Trade and shipping

Trading companies in the West Indies

For just under a hundred years, the West India and Guinea Company had both a national monopoly on trade with the West Indian islands and a partial exemption from customs duties. But in 1754, trade was liberalized, and several trading companies came into being. They did a flourishing business.
Handelskompagniernes arkiver rummer ofte skibsjournaler, hvor man kan følge skibene time for time. I eksemplet var Guineisk Kompagnis fregat ”Fredensborg” i Nordsøen 26.-28. juni 1767 på vej ud på et trekanttogt, som endte med totalforlis ved Sydnorge på vejen hjem. (Rigsarkivet).

The Danish colonization in the West Indies started in earnest with the establishment of the West India and Guinea Company in 1671. The company was organized somewhat like a modern corporation with a board of directors, a general meeting and employees. The capital was primarily Danish, but foreigners also invested in the company. It enjoyed privileges such as a national monopoly on trade and a partial exemption from customs duties. The company was also responsible for the administration of the colonies in the West Indies and Guinea on behalf of the state of Denmark. The headquarters were in Copenhagen, but the company sent both officials and soldiers to the West Indies.

New trading companies – flourishing trade

However, there was dissatisfaction with the company’s lucrative privileges, and in 1754 the West India and Guinea Company was dissolved. The state of Denmark itself now took over the administration of the colonies in the West Indies and Guinea, and trade was opened to everyone. It provided lucrative opportunities for new trading companies. Trade conditions were particularly good, among other things because Denmark was neutral during the American Revolutionary War and was thus a neutral trading partner. In the next twenty-three years, the General Trade Company sent twenty-four trade expeditions to the West Indies.

Triangular trade to West Africa and the West Indies

On Africa’s Guinea Coast, the Guinea Company (also called the Slave Trade Company or the Bargum Trading Company) was active with twenty-four triangular trade expeditions in 1764-1777. The West Indian Trading Company, the Baltic and Guinea Trading Company and the Trading and Canal Company sent a total of sixty-five expeditions in the years leading up to 1807. The Royal Greenland Trading Company also sent no fewer than thirty-seven expeditions to the West Indies during the war years of 1777-1782 to get its share of the profits.

The archives of the trading companies reveal the story

The trading companies were responsible for twelve percent of the West Indies traffic under the Danish flag in this flourishing trade period in the second half of the 1700s, in which a total of 3100 expeditions were undertaken. The remaining eighty-eight percent of the 3100 expeditions were done by private merchants. Comprehensive archives from several trading companies have also been preserved. Today these are important sources for knowledge about the colonial period, both in Denmark and internationally.