Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. History Dept.


Kelly Brignac

Second Advisor

Mégane Coulon


The period between 1500 and 1650 saw the development of a transoceanic trade network, multiple European colonial empires in the Americas, and rapid developments in firearms technology. Combined, these factors laid the groundwork for two interrelated phenomena, the transatlantic slave trade, and the emergence of a global trade in arms. Examining the documents of the Royal African Company and assembling a broad selection of secondary sources, this paper seeks to contribute to the ongoing debate over the role of slavery in the development of modern capitalism. This paper argues that the transatlantic slave trade was vital for the development of the English arms industry, and the trade in English arms for slaves contributed significantly to the destabilization and devastation of West Africa. Firearms did not constitute the majority of the goods carried on British ships, but they made up a substantial and vital section of the slave trade, offered enormous profit margins, and created far more immediate geopolitical ramifications than other goods.


arms industry, capitalism, economics, England, firearms, Industrial Revolution, slavery, slave trade, trade, warfare, West Africa