home | 16-17th centuries index


previous | next

European Rivalry for Positions and Trade along the Atlantic Coast of Africa, 1600-1645

In the 1580s – after Spain's Habsburg king, Philip II, expanded his rule to Portugal – exclusive right to trade along the Gambia River was sold to English merchants, confirmed by letters of patent from Queen Elizabeth. The Dutch were at war with Philip, and in 1593, soon after they had declared independence from Habsburg rule, they launched attacks against Philip's Portuguese shipping. The world's most successful merchant mariners, the Dutch from 1593 to 1607 sent about 200 ships to trade along Africa's Atlantic coast, and in each of the years 1610 and 1611 they sent twenty ships. The Dutch were able to ship more goods and lower prices, giving them an edge in trading in their competition with the English, French and Portuguese.

The Europeans competed for forts along Africa's Atlantic coast. The English drove the French from the mouth of the Senegal River. In 1631, the English built a fort on what was called the Gold Coast – a stretch of coastline that included Portuguese positions at Elmina and Axim. The Dutch established a fortified position at the mouth of the Zaire (Congo) River and at points on the shore along the coast, including the capture of Portugal positions at Elmina and Axim.

The Dutch had taken Brazil from the Portuguese – who were again independent of Spanish rule. And the Dutch wanted slaves for their new colony. The Dutch also took from the Portuguese the island of São Tomé. In August 1641, an armada of 21 Dutch ships appeared off the coast of Angola. The Dutch captured Luanda and Benguela, and the Portuguese retreated inland where they held off assaults by the Dutch and by Jaga tribesmen.

The French in 1645 established a hold at the mouth of the Senegal River, where they traded for gum and slaves. The French increased their trading on the Ivory Coast, and Swedes, Danes, and Germans from Brandenburg came and built forts on the coast. And it was standard among them to pay rent for the forts to local kings.


Copyright © 2001-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.