This article reviews the history of factor markets in pre-colonial West Africa, both during and after the Atlantic slave trade. The forms and volume of these markets strongly reflected the natural and technological environment, and a horizontally and vertically uneven distribution of coercive and purchasing power. The general abundance of land and absence of economies of scale in production militated against contracting for land and free labour. Hence the most widespread and large-scale factor market was in slaves. Capital and credit were transacted mostly within networks of trust and/or on the security of human pawns. With considerable social costs, variously reinforced and restricted by states, pawning and (especially) the intra-West-African slave trade channelled labour into the production of commodities for sale, contributing to the nineteenth-century growth of certain coastal and interior economies. It was only in the latter era that land rights began to be commercialized. This was not a response to a general shift in factor ratios, but rather to demand for specific kinds of land in specific places, stimulated by the growth of export markets for agricultural commodities.