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Mortality among European settlers in pre-colonial West Africa: The “White Man’s Grave” revisited


  • Öberg, Stefan

    () (Department of Economic History, School of Business, Economics and Law, Göteborg University)

  • Rönnbäck, Klas

    () (Department of Economic History, School of Business, Economics and Law, Göteborg University)


We have created the first longitudinal dataset following European employees of the English Royal African Company during their time in West Africa, 1683–1766. The mortality was catastrophically high with limited geographical differences. Tropical diseases and epidemics thereof, contributed to the high mortality and strong variations over time. The risk was highest for the men who had just arrived from Europe but remained high also after they had spent several years on the coast. The death rate of the Europeans was increased by both the share of newcomers and by the total number of men present on the coast.

Suggested Citation

  • Öberg, Stefan & Rönnbäck, Klas, 2016. "Mortality among European settlers in pre-colonial West Africa: The “White Man’s Grave” revisited," Göteborg Papers in Economic History 20, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economic History.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:gunhis:0020

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Coelho, Philip R. P. & McGuire, Robert A., 1997. "African and European Bound Labor in the British New World: The Biological Consequences of Economic Choices," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 57(1), pages 83-115, March.
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    More about this item


    Economic History; Mortality; West Africa; Pre-colonial; “White Man’s Grave”;

    JEL classification:

    • J10 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - General
    • N37 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Africa; Oceania

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