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Royal African Company (hereafter RAC) is in general terms well known, especially through the pioneering (and still not superseded) study by K.G. Davies (1957).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.