> 16th century > UK, British empire, England
Timeline in pictures
TITLE: Stowage of the British slave ship Brookes
regulated slave trade act of 1788
LC-USZ62-44000 (b&w film copy neg.)
LC-USZ62-34160 (b&w film copy neg.)
Illustration showing deck plans and cross sections
of British slave
MEDIUM: 1 print: etching.
Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division
Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
(b&w film copy neg. LC-USZ62-44000) cph 3a44236
(b&w film copy neg. LC-USZ62-34160) cph 3a34658
TIFF > JPEG > Anglonautes
Library of Congress
Images of African-American Slavery and
From the Collections of the Library of Congress
A plan of the layout of a slave ship.
Bristol’s wealth was due in no small part
to profits from the slave trade.
Photograph: Christopher Jones/Alamy
The day Bristol dumped its hated slave trader in the docks
and a nation began to search its soul
Sun 14 Jun 2020 09.14 BST
William Wilberforce 1759-1833
was a deeply
English member of parliament
and social reformer
who was very influential
the abolition of the slave trade
and eventually slavery
in the British empire.
Olaudah Equiano c.1745-1797
also known as Gustavus
was an African writer,
born in what is now
the Eboe province of
and sold into slavery aged
as the slave
of a British
purchased his freedom in
and went on to write
his popular slave memoir.
No fewer than 17 editions
and several translations,
William Wilberforce's 1789 Abolition Speech
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIqKTodrZSM - 24 March 2015
Drake c. 1540-1596
vice-admiral in the fleet
the Spanish Armada,
was also a
to Guinea and
1,200 and 1,400
– a figure that
the deaths of
three times as
Author casts shadow
over slave hero
Wednesday September 14, 2005
in New York
One of black Britain's earliest known authors
and most prominent historical figures may have fabricated his accounts of being
transported on a slave ship from Africa to the Caribbean, according to a
prominent American academic.
In his autobiography Olaudah Equiano, a former slave who bought his freedom and
then became a leading voice in the movement to abolish slavery, claimed he was
born in Essaka, Igboland in what is now southeastern Nigeria in 1745. Equiano
(who also went by the name Gustava Vassa) described how he was taken by slave
traders and shipped to the Caribbean. It was the first written account by an
African in English of the slave journey.
But in a book to be published next month, University of Maryland professor
Vincent Carretta claims there is more evidence to suggest that Mr Equiano was
born in South Carolina and concocted the tale of the slave journey from other
Mr Carretta, a world authority on Equiano's life, has unearthed a baptismal
record from 1759 and a 1773 ship's muster both of which list South Carolina as
"It's not a smoking gun but it is strong circumstantial evidence," he says,
insisting that there are no doubts about the authenticity of the rest of
Equiano's accounts. "If you read the first three chapters they read like
anthropology. The rest reads like autobiography. Once he enters history he is
Mr Carretta's findings have divided academics on both sides of the Atlantic. The
atmosphere at a conference at Kingston University in 2003 became "a tad
overwrought" as he presented them.
"They asked me why I was doing this to Equiano. I said: 'You can question my
motives all you want. Equiano's my hero. I'm crazy about him. But even if I
wasn't the data are still there'."
Professor Paul Lovejoy of York university in Toronto argues that the
overwhelming body of evidence suggests Equiano was born in Africa and that his
whole life story should not be distorted to account for two documents of
debatable veracity. "The thing that doesn't fit is the document that says he was
born in South Carolina," says Mr. Lovejoy. "Everything else fits. The one thing
that's odd - that's the one that has to be questioned, not the other way
Equiano's significance to transatlantic history has grown precipitously over the
last few decades. History professor James Walvin bought a first edition of his
book in 1967 for 5 shillings; today it is worth $12,000.
"So many people have a stake in Equiano that it is bound to upset a lot of
people," says Prof Walvin, from York university in England. "These are two
documents among many. You can't ignore them. But if it's true then it's a
Others, like Paul Gilroy, of the London School of Economics, believe the dispute
has been overblown. "Does the issue of Olaudah's birthplace undermine the ...
historical meaning of catastrophic mass death?" asks Professor Gilroy.
Equiano's descriptions of the journey are graphic. "The closeness of the place
and the heat of the climate added to the number in the ship, which was so
crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us," he
writes in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus
Vassa, the African, Written by Himself. "The shrieks of the women, and the
groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable."
Mr Carretta says Equiano may have fabricated the accounts for reasons of
political expediency. "The priority for abolitionist cause at the time was
abolishing the slave trade rather than slavery. If he had said he was born in
South Carolina he would have been much less useful. There was a need for the
voice. He was aware of the need and in a position to give his voice."
Author casts shadow over slave hero,
Death on the Grain Coast
In 1787 a small fleet set sail
from London to Sierra Leone.
For the hopeful black passengers
and their white abolitionist
it was an extraordinary, utopian venture -
to establish the first
colony of freed slaves
In an exclusive extract from his new book,
Simon Schama reveals how that dream
of a new life
turned into a nightmare
Wednesday August 31, 2005
In the late 18th century, between 5,000 and
7,000 black people lived in London. More than 20 years before the legislation of
William Wilberforce finally ended slavery in Britain, the practice was still
legal - but ambiguously so. Most blacks in London were free, but not all, and
slave catchers operated widely in the capital, kidnapping runaways.
The abolitionist movement, meanwhile, was well
under way, and in 1772 a landmark legal judgment had given rise to the
widespread (but erroneous) impression that slavery was outlawed in England. As a
consequence, black slaves everywhere - but especially in the American colonies -
came to see England as a beacon of hope. Many served the loyalist cause in the
American war of independence - and thus looked to King and Country to guarantee
their liberty when the colonies were surrendered.
After 1783, many impoverished refugees made their way to London, where their
plight led to the foundation of a Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor
being established by a group of wealthy philanthropists. Soon, though, the
coffee-house talk moved beyond mere relief, to a grander project altogether: the
establishment of a colony of free black people, back to Africa.
To his friends, Henry Smeathman was "Mr Termite". No one knew more about ants.
In 1771 he had been sent by the scientist and future president of the Royal
Society, Joseph Banks, to the Banana Islands off the coast of Sierra Leone to
collect botanical specimens for Banks's collection at Kew. He had stayed there
for three years, turning himself from botanist into entomologist.
In the 1780s he had pottered along giving his insect lectures, a harmless and
slightly marginal figure in the scientific and philanthropic communities of
which he considered himself a member. But then, in 1786, the cause of the black
poor gave him a sudden, belated opportunity, and Smeathman set before the Lords
of the Treasury his "Plan of Settlement" for the creation of a thriving free
black colony in "one of the most pleasant and feasible countries in the known
world" - Sierra Leone.
Given such natural blessings, each settler should "by common consent" be allowed
to "possess as much land as he or she could cultivate". Surely the blacks would
see that "an opportunity so advantageous may perhaps never be offer'd again for
they and their posterity may enjoy perfect freedom settled in a country
congenial to their constitution" and one where they "will find a certain and
secure retreat from former suffering". And all for a mere £14 per capita.
There was something of a discrepancy between Smeathman's ebullient salesmanship
and the truth. The "Land of Freedom", as Sierra Leone was to be called, also
happened to be the province of slavery. The Royal Navy, which was to escort and
possibly protect the infant colony of the free, was at the same time assigned to
protect the busy British slave-trading depot on Bance Island, a little way
upriver from the estuary. Still, the government signed on to the scheme. At a
cost of £14 per person, the Treasury would bear the expense not just of free
transport to Africa, but also of provisions, clothes and tools for four months.
To many historians, this entire operation has seemed more like social
convenience than utopian idealism. In this view, what the government wanted was
just to be rid of the blacks as irksome beggars, petty criminals and (since
interracial sexual liaisons were becoming commonplace and noticed) a threat to
the purity of white womanhood. The involvement of slave owners such as
Angerstein and Thomas Boddington in the Sierra Leone plan, and the approval of
slavery's most ardent apologist, Edward Long, who may indeed have thought of it
as an experiment in social hygiene, does not, however, make it a conspiratorial
racist deportation. For every Long, there were 10 dedicated abolitionists.
George Rose, the Treasury man overseeing the plan, for example, was a heartfelt,
militant abolitionist, committed to closing down the whole sinful institution.
Then, as always, there was the veteran campaigner Granville Sharp, who was in no
doubt at all - provided slaveholding of any kind was strictly forbidden - that
Sierra Leone could indeed be made into "the Province of Freedom".
After some effort was expended to calm the fears of blacks in Britain about the
scheme, over 600 signed an "Agreement" indicating their willingness to be
"happily settled on the ... Grain Coast of Africa". The emigrants were all
supposed to have embarked on three ships lying at Blackwall in London, the
Atlantic, the Belisarius and the Vernon, by November. It was important, if the
fledgling settlement was to have a chance, that it should arrive on the Grain
Coast before the onset of the rainy season in the spring.
But the delays were endless. By late November, of that 600-plus, no more than
259 had actually come aboard the two ships. And they were, evidently, freezing
cold, cramped, dangerously sickly and generally unhappy. Some reported being
treated by the white officers no better than if they had been "in the West
Indies". As many as 60 may have died before the ships ever left England, most of
them on the Belisarius, where a "malignant fever" was taking a deadly toll,
especially of the children. By then, the scheme's chief salesman, Smeathman, had
himself died, of a mystery illness perhaps acquired on his earlier voyages.
Interminable delays meant that the final departure did not take place until
February - making an arrival during the rainy season in Sierra Leone inevitable.
The ships were barely under way when they found themselves in trouble. The naval
escort Nautilus ran on to a sandbank. The wind went from fresh to dangerous in a
matter of hours as the fleet found itself in the teeth of the worst kind of gale
the Channel can whip up. The Vernon's fore topmast came down; the ships lost
sight of, and contact with, each other; and the unlucky Nautilus limped to
Torbay. The next day the fleet's commanding officer, Captain Thomas Thompson,
attempted to sail to Plymouth in the wake of the Atlantic and Belisarius, but
was beaten back to Torbay by the foul weather.
Nor were the venture's troubles over. On April 9 the little fleet sailed away,
dirty weather left behind with the British coast. As usual, fevers mounted;
bodies, 14 of them, were slid overboard. But at Tenerife in the Atlantic spring,
the ships took on cattle and fresh food and water, and the knell of mortality
seemed to have abated. Patrick Fraser, the chaplain, described the expedition in
a letter to the Public Advertiser as a happy ark, enjoying "the sweets of peace,
lenity and almost uninterrupted harmony". Better yet, "the odious distinction of
colours is no longer remembered". Black and white worshipped together. Jerusalem
lay just over the horizon.
Would it have made any difference if they had known the native Temne name for
their destination: Romarong - the place of the wailers, the place where men and
women wept in the storms? All that Captain Thompson knew, as he spied the site
from the deck of the anchored Nautilus on May 10 1787, was that it had been
called "Frenchman's Bay" and he had it in mind to rename it St George's Bay. St
George and England, along with some 380 free black Britons, had arrived at the
mouth of the Sierra Leone river.
It had been noticed. The next day, wasting no time, the local Koya Temne chief,
King Tom, appeared, big and affable, a glory in blue silk and ruffled shirt, the
flap of his hat thick with gold lace. His wives, standing at a proper distance,
were still bigger, in brilliant taffeta and turbans wound high. Punctiliously
naval, Thompson made sure the Nautilus greeted them with a 13-gun salute.
Thompson announced his intention to buy from the king a territory of some 400
square miles; the land that would be the Province of Freedom. King Tom raised no
objections. But he was no ingénu when it came to dealing with Europeans; what
they were "buying" was not ownership of land (for no one truly owned it), but
permission to stay.
From the crest of the "eminence", the prospect may not have been quite the
terrestrial paradise described by the late Smeathman - or indeed as Granville
Sharp rhapsodised to his brother James ("the hills are not steeper than
Shooter's Hill [in Kent ] ... the woods and groves are beautiful beyond
description"). But on that day in May the view may still have looked auspicious.
Much of the coast was sunk low in muddy mangrove swamp, interlaced with creeks
where sharks shared the shallows with crocodiles. Twice a year, in spring and
autumn, the sea carried the coffee-coloured ooze over the low plain, making the
estuary good for nothing except the extraction of salt.
And as far as they could see, there was damned little else to sustain life on
the north shore, although a few saturated fields swayed with meagre yellow
stalks of rice. Two weeks later came the deluge. The sky disappeared into a
muffling grey void, the drowning pausing only with the sudden arrival of
tornadoes for which the capes were notorious. Thus it was that the sounds of
Romarong came to Captain Thompson's emerald hill.
Against this onslaught, elemental, zoological and epidemic (for fevers were
taking their toll, too), what did the London blacks and the remaining six whites
have? Self-sufficiency was out of the question. Survival depended on the stores
that had been brought on the ships, and those were rapidly mouldering; in their
desperation the settlers consumed them anyway. When these provisions were gone,
the settlers of Granville Town - as their little colony of the free had been
named, in honour of Sharp - began to trade their tools and, before long, their
clothes in exchange for food from the only dependable source: the slavers on
Bance Island and on the Bullom shore.
Before the Province of Freedom ever had a chance to establish itself, its people
began to disappear. By September 16, when Thompson boarded the Nautilus for the
voyage home, having ostensibly seen the settlement through its teething pains,
122 of those who had landed in May had perished. Most were victims of fevers of
one kind or another, malaria being probably the most common.
The 268 survivors were then further thinned as deserters decamped to where
shelter, food and wages were offered - the slave depots. Patrick Fraser, the man
of God, was among those to make this pact with the devil. Increasingly sick and
tubercular, he finally accepted the offer of more solid lodging on Bance Island,
preaching to the white slavers and artisans and to bemused slaves, who
understood nothing of his prayers and sermons.
Blacks, too, took paying jobs upriver on Bance Island, some of them turning from
slaves to slavers. One of those was Harry de Mane, whom Granville Sharp had
rescued just the previous year from a ship carrying him in chains to the West
Indies. On hearing the news of this betrayal, Granville Sharp felt as though he
had taken a sword-thrust. "Warn them, from me," the distressed Sharp wrote to
the settlers in 1789, "of the horrors and remorse which must one day seize those
authors and abettors of oppression who do not save themselves by a timely
repentance. Remind Mr Henry Demane of his own feelings under the horrors of
slavery ... tell him that the species of slave-dealing and slave-holding are
inimical to the whole species of man by subverting charity, equity and every
social and virtuous principle on which the peace and happiness of mankind
depend, that they may fairly be deemed unnatural crimes and ought to be ranked
with the horrible unnatural depravity of man devouring man." In other words, De
Mane turned slaver was no better than a cannibal.
More bad news reached Sharp from Abraham Elliott Griffith, the manservant and
protégé whose education he had provided for. Griffith wrote to Sharp in the
throes of the rains and did not spare him:
"I am sorry, and very sorry indeed, to inform you, dear Sir, that this country
does not agree with us at all and without a very sudden change, I do not think
there will be one of us left at the end of 12 month. Neither can the people be
brought to any rule or regulation, they are so very obstinate in their tempers.
It was really a very great pity ever we came to this country after the death of
Mr Smeathman; for we are settled upon the very worst part. There is not a thing
put into the ground, will grow more than a foot out of it . . . quite a plague
seems to reign here among us. I have been dangerously ill myself but it pleased
the Almighty to restore me to health again and the first opportunity I have I
shall embark for the West Indies."
This, too, was deeply shocking; that Griffith would rather hazard his liberty
and his life in the Caribbean than try to endure in Granville Town. In the
event, Griffith did not take ship but, asked by the Naimbana tribe to open a
school at the nearby village of Robana, became a personal secretary,
interpreter, emissary and, when he married Princess Clara, son-in-law to the old
His story in Africa was not yet ended, but for the rest was there any hope to be
salvaged from the wreckage of Sharp's utopia?
In 1789 Sharp must have felt that, if only his province could somehow hang on,
the success that the campaign against the trade was enjoying in Britain would
sooner or later enlist the powerful to its protection. In a stroke of brutal
irony, it was precisely that power, in the imposing shape of His Majesty's Ship
Pomona, that brought about the ruin of Granville Town.
No one could have foreseen it. The enactment of Sir William Dolben's bill
regulating the physical conditions of the trade meant that, for the first time
in modern history, state power was being used to intervene in the traffic of
"live cargo". And the Pomona, with Captain Henry Savage commanding, had been
ordered to sail to the African coast, distribute copies of the Dolben
regulations among the slave factories and the agents of the Liverpool and
Bristol concerns, and see that its provisions were complied with.
After anchoring in St George's Bay in November 1789 Savage did his duty, but was
instantly beset by complaints from representatives of the free settlers and the
slavers, both of whom looked to the captain to uphold their grievances. Abraham
Ashmore, the current governor of Granville Town, complained bitterly about his
settlers being abducted and sold. James Bowie and John Tilley, on behalf of
Messrs Anderson, counter-groused that the settlers were thieves and lawless
rogues who had threatened their own establishment.
On one issue, however, Ashmore and Bowie made common cause. King Tom's
successor, King Jimmy, had become a menace, violating the agreements he had made
with both parties, attacking the settlement, and taking and selling slaves that
were not his to sell. He needed to be brought to book and reminded of his solemn
undertakings, and the captain of the Pomona should see to it.
Savage obliged. On November 20 a gun was fired and a flag of truce hoisted to
signal that the king might safely come aboard for a parley.
No Jimmy appeared. That same afternoon a party of men, including armed marines,
four settlers and Bowie himself, was sent to find him. Savage watched from the
deck as the boats were beached and Lt Wood and his companions disappeared into
the trees. Quiet. Then the crack of musket fire, a sudden plume of flame behind
the shoreline and smoke rising over the palms. Someone, probably a young
midshipman, had got jumpy as boys do, fired into a village - Jimmy's village -
and set a thatched roof on fire. It was the dry season, and it took only minutes
for the entire compound to be reduced to charred sticks.
This was just the start of what was to turn into a very bad day for the
brand-new British Empire of freedom. From the deck of the Pomona sailors and
marines were seen running back in hasty confusion to the shore. Alarmed, Savage
sent a second boat to pick them up. As the men were swinging their legs over the
gunwales, a volley of fire broke from the line of trees fringeing the beach. A
marine sergeant, the lieutenant of the relief boat, and a black settler were
Now that the skirmish had gone colonial, Savage trained the guns of his ship on
the shore, "clearing" the bush. Over the next few days he repeated the exercise.
In response, Jimmy's men shot at anyone attempting to land for water. Only the
well-disposed Naimbana could arbitrate, and one of the settlers was sent to
Robana to call for his intervention. When he came back with the message, as he
stepped out of his boat he too was felled by a shot.
A week later, on November 27 1789, the Naimbana's deputies came to order Jimmy
to desist, and for the moment he did so, albeit grudgingly. Savage agreed to
sail away with the Pomona, but only after a general palaver had been arranged,
which was supposed to settle grievances peacefully. Once the warship had set
sail on December 3, however, King Jimmy was free to impose his notion of what a
just settlement should be, and issued an ultimatum to the settlers to leave
Granville Town within three days. Then he burned the village down to the ground.
· Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution by Simon
Schama is published by BBC Books £20. To order a copy for £18 with free UK p&p,
call the Guardian Book Service on 0870 836 0875, or go to
on the Grain Coast:
In 1787 a small fleet set sail from London to Sierra Leone.
For the hopeful black passengers and their white abolitionist benefactors, it
was an extraordinary, utopian venture - to establish the first colony of freed
slaves in Africa. In an exclusive extract from his new book, Simon Schama
reveals how that dream of a new life turned into a nightmare,
How a minority of abolitionists
Feb 3rd 2005
From The Economist print edition
DESPITE its gruelling subject matter, Adam
Hochschild's study of colonial atrocities in the Belgian Congo of the late-19th
century, “King Leopold's Ghost”, won praise and prizes. It was a story of
official connivance at slavery and genocide, relieved by the presence of
remarkable people who campaigned against it, notably Roger Casement and Edmund
Morel. Now, in “Bury the Chains”, Mr Hochschild turns to an earlier and broader
crusade for social justice, the movement to end the slave trade in the British
empire. He spares us nothing of the awfulness of the Atlantic traffic and the
cruelties that awaited slaves in the sugar plantations of the West Indies. But,
as before, the book's true focus is the courage and moral clarity of the
anti-slave campaigners. It is not an enjoyable read, but it is stirring and
Why an ancient practice, condemned neither by the New Testament nor by Christian
tradition, was recognised as unacceptable by growing numbers of men and women in
the second half of the 18th century has long puzzled historians. Mr Hochschild
avoids big-picture answers and concentrates on the extraordinary characters
His mainly British cast is a large one. It includes John Newton, a slave captain
who found God, rejected the trade and wrote, among many others, the hymn
“Amazing Grace”; Granville Sharp, a musician and sponsor of lawsuits to free
slaves in England; Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave and author of an autobiography
that became the “Uncle Tom's Cabin” of the movement; Thomas Clarkson, an Oxford
prize-winning Latinist and deacon of the Church of England who rode the country
preaching abolition; and William Wilberforce, the tiny, evangelical member of
parliament with a booming voice who piloted a slave-trade abolition bill through
the House of Commons in 1807-08.
The objects of their concern were by no means all helpless victims. Slave
rebellions rocked the West Indies throughout the 1790s and beyond. After the
French abandoned Santo Domingo to the British in 1793, the army's attempt to put
down Toussaint L'Ouverture's slave revolt cost more soldiers than it lost in the
American war of independence. At Westminster, even MPs who approved of slavery
questioned its expense.
Mr Hochschild has a chilling explanation for why British abolitionists
concentrated on the slave trade. Unlike in the United States, where the slave
population grew by natural increase, it would have fast vanished in British
possessions but for “imports”. The sugar fields and refineries of the West
Indies were so harsh that slaves died young and many female slaves were too weak
to bear children. End the trade, the abolitionists reasoned, and slavery itself
They were right about the tactic, wrong about timing. It was not until 1833 that
slavery was finally outlawed in the British empire, although that was 30 years
before the United States and more than 50 before the Spanish colonies.
Abolitionists were needed to the end.
It once was fashionable to explain the ending of slavery as an economic
consequence, and to treat changing attitudes as secondary. Slavery, it was
argued, was ceasing to be profitable. With industrialisation, investors in slave
ships and plantations had better places to put their money. Reformers, in
effect, were pushing at an open door. Even if the dates worked better—and there
was money in slavery well into the 19th century—mechanical stories of this kind
would explain at best lack of resistance, not anti-slavery pressure.
Opponents of the slave trade agitated not only for new laws. They badgered
courts to look at old law in fresh light. “Though the Heavens May Fall” by
Steven Wise, an American lawyer concerned with animal and human rights, neatly
complements Mr Hochschild's book. It gives a detailed account of legal
challenges to slavery in Britain (but not the colonies), which culminated in the
Somerset trial in 1772. James Somerset was a slave who had absconded while in
England and whose master went to court to repossess him. The Lord Chief Justice,
Lord Mansfield, ruled in Somerset's favour, denying the master's claims on the
ground that in England, by established legal principle, everyone was free.
Though Mansfield, somewhat contradictorily, sought to deny wider scope to his
ruling, Granville Sharp and other abolitionists hailed it as the test case they
had wanted. Masters of some 15,000 slaves in Britain seemed to agree: unsure of
their owners' rights, many made slaves sign lifelong “apprenticeships”.
Both authors remind us how a committed minority can persuade a majority to see
what at first they cannot or do not want to see. In one of many vivid passages,
Mr Hochschild describes a simple but electrifying piece of evidence that
Clarkson placed before an enquiry into the slave trade by the Privy Council in
1788. It was a diagram of a slave ship, the Brookes, showing slaves tightly
packed and chained in rows. For many people, this was perhaps the first time
that the reality of the slave trade had impinged upon them: with their own eyes,
they could see its cruelty.
Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels
Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves.
By Adam Hochschild.
Houghton Mifflin; 468 pages; $26.95.
Though the Heavens May Fall:
The Landmark Trial
that Led to the End of Human
By Steven Wise.
Da Capo Press; 282 pages; $25.
To be published in Britain
by The Harvill Press
in April 2006
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