29th July 1833. Slavery.
Slavery has been endemic down the centuries involving all races and peoples.
In the 17thc vice-admiral Sir William Rainborough and Ambassador to Morocco campaigned unsuccessfully to end the ’White-Slave’ trade, especially concerning North African slavers who were capturing native Irish from around Baltimore.
Slavery is recorded in the Code of Hammurabi (c1760 BCE), and in Greco-Roman times captured foreigners were enslaved.
In 18th century Britain with many wealthy people benefiting from slave plantations and trading, certain Evangelicals notably the Clapham Sect, made it their mission to end the infamous trade. The most notable and influential was William Wilberforce, who died Today in 1833.(1)
Slavery became particularly profitable in the 16th century with Africans being sent to America to work the cotton, tobacco and sugar plantations, in a triangle of trade which filled the coffers of the likes of the Linlithgows (Hopes) and Beckfords.
Slavery became illegal in Britain in 1772: Lord Chief Justice Mansfield’s declaration stated: ‘No slave could be forcibly removed from Britain and sold back into slavery’.
It followed the tragic case of a slave picked up on the Thames, so not being on land was condemned to be returned, but committed suicide instead.
An Act of 1807, repressed the British slave trade and on the 1st August 1834, slavery was abolished in the British Empire.
Most British ports benefited from slave trading, notably Glasgow, Bristol, and Liverpool where references are sculpted into pier-side buildings. Banks grew rich, and thoroughfares, Matthew St and Penny Lane commemorate slave-ship captains.
Bristol slave trade began in 1698 when London’s monopoly of the Royal African Company was broken and like Glasgow was closely involved in tobacco.
Glasgow street names also, are testimony to the men made rich: Buchanan, Glassford, Ingram and Dunlop. William Cunningham whose Mansion in the centre of the City was remarkable in its opulence, is now home to the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art.
The Church of England was owner of West Indian plantations, with Bishop Phillpots of Exeter opposing any reform having invested in the Jamaican slave trade; he was burnt in effigy in his own Palace Yard.
Then High Tory, William Gladstone’s maiden speech in Parliament on 3rd June 1833 during the Committee Stage of a Bill for the Abolition of Slavery defended his father from charges of cruelty to the slaves on his West Indian plantation in Demarara. Ownership was widespread.
Brown Shipley was founded in 1825, when William Brown of Liverpool, (whose father had dealt in linen in America), with Joseph Shipley, became involved in financing merchants who were shipping goods and slaves between US and Britain, Europe and the Americas.(2)
As an antidote to undue hero worship, Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect were responsible for the creation of a free colony in Sierra Leone, on the west coast of Africa, there to spread the Gospel and civilisation.
Its capital Freetown denoted the area as a refuge for those rescued by the Royal Navy from slave ships, and for immigrants from across the Atlantic.
Being termed by the 1807 Act as ‘Apprentices’, they were however on arrival sold off to resident landowners, though for a term ostensibly of 14 years, thus de facto again slaves.
However the Clapham Sect and Wilberforce were caught between two stools: there was the chance that the Abolition bill wouldn’t get through the Lords without some sop, so there might have been some trade-off as the lesser of two evils.
(1) The Group based in Clapham, London included many influential people many of whom were to set the moral tone of the 19thc.
(2) Brown was a public benefactor and commemorated in the William Brown Library and Museum. Brown Shipley traded as a separate company until recently.
Ref: BBC. history.co.uk: Slavery/Families.
theguardian.3.8.2010.Stephen Tomkins article on Sierra Leone slavery.