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The Royal Slave: Nobility, Diplomacy and the “African Prince” in Britain, 1748–1752

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 September 2015


William Ansah Sessarakoo, the son of a powerful Fante slave trader on the Gold Coast, was tricked and sold into slavery in Barbados by a British ship’s captain during the 1740s. He was emancipated and brought to Britain in 1748, where he enjoyed a brief period of national celebrity before returning to the Gold Coast in 1750. This paper examines the specific political and cultural circumstances surrounding his remarkable journey, through the lens of the media generated about him during his time in Britain. It demonstrates that the most extensive contemporaneous account of Sessarakoo’s story, The Royal African, was in reality an attempt to generate popular support for a moribund Royal African Company and incorporate slave trading into narratives of national identity, based on notions of economic responsibility and honour. Adhering to conventions typified in Thomas Southerne’s stage adaptation of Oroonoko, further popular representations of Sessarakoo emphasised his aristocratic status and putatively inherited ‘noble’ characteristics. In doing so, they emphasised perceived differences between him and the majority of African peoples, who were deemed suitable for enslavement. The paper closes with an examination of some of the effects of Sessarakoo’s visit on Euro-African trade and diplomacy on the Gold Coast.

© 2015, Research Institute for History, Leiden University 

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Ryan Hanley is Salvesen Junior Fellow in History at New College Oxford. (


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