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SLAVERY IN ENGLAND
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. . . . . . . . . . SLAVERY IS NOT RESTRICTED TO PREVIOUS CENTURIES . . . IT IS STILL CARRIED ON IN THE PRESENT CENTURY AND MANY OF THE SLAVES ARE CHILDREN . . . CLICK HERE FOR MORE . . . . . . . . . .

Slavery was still practised in England in the 11th century as is evidenced by the many slaves declared in William the Conqueror's Domesday Book compiled in 1086/7 (e.g.: five at Milborne Port in Somerset). The practice of wide-spread slavery in England died out shortly afterwards as it was forbidden by Lanfranc who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1070.

Slavery was common practice in Saxon England. Apart from a few staple commodities, England produced little for export slaves were exchanged for goods from abroad. The unfortunates thus traded found themselves in Ireland, Denmark and even as far as Italy. From Denmark, they doubtless passed into Germany. The powerfull took part in this trade wholesale, as is witnessed by William of Malmesbury in his reference to the powerfull Earl Godwin in his Chronicle of the Kings of England of 1065;-

When he was a young man he had Canute's sister to wife, by whom he had a son, who in his early youth, while proudly curveting on a horse which his grandfather had given him, was carried into the Thames, and perished in the stream; his mother, too, paid the penalty of her cruelty; being killed by a stroke of lightning. For it is reported, that she was in the habit of purchasing companies of slaves in England, and sending them into Denmark; more especially girls, whose beauty and age rendered them more valuable, that she might accumulate money by this horrid traffic.

The Conqueror found slaves being sold abroad from the north of England and Bristol and passed laws prohibiting the trade;-

Let Christians not be sold outside of the land or to heathens...

Also we forbid any one to sell a Christian into a foreign land and especially to heathens. For let great care be taken lest their souls for which Christ gave His life be sold into damnation.

. . . and concerning serfs;-

And we prohibit any one to sell a man out of the country. But if he, who wishes to make his serf free, hand him over to the sheriff by his right hand in full assembly, he must proclaim him quit of the yoke of his servitude by manumission, and show him free ways and gates and give him arms, viz., lance and sword; finally the man is made free.

Despite the Conqueror's laws, Giraldus Cambrensis records that the trade was still carried on a century later.

After the discovery of the Americas, the port of Bristol became tremendously prosperous as the result of its slave trading.

Slaves were one of the 'commodities' traded by the Vikings along their 'Sea Road' along the British coast.  

The theory of slavery continued in English law however for a long time after and a short-lived act of 1547 against begging threatened with slavery any person convicted for a second time of wandering without employment; they would be branded with the letter 'S' and enslaved for the remainder of their life.

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James Somerset, 1772

Although the practice of slavery continued in British colonies until 1833, it was finally laid to rest by a famous legal case in 1772; in the case, which concerned a runaway negro slave, Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of the King's Bench, ruled that the laws of England did not permit the existence of slavery. He ruled that;-

a state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law . . . whatever inconveniences, therefore may follow from this decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore, the black must be discharged

James Somerset was a slave who had been brought from Virginia to England and escaped from his master in 1771. He was recaptured and put on board a ship bound for Jamaica but his case were brought to the Court of King's Bench and defended by Granville Sharp.

Although Lord Mansfield's opinion that only Parliament has the power to create slavery in Britain, and was a significant contribution to the emancipation movement, it did not abolish the slave trade or end the practice of slavery. The judgement did benefit the slaves in England and Ireland, but did nothing for the slaves in the West Indies.

George Whitfield, a renowned preacher and orator, argued for slavery as a humanitarian institution and advocated the holding of slaves to "lay a foundation for breeding up [slaves'] posterity and nurture and admonition of the Lord".

John Locke's view was that "Slavery is so vile and miserable an Estate of Man...that 'tis hardly to be conceived, that an Englishman . . . should plead for't ". Yet Locke himself kept slaves and drafted the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina which granted absolute power over slaves. Many people of the eighteenth century shared Locke's expressed opposition to the idea of slavery, because blacks were not considered fully human, they did not find fault in African slavery.

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Abolition of the Slave Trade

The abolition of slavery in britian and her colonies was due to Buxton, Clarkson, Wilberforce and Zachary Macaulay.

A Parliamentary Committee revealed the appalling conditions under which the slave trade was carried on in 1788. A gradual Abolition Bill was carried int he House of Commons in 1792 through the efforts of Wilberforce, supported by Pitt and Fox, but the bill was postponed by the House of Lords.

The Abolition Bill was successfully passed in 1807, largely through the efforts of Fox (who did not live to see carried).

The slave trade was prohibited after January 1st, 1808.  

In August 1823, Canning succeeded in improving the condition of slaves.

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Abolition of Slavery

The Colonial Office was concerned with finding "an intermediate state between slavery and freedom� which would protect the rights of the planters and train the slaves to be free. proposals considered by the government included making the slaves "free" for two days a week or, allowing their full emancipation but requiring them to pay taxes for the support of their former owners.

The Apprenticeship� was eventually adopted; the slaves were freed, but were to be �entitled to be registered as apprenticed labourers�, indentured to work without pay for their former owners for four and a half days a week, over a period of up to six years. Only children under six years of age, too young to be apprenticed, were actually given their freedom.

Slavery was abolished in August 1833 by the Emancipation Act;

  • Slave children aged six years and under were declared free.
  • Other slaves were to serve their masters as apprentices until 1840 before recieving their freedom   but see:   Final abolition of Slavery, 1838   below
  • £20-million was given to the slave-owners as compensation.

    The compensation caused considerable controversy as some claimed it was insufficient, while others claimed that slavery was wrong and thus the sum was too generous.

    Wilberforce, who died on August 27th, 1833, said "Thank God, I have lived to witness the day in which England is willing to give £20,000,000 for the aboliton of slavery."  

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    The Jamaica Bill, 1839

    To allow a smooth transition, the Emancipation Act of 1833 provided that slaves over six years of age serve an apprenticeship with their masters before recieving their freedom in 1840. The planters, however, sought to take the maximum advantage of the system while it lasted and the 'apprentices' were subject to severe overwork and punishments.

    Parliament sough to improve the conditions of the apprentices by the "Act to Amend the Aboltiion of Slavery Act" and the Assembly of Jamaica reluctantly gave the slaves their freedom as from August 1st, 1838.

    The planters sought to strengthen their position by paying very low wages and charging high rents for the land occupied by former slaves. Those former slaves who were committed to prison were barbarously treated, although supported by the Governor, magistrates and missionaries.

    As a remedy, Parliament passed the "Jamaica Prisons Bill" in 1839 which transferred the management of Jamaican prisons from the local authorities to the Governor. The planters objected to the Bill which they regarded as interference with the constitutional rights of their Assembly which protested by resolving "to abstain from the exercise of any legislative function".

    Melbourne reacted by introducing the "Jamaica Bill", thereby suspending the constitution for five years, vesting the government with legislative powers in the Governor and three Commissioners.

    Melbourne's Bill was opposed by Peel and carried in the House of Commons by only five votes. Melbourne resigned as Prime Minister on May 7th, 1839.  

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    The United Nations launches its International Year to Commemorate the Struggle Against Slavery.

    Anti-slavery International campaigns against slavery worldwide.

    Monday August 23rd is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade.

    The National Maritime Museum is staging its Freedom Festival from August 21st to August 23rd. The three-day festival to commemorate both International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition and the UN International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against the Slave Trade and its Abolition. It will explore the many themes around the heritage of enslavement, through a variety of accessible and creative programmes.

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    Time-Line

    This time-line has been generated for this page from our general time-line
    which you can view by clicking here or on the dates in the left-hand column.

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    1510Portugese ship slaves to the Americas
    1562Drake and Hawkins make the first English slave-trading voyage to the New World
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    1652.May.18Rhode Island passes first law in North America making slavery illegal
    1704A small insurrection of negroes reported in Jamaica
    1706The judgement of Lord Chief Justice Sir John Holt in the case of Smith v. Brown and Cooper that as soon as a negro comes into England, he becomes free
    The judgement is ignored
    1713By the Treaty of Utrecht, Britain takes over the Asiento, the contract to supply Spanish America with slaves
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    1729British Attorney General, Sir Philip Yorke, asserts that a slave in England was not automatically free, nor does baptism bestow freedom on him
    1729Slave revolt in Cuba
    1730Britain becomes the biggest slave trading country
    From 1690 to 1807 British ships transport about 2.8 million enslaved Africans
    1730Start of the first Maroon war (-1740) in Jamaica
    1736Slave revolt in Antigua
    Failure of plans to massacre whites; the plotters (including skilled millwrights, coppersmith, sugar boiler, masons, butchers, carpenters etc.) are executed; 5 broken on the wheel, six gibbeted, 77 burned alive
    1737Bristol overtakes London as England s primary slaving port (37 voyages during the course of the year)
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    1739British treaty with the Jamaican Maroons
    Under the leadership of Cudjoe, the Maroons gain their freedom and are given 1,500 acres in return for helping to capture other escaped slaves
    1740End of the first Maroon war (1730-) in Jamaica
    1742Short-lived slave uprising in Jamaica
    Short-lived alliance between some slaves and disaffected Maroons
    1743The General Rules of the Methodist Church forbid the buying and selling of slaves
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    1744Bristol Corporation forwarded a petition to the King during the War of the Austrian Succession praying for the protection of the African slave trade and characterising it as the most valuable branch of local commerce
    Among the privateers raised to protect Bristol\'s commerce was the Southwell
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    1746Slave revolt in Jamaica
    1747Liverpool overtakes Bristol as Britain\'s premier slaving port avaraging about 49 voyages a year against Bristol\'s 20
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    1750The Company of Merchants Trading to Africa takes over the Royal African Company\'s role in slave trading
    237 Bristol merchants, 157 London merchants and 89 Liverpool merchants form its membership
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    1750Major slave revolt aboard the Bristol ship, the King David
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    1752Slave revolt in Martinique
    1760Tacky\'s slave rebellion in Jamaica; 400 rebels were executed
    1760The Quakers ban slave-trading amongst their followers
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    1761Slave revolt in Nevis
    1761Dutch forced to conclude treaty with the Bush Negroes (escaped slaves) in Surinam
    1763Treaty of Paris ends the Seven Years War: Grenada, Dominica, St Vincent and Tobago given to Britain
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    1765Fanti Prince visits Bristol
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    1765Slave uprising on 17 estates in Jamaica
    1767Jonathan Strong case: a slave in England was agreed to be free from transportation if they were not guilty of any crime
    1770French writer Abb� Raynal publishes a work calling for a Black Spartacus to rise and avenge slavery which the author calls a crime against nature
    1772Lord Mansfield\'s Judgement in the case of James Somerset declaring that masters cannot force slaves resident in England to return to the plantations
    The judgement was wrongly thought to be a judgement which freed slaves in England. The Mansfield Judgement did signal the beginning of the end of slavery in Great Britain itself but a slave\'s legal status in Britain was still unclear. Even after the judgement there are cases of slaves being forcibly deported by their owners
    1774John Wesley publishes anti-slavery tract Thoughts Upon Slavery
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    1777Short-lived uprising in the parishes of Hanover and Westmoreland in Jamaica
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    1778House of Commons appoints a Committee to investigate the British slave trade
    1783English public outrage when the case of the Zong becomes known: the captain threw sick Africans overboard because of a claimed shortage of water - the owners could claim insurance if the deaths were necessary to save the ship, but not if they died of natural causes (see Slavery)
    1786Publication of Thomas Clarkson\'s Essay on Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species
    1787Committee for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade founded in London
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    1787Thomas Clarkson visits Bristol on a fact-finding mission about the slave trade
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    1787Society of the Friends of the Blacks founded in France and liaises with English and American anti-slavery groups
    1788First public meeting of Bristol abolitionists held in the Guildhall
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    1788Committee of the British Privy Council examines the slave trade
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    1788Dolben Act passed, to regulate the number of slaves carried on British ships
    1789Insurrection of slaves in Haiti encouraged by the French Revolution
    1791House of Common rejects motion of William Wilberforce to introduce an abolition bill.
    Celebrations in Bristol on Brandon Hill
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    1792Denmark became the first country to ban the slave trade
    1792Sierra Leone established as a private company under the British Crown, of free Africans, many of whom are former American slaves
    1794French Revolutionary Government outlaws slavery
    1794Outbreak of the second Maroon war (-1796) in Jamaica
    1796End of the second Maroon war (-1796) in Jamaica
    1798Toussaint L\'Ouverture, leader of African slaves, wins control of Haiti Kofi\'s rebellion (a small uprising in Jamaica)
    1800Napoleon sends in troops to re-establish slavery in the French Caribbean
    1800Slave rebellion in Virginia led by Gabriel Prosser
    1801L\'Ouverture is captured: brought to France, he is imprisoned and dies
    Haiti successfully resists French and British troops and retains independence but under increasingly authoritarian rulers
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    1803Slave conspiracy discovered in Kingston, Jamaica
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    1807Act of Parliament abolishes the British slave trade
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    1807Last Bristol-based slaving voyage: the Alert carries 240 African slaves from the West Coast to Jamaica
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    1808USA abolishes the slave trade
    Trading in slaves abolished not slavery
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    1815Slave rebellion in Jamaica
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    1816Bussa\'s Rebellion in Barbados (see slavery)
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    1822Failure of the campaign to set up an international police force to stop illegal slave trade fails
    Attention turns in Brtain to the emancipation of slaves in British colonies
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    1823Slave rebellions in Jamaica and Demarara (modern Guyana)
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    1823Founding of the Anti-Slavery Committee in London
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    1824Slave rebellion in Jamaica
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    1830A letter in the Leeds Mercury from Richard Oastler claimed that factory workers were treated worse than slaves on sugar plantations
    1831Slave rebellions in Antigua, Jamaica and Virginia
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    1833Slave revolt on St Kitts against apprenticeship
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    1833.Aug.23Britain abolishes slavery in its colonies as the Emancipation Act recieves the royal assent freeing 700,000 slaves
    Slaves forced to serve a 4-year apprenticeship under the Act
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    1834.Aug.01The Slavery Abolition Bill, 1833, comes into force
    1850.Sep.20Slave trade abolished in DC, US, but slavery allowed to continue

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