Since the 1970s African market women have been in the spotlight, owing to a focus on the “informal economy”. Scholarly interest in female entrepreneurship has since also extended to historical perspectives on regional trade networks, above all in West Africa. The distinctions among African women (whether as slaves, peasants, farmers, traders, healers, or royalty) have fostered a plurality of perspectives on their lives and careers. Drawing on archival and published sources, this essay examines how female entrepreneurship evolved along the West African coast from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. It demonstrates that despite “proto-colonial” incursions and a notable male bias in reporting, the skillful management of social and cultural resources allowed some women to build networks that left a visible and lasting legacy in West Africa’s history.