The Palaver: Governing the Slave Trade in the Eighteenth Century River Gambia

Graduate Research Grant
Grant Year

This project will interpret mechanisms of government in the Atlantic slave trade by examining controversies that unfolded at British Royal African Company (RAC) factories along the River Gambia during the eighteenth century. It will focus on the “palaver” - a Euro-African style of ritualized negotiation that developed between European traders or officials and African kings to resolve disputes. Palavers disrupted the global flows of power, commodities, and people that built Atlantic slavery and coalesced at the trading factories, but they were also essential to their resumption and maintenance. Further, the processes involved in palavers highlight that the slave trade relied on more than economic dynamics – it required the creation of international political traditions and institutions of authority that both Europeans and Africans recognized. Historians have underestimated the state dimensions of slavery - this project will re-introduce government into an analysis of the slave trade through close readings of Gambian palavers.