Isaac Hobhouse, a typical Bristol merchant, saw the profits to be made from the slave trade. His firm of Isaac Hobhouse & Co organised 44 slaving voyages and Hobhouse also invested in slaving voyages run by other merchants in the city. Understanding the risks in the slave trade, Hobhouse instructed the master of the Dispatch to buy ivory as 'in that commodity there's no Mortality to be feared'.
The merchant was at the centre of the web of money, trades, credit, insurance and people that made up a slaving voyage. Without him and his investment, there would have been no fitting out of a ship, no voyage to Africa and the Americas, no sugar or tobacco imports into Europe.
Before 1698 the slave trade was the monopoly of the London-based Royal African Company. Bristol merchants, organised through the Society of Merchant Venturers, campaigned to open the slave trade to all. The Society had social, financial and political power, with its members controlling much of the trade of the city. Bristol was the second biggest port after London, and her merchants were noted for their 'sharp and hard dealings'. When the monopoly was lifted in 1698 they were ready to enter the trade. Bristol already had the infrastructure to support the high investment in a long-distance trade.
The 18th century saw an explosion in the demand for enslaved labour in the Caribbean, as small mixed estates were bought up and combined into large, cost-effective sugar plantations. Bristol's merchants set the pattern of trade for 100 years.