Scholar
29. See, e.g., Langlois, Charles V. and Seignobos, Charles, Introduction to the Study of History, trans. Berry, G.C. (London, 1898).Google Scholar
30. C.745, John Lowe, Whydah, 16 March 1682.
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