The Era of the Great Trading-Military Companies


Captains, for those of you who are fairly early in the game, you will note the presence of the dreaded Indies company, that will try to stop your advance and eliminate piracy from the Caribbean region altogether.

The time-frame of the game begins from the year 1768, and we are sailing at a particular period in world history when international commerce was dominated by a collection of powerful militarized commercial entities, namely the national companies of Britain, France, Holland and also Spain, Portugal and Denmark. Though no such entities exist today, it is worth pausing for a moment to consider the impact that these militarized companies had on the colonial process and the colonisation of America, South America and the Caribbean – as well as the rest of the world.

Foremost among these militarized companies was the British East India Company (EIC) that took off in the year 1600 and would continue to function up to the year 1874. During its time the East India Company was a thoroughly modern and novel sort of enterprise; where merchants, acting in the name of their monarch and country, could not only trade with other nations but also had the means to form and equip private armies of their own, and were given the right to claim and conquer territories abroad. This was something radically different and had never happened before, as the phenomenon of armed merchant companies was never heard of. But in time other European countries also formed their own national militarized companies: Holland had its Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) and Geoctroyeerde Westindische Compagnie (GWC), France had the Compagnie des Indes, Denmark had the Vestindisk kompagni, and so on.

As these companies were licensed entities that had the legal right to form armies and defend themselves, they were at the forefront of conflicts between nations: The British, French and Dutch companies were constantly at war, and at times their rivalries would be so great that they nearly dragged their countries to war too.

In the East and West Indies, it was the rivalry between these companies that fueled the colonisation of the Caribbean, India and Southeast Asia. And as they conquered these territories, they built monopolistic trading networks where goods from one part of the world could be exported to another, while making huge profits along the way. The most successful were the British and Dutch companies, who conquered territories to the West and East, and who exported tea, pepper, opium and cloth from India, China and Southeast Asia all the way to Europe and the Caribbean, and who in turn controlled the export of rum, sugar and spices from the Caribbean back to Europe. To maintain their powerful monopolies, the companies were ready to go to war, and to kill whoever stood in their way…

For our purposes in the game, the main threat posed by the companies was how they insisted on having monopolies on trade- Thereby making trade and enterprise extremely difficult and dangerous for freelancers. Hence the ‚pirate’ was born: In both the East and West Indies (Caribbean), it was the monopolistic practices of the European companies that forced many independent merchants and mariners to break the law, and to fight against these companies. And those who resisted the monopoly of the companies were often labelled as ‚pirates’….

So as you sail across the Caribbean captains, keep an eye out for the warships of the dreaded companies! The pirate may be seen as a romantic figure today – due to movies and popular TV shows – but piracy in the Caribbean was also part of a huge global economic war between freemen and powerful corporations in the 18th/19th centuries.



[Image: East India Company port in the East Indies. Source: open source/internet]
Farish A Noor