Slavery and the Bank of England: Exploitation on Display

Katie Donington is Senior Lecturer in History at the Open University. She specialises in the history of transatlantic slavery.

How did the national bank support transatlantic slavery?

As the Bank of England Museum explores its financial connections to slavery, broader questions remain about Caribbean reparations.

Image: Katie Donington

In August 2020 during the Black Lives Matter protests, the Bank of England announced it would remove from display 8 painting and 2 busts of former governors and director with links to slavery. It appointed a researcher to document its connections to slavery and committed to using this work to inform interpretation in the Bank of England Museum. When the Covid-19 pandemic shut the doors of the nation’s cultural organisations it gave the Museum time to prepare a new exhibition ‘Slavery & the Bank’ (April 2022 – April 2023). The exhibition explores the Bank’s involvement in the business of slavery and casts light on financial connections to the City of London more broadly.

Profit and human cost

The role of the Bank in slavery’s financial networks is represented in the main display and via additional signage across the museum. The context is carefully set out; it served the banking needs of slave traders (including monopoly trading companies like the Royal African Company), slave-owners, and West India merchants. Its provisions included accounts, overdrafts, credit, and discounting bills of exchange (cash-in payment agreements). These mechanisms were vital because Caribbean slave societies were heavily indebted owing to the capital-intensive requirements of plantation agriculture and the time it took for commodities to be grown, transported, and sold at market. The Bank played an important role in sustaining slavery’s commercial eco-system.

Image: Katie Donington

Governors and directors of the Bank with interests in the slave economy are featured. To achieve this position an individual had to own significant Bank stock – upwards of £4000 for a governor. Their slave-produced wealth was used for the Bank’s daily operations. Whilst the Bank has so far identified 25 individuals, the exhibition focuses on 4 case studies: Sir Robert Clayton (1629-1707), Sir Gilbert Heathcote (1652-33), William Manning (1763-1835), and Sir George Harnage (1767-1836). Disturbing details emerge in Harnage’s story; the ledger of his Barbados plantation Boarded Hall included the cost of a cage to imprison an enslaved man. Clayton’s story draws attention to the relationship between slavery and philanthropy – he was President of St. Thomas’ Hospital and contributed to its construction.

The Bank’s role in slavery compensation is detailed. When the British government abolished slavery in 1833 it paid the slave-owners £20 million in compensation. The Bank did not fund compensation, but it did help to manage the payments on behalf of the government.

The most significant finding was made by researcher Michael Bennett who was tasked with combing the Bank’s archive to look for evidence of its participation. In 2020, the Bank stated that it ‘was never itself directly involved in the slave trade’. Bennett’s work reveals that the Bank owned two sugar plantations in Grenada – Bacolet and Chemin between 1774-1791. Originally belonging to the Scottish merchant firm Alexander & Sons, the plantations were used as security to access the Bank’s service discounting bills of exchange. When the partnership went bankrupt, the Bank became the owners of both plantations and the 599 enslaved people who laboured on them.

Image: Katie Donington

The importance of this story is reflected in its spatial position – it occupies the middle of the exhibition on a circular raised platform. The curatorial decision to make this the heart of the narrative marks an attempt to centre the enslaved within a rendering of the story that otherwise concentrates on the economics of slavery. The most powerful object on display is a facsimile of a plantation inventory from 1788. It listed different forms of ‘property’; enslaved humans were recorded alongside land, stock, and buildings. The monetary value attributed to them was inscribed next to the names they had been given. It is a chilling act of commercial bureaucracy designed to transform people into commodities. The space is surrounded overhead by a black and white banner onto which the given names of the enslaved are printed. Among this terrible accounting of enslavement two unnamed infants are remembered. The evidential fragments used to memorialise the enslaved are in stark contrast to the portraits and biographical details which document the Bank’s former governors and directors. The absence of material available on the lives of enslaved people is a reminder of the racial power imbalance of historical representation.

Opening up a dialogue about slavery and its legacies?

Image: Katie Donington

According to curator Liberty Paterson, creating a space for fostering dialogue was a priority for the Bank of England Ethnic Minority Network who consulted on the exhibition. Each text panel poses a question designed to open a conversation. The central space includes a display of visitor comments cards. Whilst I was there two women of Jamaican heritage were discussing reparations – something raised in the comments cards. This is a longstanding issue within the Caribbean and was highlighted by protests during the Royal Tour. There was scant acknowledgement of this debate in the exhibition – a brief mention in the section on compensation. Despite the narrative exploring the historical role of finance in supporting the system, ideas about racial capitalism were not addressed directly. Slavery and colonialism shaped a global economic system in which capital, land, property, and power were accumulated and denied along racial lines. Slave-based wealth enriched British society as investigations by universities, cultural establishments, and philanthropic organisations have demonstrated. This history also led to Caribbean underdevelopment. But where does the responsibility for reparative justice sit – with individual families, institutions, or the state? Museums can play a role in historical repair by increasing an understanding of this history and its legacies, but questions remain about how much further Britain is willing to go to address the systemic inequity, that whilst not named, the exhibition has put on display.

The Last Slave Ship Built in Lancaster

By Isabella Tyler, Lancaster

Figure 1, ‘ The Trafalgar’, Watercolour Painting, John Emery, 1806, reproduced here with the kind permission of Lancaster City Museums.

This watercolour painting of a ship being built on the banks of the river Lune in Lancashire has a hidden history, for what is captured in this image is the very last slave ship built in Lancaster (figure one).[1] It was painted in 1806 by John Emery, a highly acclaimed comic actor of his day, who was based at Covent Garden in a troupe that regularly toured provincial towns in the summer and autumn.[2] On Saturday 19th July 1806, the Lancaster Gazette records that Emery had performed nightly at the Royal Theatre[3] in the town, noting that he had ‘excited the visible faculties of crowded audiences’.[4] Whilst acting was his profession, Emery also enjoyed painting and had a number of maritime-themed works exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art during his lifetime. What we can say is that it was while he was playing in Lancaster that he painted this ship-building scene, and then left it behind in the town, perhaps as a gift for a host or friend, or perhaps because he was dissatisfied with how his painting turned out.

The ship depicted is the slave ship ‘Trafalgar’ in its final stages of fitting out at Brockbank’s ship yard on the banks of the Lune in the centre of Lancaster.[5] The ship was built to order for Lancastrian slavers Samuel Hinderland and William Hinde, the latter a member of a slave-trading dynasty (some of whose legacies are recorded in the Legacies of British Slavery database).[6] Construction of the ship begun in 1804, and by April 1806, then nearing completion, she was heralded in the Lancaster Gazette as Mr Brockbank’s ‘fine new ship … with alterations for a Guineaman and intended for the African trade’.[7] She weighed 267 tonnes and cost her new owners £3,453. The carved and painted figurehead of Admiral Nelson on the bow of the ship suggests she was named in Nelson’s honour after his victory over French and Spanish Navies the previous October.

The construction of this slave ship would have been an important boost to the local economy of Lancaster. As Marcus Rediker notes ‘it took a small army of workers to build a slave ship, especially one of average size, two hundred tons’.[8] Lancaster’s ropemakers, joiners, anchorsmiths and sailmakers, would have all played a role in making and fitting out the ‘Trafalgar’. The hive of activity at the shipyard would have been a spectacle for locals and visitors alike, not least given the prominence of Brockbank’s, since it was situated at the heart of the town (at the site of what today is a Sainsbury’s superstore). The fact the Trafalgar was a slaving vessel would have been evident to all onlookers, as slave ships ‘were roughly similar in design and construction’.[9] For example, it was characteristic of slave ships to have a barricade on the top deck, a high wooden wall, often topped with spikes and swivelling guns, which divided the ship in two to separate the crew from the enslaved human cargo. There would likely have been high rails on the top deck to which netting could be attached to prevent enslaved people jumping overboard, iron chains running also along the top deck, which the shackled prisoners could be attached to when they were brought up from the hold, and a special large copper boiler installed in the galley to enable the feeding of hundreds of people for several months. In the hold, wooden walls were often built to segregate men from women and children, and wooden platforms were installed on which the enslaved would be chained during the middle passage across the Atlantic. All of the specialist work involved in fitting out a slaving vessel was carried out by the joiners at Brockbank’s yard, or commissioned from local firms. For example, John Brockbank, sourced his iron goods from a local blast-furnace and foundry in Halton, of which he was part-owner.[10] From the foundry, iron ingots and bars would have been transported down the river into Lancaster where anchorsmiths made them into goods for building and fitting out ships, including the chains and shackles, and possibly the branding irons, required for slaving voyages.[11]

The Slave Voyages Database records that the ‘Trafalgar’ was registered in Liverpool and made its first slaving voyage on 5th August 1806, sailing to Bonny (today part of Nigeria) on the West African coast. 320 enslaved people boarded the ship. On its arrival in Kingston, Jamaica, on 21st October, 288 enslaved people disembarked; 32 enslaved people perished on board. The ‘Trafalgar’ made a second slaving voyage in May 1807. She sailed from Liverpool to New Calabar with 242 people in the hold. On arrival in Kingston in December, 218 had survived the journey, 24 had died.[12] The figures cannot capture the violence, horror and death that lay at the very heart of a slave ship.[13] The 506 people who survived the middle passage in the hold of the ‘Trafalgar’, were sold at auction in Kingston slave markets, and would have endured lives of unimaginable brutality and hardship on Jamaican plantations.

This innocuous painting captured by the actor John Emery on a July day in Lancaster between a string of nightly performances at the local theatre is dense with hidden meanings, some of which I hope to have brought to light. It is one of relatively few paintings of British slaving vessels, and the only known painting of a Lancaster slave ship in existence. It was a murderous vessel from which not only its owners and crew, but a small army of Lancastrian merchants, craftsmen and women profited.[14]

I am working with the Maritime museum on a new label for the Emery painting that makes clear what the viewer is seeing when they look at this painting, namely the last slave ship built in Lancaster. The significance of this work as an historical record of Lancaster’s involvement with transatlantic slavery cannot be understated, as the fourth largest slave trading port in England.

[1] The research for this blog was undertaken while I was a six-form student at Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School. It was an outcome of work with Lancaster Black History Group who led a series of research projects with secondary school students in Lancaster in 2020-21. Thanks especially to Travis Taylor from Lancaster Royal Grammar School who I worked with in this first stages if this research, Mr Yearnshire, Head of History at Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School, Dr Sunita Abraham, Melinda Elder, Dr Nick Radburn, Mr Jamie Reynolds, Professor Alan Rice and Professor Imogen Tyler (Lancaster Black History Group), Mel Cookson-Carter the manager at Lancaster Maritime Museum, and Carolyn Dalton, Museum Development Manager at Lancaster City Council.

[2] Thanks to Professor Jim Davis, Warwick University for email correspondence about Emery, that helped confirm him as the artist who painted this work.

[3] This theatre is still open today, and is now known as ‘The Grand’.

[4] Thanks to Emma Coffey and Kate Smith at Lancaster City Council for assistance identifying this source that confirms Emery playing in Lancaster.

[5] Brockbank’s was one of several shipbuilding firms in Lancaster, but by far the largest and longest lasting. The yard launched an estimated 134 ships between 1738 and 1817, of which several were, or became, slave ships. For more on Brockbank’s see Peter Skidmore ‘Lancashire Shipping in the !8th Century: The Rise of a Seafaring Family’, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 160 (January 2011), pp. 55–65; Peter Skidmore, ‘New Light on Seamen, Ships and Trade of the Port of Lancaster in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century’, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 159 (January 2010), pp. 63–82; Eija Kennerley, The Brockbanks of Lancaster: The Story of an 18th Century Shipbuilding Firm (Lancaster Museum, 1981).

[6] See Melinda Elder, The Slave Trade and the Economic Development of Lancaster (Edinburgh, 1992) and Melinda Elder ‘The Liverpool Slave Trade, Lancaster and its Environs’, in D. Richardson, S. Schwarz and A. Tibbles (eds), Liverpool and Transatlantic Slavery (Liverpool, 2007) for more information on the Hinde family.

[7] Lancaster Gazette, 5th April 1806.

[8] Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History (London, 2007), p. 54.

[9] Rediker, The Slave Ship, p. 55.

[10] Established in 1753, the furnace was sited a few miles further up the river Lune; a road name, Foundry Lane, is a reminder of its existence today.

[11] Several Lancaster anchorsmiths are known to have operated in workshops on St. George’s Quay (built in 1750, neighbouring Brockbank’s shipyard and to the right in the painting of the ‘Trafalgar’). An anchorsmith called Joseph Sharp undertook much of Brockbank’s iron work.

[12] This slaving voyage was licenced before The Slave Trade Act 1807 came into effect.

[13] Rediker, The Slave Ship, p. 270.

[14] An interesting example of women involved in maritime trade in Lancaster is Mary Brockbank, the widow of one of John Brockbank’s brothers. Mary produced the sails for Brockbank’s vessels, and grew what would become a substantial business in its own right. In the 18th century, it would have been unusual for a widow to be a business owner and employer given women’s highly restricted legal, financial, and political rights.

James Stirling (1791-1865), enslavement and Western Australia

By Dr Georgina Arnott, Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Melbourne

Since 2020, the Western Australian Legacies of British Slavery project, in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery, has been examining the role of British slavery in the 1829 colonisation of Australia’s western third.

The project was stimulated by the LBS database and the work of historians showing the importance of slavery networks, capital, commerce, and ideas to imperial endeavour across the Indian and Pacific oceans in the early nineteenth century.

One of the expectations of the project was that researchers would identify further individuals linking British slavery to Western Australia. How many slave-owners relocated from the Caribbean to Australia’s first privately funded colony in the emancipation period? To date, a search for ‘Western Australia’ under ‘Notes’ in the LBS database produces fifteen individuals.

James Stirling (c. 1833), Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales;

Research into Western Australia’s founding governor, James Stirling (1791-1865), has laid bare the long tentacles linking British enslavement to Western Australia. Yet this is a complicated, temporally and geographically expansive story, not captured by migrations from the West Indies to Australia. How might such data be fed back into the database?

Brothers James and Walter Stirling

Postcard of Drumpellier House, about 1913, North Lanarkshire Council Archives, United Kingdom, U12-73;

Vice-Admiral and founding Governor James Stirling came from a wealthy Glasgow family of textile manufacturers and traders. Stirling’s early years were spent at Drumpellier Estate, purchased by his great-grandfather Andrew Buchanan in 1739. Such was the family’s standing within Glasgow’s elite society that James’ mother Anna Stirling (née Stirling, 1762-1830) started a fashion for multiple dishes at dinner, registered by some observers as an ‘extravagant style of living’.[i]

Left: Walter Stirling, Leeper & Stirling Family Trees, maintained by Finian Leeper;
Right: Anna Stirling, Geni;

James Stirling is not listed, or even mentioned, in the LBS database and has never been linked to slavery. It was the inclusion of James’s older brother Walter Stirling (1780-1864) that prompted our research into the Western Australian governor. Together with Thomas Wace, Walter was an awardee in five Barbados claims for compensation covering nine enslaved people. With brothers William, Charles and John, Walter had taken over the family’s London textile house in the first decade of the nineteenth century, but otherwise held no obvious connection to the West Indies. Additionally, Walter Stirling and Thomas Wace were among three assignees for a compensation payment covering 221 enslaved people at the Pin Green Field in British Guiana.

Walter’s LBS entry caused us to ask: did these investments in slavery reflect the family’s involvement in West Indian merchant trade? Going further back, had slavery business played a part in the family’s rise within Glasgow’s merchant elite? It has since emerged that James’ father, two grandfathers and four great-grandfathers all received some kind of material benefit from slavery, as did James himself.

Slavery income James Stirling received

Between 1812 and 1818, James was a naval captain in Jamaica, where his uncle Vice-Admiral Charles Stirling (1760–1833) was commander-in-chief. During these six years, James received extra pay on at least six occasions for chaperoning merchant ships and bullion to and from the slave colony, at the expense and request of slave-owners.[ii]

Moreover, James received a significant income from capturing enemy ships laden with goods produced by enslaved people. Early in the 1812 War, fought between the United States and Britain, James captured at least three vessels in the Gulf of Mexico carrying coffee and sugar, which were sold as part of prize proceedings.[iii]

In just nine months, James received commissions and prizes deriving from slavery that amounted to almost £3000, around twelve times his annual naval salary. He entrusted this money to the family business, managed at this time by Walter.[iv]

Slavery in earlier Stirling generations

These slavery profits were dwarfed by those received by James Stirling’s family in earlier generations. For at least two decades, James’ father Andrew traded large volumes of textiles with Jamaica slave-owners and those servicing them. Family letters reveal a sense of scale: when James was eight years old, a sudden fall in produce prices in the West Indian market led to losses of £95,000 for Stirling, Hunter & Company (more than £7.2 million in 2017 money).[v]

That the operation remained viable was testament to the importance of intergenerational wealth to the family. During this period, James’ father’s income was buffered by coal royalties on Drumpellier Estate and an inherited share in William Stirling and Sons, one of Glasgow’s most successful textile manufacturers. James’ grandfather William had established the concern around 1730, in the wake of The Calico Acts 1700/01, which radically tipped the balance in favour of British textile printers at the expense of Indian producers.

The commodity from which William Stirling (1717-1777) first accrued capital was the one that consolidated his family within Glasgow’s merchant elite: tobacco. After the Act of Union 1707, slave-produced Virginian tobacco began being imported into Glasgow for export across Europe. When demand for tobacco exploded over the middle decades of the eighteenth century, those Glaswegian firms that had entered the trade before 1730 did extremely well, consolidating wealth and commercial advantage through intermarriage. William, son of ‘tobacco lord’ John Stirling (1677–1736), married Mary Buchanan (1730–1806), daughter of Andrew Buchanan (1690-1759).

Buchanan, James’s great-grandfather and Lord Provost of Glasgow, was amongst the most successful importers of Virginian tobacco, amassing a ‘large fortune in a few years’.[vi] In Virginia itself, Buchanan owned extensive plantations and enslaved large numbers of people.[vii] In 1742, the captain of Buchanan’s vessel Vernon purchased eighteen women in Barbados, transporting the surviving seventeen to the Upper James River, Virginia. Andrew Buchanan owned at least five vessels which moved goods between North America, London, the West Indies, and Glasgow.[viii] Sugar, amongst these goods, was processed in Glasgow’s sugar houses, two from five of which Buchanan part owned.

At the other end of this trade, across the Atlantic Ocean, were those enslaved for the purpose of cultivating crops at minimal cost. European demand for tobacco during the first fifty years of Glasgow–Virginian trade was a major factor in the tenfold growth in the purchase of Africans in British North America. By 1750, more people were enslaved on the Chesapeake than anywhere else in continental North America.[ix]

Material legacies of Stirling’s ancestors

Andrew Buchanan’s legacy lives on in Glasgow’s public spaces, including its main shopping street, Buchanan Street, as well as Virginia Street, which Buchanan named in honour of his Virginian slavery wealth. In 2020, anti-racism campaigners renamed Buchanan Street George Floyd Street in light of these slavery connections.[x]

Buchanan Street, Glasgow

While Buchanan’s Virginia Mansion, reputedly the grandest of all tobacco-lord houses, no longer stands, today’s Gallery of Modern Art has a connection to the family. From 1789 to 1817 it was the headquarters of William Stirling and Sons, run during this period by James’ father and two uncles. The Stirlings purchased the house from its first owner, William Cunninghame, a Jamaican slave-owner and partner in Buchanan’s King Street Sugar House.

Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow

The LBS database and Australian history

Members of the Western Australian Legacies of British Slavery team are finding similarly complex histories behind the roughly 200 people who are listed in the LBS database with a connection to Australia. Such stories dramatically recast Australian colonial expansion as a by-product of Britain’s gradual withdrawal from the Caribbean. They shed new light on familiar biographies – in this case, for example, James Stirling’s attempts to introduce indentured Asian labour to raise tropical crops. Responses to these histories amongst Australians vary from disbelief and hostility to intrigue and recognition.

The importance of the LBS database to this research cannot be overstated. Without Walter’s LBS entry, it might have been decades before researchers examined the family wealth behind Western Australia’s first governor. Yet the challenge remains: how can such stories most usefully exist within the LBS database, as a tool for tracing connections across empire?

[i] John Gordon, ed., The New Statistical Account of Scotland, Glasgow, Lanark, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: Blackwood’s and Sons, 1845), 230.

[ii] Royal Gazette of Jamaica (Jamaica), 17 October 1812, 18; Royal Gazette of Jamaica, 21 November 1812, 17; Royal Gazette of Jamaica, 12 December 1812, 18; Royal Gazette of Jamaica, 20 March 1813, 19; Royal Gazette of Jamaica, 8 May 1813, 20; Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser (London), 11 February 1813, 1–2.

[iii] ‘Captains’ Logs, including Brazen’, 6 August 1812, ADM 51/2013, The National Archives (hereafter TNA), United Kingdom; Royal Gazette of Jamaica, 21 November 1812, 19; The Enquirer (Richmond, Virginia), 2 October 1812, 3; National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C), 10 October 1812, 3; untitled, within High Court of Admiralty: Prize Court: Assignation Books, General Series, HCA 8/157, TNA; untitled, HCA 8/156, TNA; untitled, within records of the Instance and Prize Courts, HCA 2/268, TNA.

[iv] James Stirling to Anna Stirling, 7 April 1813, Statham-Drew papers, ACC 9631A, SLWA.

[v] Pamela Statham-Drew, James Stirling: Admiral and Founding Governor of Western Australia (Perth: University of Western Australia Press, 2003), 9; John Oswald Mitchell, Old Glasgow Essays (Glasgow: Maclehose and Sons, 1905), 384; ‘Currency Converter: 1270–2017’, The National Archives, United Kingdom, accessed 20 October 2021,

[vi] Robert Renwick, History of Glasgow, vol. 3 (Glasgow: Maclehose, Jackson, 1921), 240.

[vii] ‘Drumpellier’, Thomas Annan, John Oswald Mitchell and John Guthrie Smith, eds., Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry, 2nd edn. (Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons, 1878), xxxvi; ‘Andrew Buchanan’, Scotland and Atlantic Slavery, accessed 26 September 2021,

[viii] ‘Intra-American’, Voyage ID 101203, SlaveVoyages, accessed 17 June 2021,; John Gibson, The History of Glasgow from the Earliest Accounts to the Present Time (Glasgow: Rob Chapman and Alex Duncan, 1777), 210.

[ix] Herbert S. Klein, The Atlantic Slave Trade, 2nd edn, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 44.

[x] ‘Glasgow ‘slaver’ streets renamed by anti-racist campaigners’, The Guardian, 7 June 2020,

Scotland and Jamaican Slavery: the problem with numbers

Stephen Mullen, University of Glasgow and Simon P. Newman, University of Wisconsin and University of Glasgow

Scots played a very significant role in Jamaican plantation slavery and have left their mark on the island and its people, from the plethora of Scottish place names to the many present-day Jamaicans with Scottish surnames. In the 1770s Edward Long suggested that ‘very near one third of the [White] inhabitants of Jamaica’ were either from Scotland or descended from Scots.[1] But Long was guessing and the absence of accurate records of ethnicity and absentee ownership make it extremely difficult for historians to measure with any precision the Scottish presence in Jamaica.

One strategy has been to use maps and occasional listings of White Jamaican landholders to look for identifiably Scottish surnames, and then use this to estimate the Scottish population in portions of Jamaica. But this is an inherently unreliable methodology. For example, Robert Gordon and Duncan Campbell each had Scottish names, yet both were long-term residents of England and the money they received in compensation for enslaved Jamaicans freed by the British government flowed to them and their and their descendants in England rather than Scotland.[2] Thus a Scottish surname cannot be taken as definitive evidence that a person called Scotland home, and surname analysis is highly likely to over-estimate the numbers of Jamaican land and slaveholders who were Scottish and who regarded Scotland as their home.

Yet in the absence of other methodologies historians have had little alternative but to attempt to extrapolate from surname analysis, albeit with caveats about the impressionistic nature of their estimates. Richard Sheridan first identified and counted apparently Scottish surnames in 1974, followed two decades later by Allan Karras who counted these Scottish surnames in certain parts of Jamaica.[3] Using the 1754 list of Jamaican landholders (including those who lived in Jamaica and those who lived in Britain) Karras found that only 140 (9%) of the 1,564 names in this document were identifiably Scottish. He pointed out that these Scots were disproportionately clustered in the more frontier-like regions of the northern and western portions of the island, while the earlier-arriving English dominated in the more densely populated southern and eastern portions of the island.[4]

Figure 1. James Robertson, ‘To His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, this map of the County of Cornwall, in the island of Jamaica…’ (London, 1804). Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library. This excerpt of a portion of St James Parish reveals Scottish place names such as Glasgow, Hampden, Paisley and Castle-Wemyss, and potential Scottish names such as Gordon, Murray and Erskin. But even in this more Scottish parish there were a great many non-Scottish place names and names of property-holders.

But more and more Scots were arriving in the later eighteenth century and Karras went on to utilize the Jamaican Crop Accounts for 1760, and the highly detailed Craskell and Simpson map of the island (1763) which identifies each estate by the name of its owner. Karras focused on the rapidly growing and increasingly Scottish northern and western parishes of St Mary’s, St Ann’s, St James (including Trelawny) Westmoreland, and Hanover, and he found that an average of 19% of the names of landholders in these parishes were identifiably Scottish. However, given that these were the less densely populated areas of Jamaica in which Scots were more numerous, the percentage of Scottish names (and presumably of Scots themselves) in Jamaica as a whole, was certainly lower than 19%, but we have no way of knowing how much lower.[5] Karras then examined the extremely detailed map crafted by James Robertson in 1804, identifying plantations and pens by the names of their owners. Once again he focused on the same six northern and western parishes and found that identifiably Scottish names had increased to an average of 29.6%.[6] (See Figure 1)

As we seek to learn more about Scotland’s role in slavery and colonialism it is understandable that we would like headline numbers and statistics, and it is hardly surprising that journalists, commentators and even some historians have seized on the numbers provided by Karras and have extrapolated from them that Scots represented at least 30% of Scottish land- and slaveholders in Jamaica as a whole.[7] But the weakness of surname analysis and the fact that Karras was measuring only the most Scottish parishes all mean that using his estimates for the entire island of Jamaica is flawed: there were certainly fewer Scots who owned land and enslaved people in Jamaica as a whole than he found in the north and west of the island, and some of the people he identified had Scottish names but did not necessarily call Scotland home.

More recently the Legacies of British Slavery project has undertaken the massive process of identifying all people in Britain who received compensation from the British government when slavery ended. When the British government ended slavery in the Caribbean and compensated those who claimed ownership of the enslaved they created records that enable us to see how many claims for how many enslaved Black Jamaicans were lodged by people resident in Scotland. The six parishes identified by Karras remained the most heavily Scottish ones on the island. Out of Jamaica’s 20 parishes these six northern and western parishes accounted for 43% of the claims made by people resident in Scotland, 52% of the enslaved people for whom these Scots made claims, and 51% of the compensation money paid to these Scots in relation to Jamaican claims. In Jamaica as a whole a total of 268 individuals with Scottish addresses lodged 356 compensation claims in relation to the emancipation of 35,125 enslaved people in Jamaica. These Scottish claimants received compensation for the emancipation of approximately 11% of Jamaica’s enslaved, and correspondingly about 11% of the amount of compensation paid out in relation to Jamaica went to people in Scotland. However, these precise numbers do not account for those Scots who used English or for that matter Jamaican addresses for their claims, so there were certainly more Scottish enslavers and compensation claimants who are not included in these totals. Equally, however, there were certainly English claimants who used Jamaican or other non-English addresses.[8]

Taken together Karras’s numbers and the data uncovered by the LBS Project team reveal a range of estimates relating to the Scottish presence in Jamaica between the mid-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, from Karras’s far too high figure of almost 30% (which he applied to six more Scottish northern and western parishes in 1804), to the too-low LBS figure of about 11% in 1834. The actual number of Scots in Jamaica, their proportion of the White British population on the island, the proportion of enslaved people and estates, pens and plantations they owned, and the proportion of compensation money they claimed lies somewhere between these two extremes of approximately one-third and one-tenth. It is unlikely that we shall ever know exact numbers.[9]

Figure 2. The Caymanas Estate, owned by James Ewing. Photograph by Stephen Mullen, 2014.

But does this lack of numerical precision matter? Perhaps exact numbers or percentages are less important than is the clear conclusion that Scots played a highly significant role in colonial Jamaica, and that as a consequence Scotland enjoyed a significant financial dividend from the labour of enslaved people who were owned, managed and worked by ex-patriot Scots and absentee Scottish landholders and enslavers. At this stage all we can do is give examples of these Scots and of the slavery-created money that poured into Scotland, men like James Ewing of Strathleven who claimed compensation for more than 700 enslaved Black Jamaicans when slavery ended, and whose estate was worth more than £280,000 at his death in 1853.[10] (See Figure 2) But while we can clearly see that wealth poured into Scotland from the labour and suffering of enslaved Africans in Jamaica we cannot definitively state the total number of Scots who were in Jamaica or who owned estates on the island on any particular date, or how many enslaved people they owned. Quite simply the records and the methodologies do not exist to support such definitive statements.

[1] Edward Long, The History of Jamaica, II (London: for T. Lowndes, 1774), 287.

[2] When slavery ended Robert Brown owned twelve enslaved people in Jamaica, but he lived in London. See Legacies of British Slavery (LBS), (accessed 8 November 2021). Similarly Duncan Campbell owned 204 enslaved people, and although he had likely been born in Scotland he lived in England and his family remained in England. See LBS (accessed 8 November 2021).

[3] Richard B. Sheridan, Sugar and Slavery: An Economic History of the British West Indies, 1623-1775 (Kingston, Jamaica: University of West Indies Press, 1974), 369-75; Allan L. Karras, Sojourners in the Sun: Scottish Migrants in Jamaica and the Chesapeake, 1740-1800 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992).

[4] The census is held in the National Archives (TNA), CO 142/31, and is referenced in Karras, Sojourners, 123-5.

[5] Jamaican Crop Accounts, Jamaica Archives, Series 1B/11/4; Thomas Craskell The Map of the County of Cornwall and the Island of Jamaica and the Map of the County of Middlesex and Island of Jamaica (London, 1763); Karras, Sojourners, 126-7.

[6] James Robertson, Map of Cornwall County, Jamaica and Map of Middlese County (London, 1804); Karras, Sojourners, 128-9.

[7] The assertion that Scots owned 30% of Jamaican estates and plantations continues to crop up, often with no supporting source or data, or with a footnote to Karras. See, for example, the following, Iain Whyte, Scotland and the Abolition of Black Slavery, 1756-1838 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press,2006), 42; Geoff Palmer, ‘Postscript: Jamaica Scottish Connections’, inAfrica in Scotland, Scotland in Africa: Historical Legacies and Contemporary Hybridities, ed. Afe Adogame and Andrew Lawrence (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 353; Joanna Blythman, ‘We Cannot Ignore Scotland’s Link to Slavery,’ The Herald, 31 October 2008; ‘Scotland and Slavery’, Black History Month, August 2015, (accessed 8 November 2021).

Prof Sir Geoffrey Palmer, ‘Scotland’s links with Caribbean Slavery,’ Open Learn: The Open University, October 2020, (accessed 8 November 2021).

[8] The data in this paragraph has been provided by Keith McClelland in an email to the authors (dated 10 November 2021) and was extracted from the data compiled by the Legacies of British Slavery team and was correct at the timing of writing. See also this earlier essay, using now outdated figures but resulting in similar percentages: Nicholas Draper, ‘Scotland and Colonial Slave Ownership: The Evidence of the Slave Compensation Records,’ in T.M. Devine, ed., Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 166-86.

[9] Alan Karras estimated 6,000 Scots arrived in Jamaica, 1750-1799. Douglas Hamilton revised these figures upwards to 10,000 Scots in the same period. Perhaps between 17,090 and 20,800 Scots departed for the British West Indies 1750-1799, with Jamaica the premier destination. Karras, Sojourners, 43-5. Douglas Hamilton, Scotland, the Caribbean and the Atlantic World, 1750-1820, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005), 23. However, shipping records and passenger lists are incomplete so this is little more than an informed guess, and we cannot know how many Scots went or what proportion they were of the Whites who arrived on the island between 1655 and the 1830s. Trevor Burnard has estimated that ‘between 100,000 and 125,000’ White Europeans may have travelled to Jamaica between 1655 and 1776, with yet more arriving during the subsequent half-century of slavery. But these cannot be taken as definitive figures. See Trevor Burnard, ‘European Migration to Jamaica, 1655-1780,’ William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 53 (1996), 777-8.

[10] Stephen Mullen and Simon P. Newman, Slavery, Abolition and the University of Glasgow (Glasgow, September 2018), (accessed 10 November 2021), 29-30; Entry for James Ewing of Strathleven, Legacies of British Slavery database, (accessed 10 November 2021).

Culture wars in country houses: what the National Trust controversy tells us about British history today

We invited Charlotte Lydia Riley to write this blog essay reflecting on one of the current hot issues in debates over Britain’s history: the attack on the National Trust’s ‘Colonialism and Historic Slavery Report.’ The National Trust is one of many British institutions that have taken seriously the work of addressing difficult aspects of their histories through an engagement with relevant archives including our LBS database. Some of the others include the National Trust for Scotland, the Church of England, the Bank of England, Tate Britain, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, University College London, Oxford and Cambridge colleges, the University of Glasgow, King’s College London and City University. A great many well-known businesses have also demonstrated their commitment to the importance of confronting, rather than avoiding, the multiple historic links between their institutions and the business and politics of slavery and empire. Reckoning with Britain’s slavery past has been a governing principle of the work of LBS and we welcome the interventions made by these various bodies. But when their efforts are regrettably subjected to public invective for their findings, it is a concern for all of us committed to historical truth. Far from being congratulated, the ‘Colonialism and Historic Slavery Report’ has been attacked for its honesty and determination to broaden the histories they make available to their visitors and provide more exploration of the complex pasts of the properties they curate and the people who occupied them. Responses to the report are discussed in Charlotte Riley’s insightful piece, which we are glad to present here. Riley’s article reinforces how crucially important rigorous scholarship is for how we present stories of the past. Whatever the discomfort of these stories, their telling is our obligation to the public and we must always take it seriously.

Culture wars in country houses: what the National Trust controversy tells us about British history today

by Charlotte Riley

In September 2020, the National Trust (NT) published on their website a report that represented a significant body of research and an important milestone in the history of the organisation. The Colonialism and Historic Slavery report, was edited by Dr Sally-Anne Huxtable, Dr Christo Kefalos and Emma Slocombe — all NT curators — and Professor Corinne Fowler, a historian at the University of Leicester who heads the Colonial Countryside project. It brought together the work of eleven authors, and represented a collaborative process that had drawn on expertise from a large number of academics and NT staff.

The report set out to establish the colonial connections of NT properties, with a particular focus on connections with the transatlantic slave trade. Some of the work in the report draws directly on the research done by the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project, and the work to trace slavery and empire back to the metropole sits more widely within the “new imperial history” approach to British history, which explores how empire impacted on the metropole as well as vice versa.

After a series of interesting accessible pieces that explore the intersections between colonial history with the history of the country house and heritage properties, the report includes a gazetteer of key properties that have connections to the histories of colonialism and the slave trade. Speke Hall in Merseyside was variously owned by a pro-slavery MP, Sir William Norris, and a plantation owner and rum and sugar trader, Richard Watt, who financed slave-trading passages and purchased his own ship to trade in enslaved peoples himself before passing the hall and plantations to his descendants, who received compensation following the abolition of slavery in 1834. This is a house that is deeply implicated in the violent and exploitative history of slavery.  But the report includes a number of properties where the relationship to colonialism or slavery is slightly different. For example, John Aislabie of Studley Hall (an NT property with Fountains Abbey, in Yorkshire) was a key figure in the South Sea Bubble, and it is for this reason that these properties appear on the list. Allan Bank, in Cumbria, was home for a time to William Wordsworth; he and his sister Dorothy were vocal in their opposition to the slave trade, although their brother was a commander in the East India Company. Bath Assembly Rooms was funded by subscription, including by people who profited from slave-ownership, but the entry also notes that Jane Austen, the niece of one of the subscribers, wrote positively about a black servant working in Britain, and that William Wilberforce made an ‘animated and effective’ anti-slavery speech in the hall. This nuanced work seeks to thoughtfully establish the texture of the connections between empire and metropole.

Speke Hall, Merseyside (Wikimedia Commons)

Despite this, the report was immediately controversial among certain sections of the press and the British political establishment, not least for the inclusion of Chartwell in the gazetteer because of Winston Churchill’s vote against the 1935 India Bill that would have granted the colony dominion status. The first Telegraph headline on the report was ‘Churchill’s Home on BLM List of Shame’; the Daily Express reported that Jacob Rees Mogg had called the NT ‘shamefaced’ and that Ann Widdecombe had ‘raged’ against the ‘smearing’ of Churchill. The Spectator called the report a ‘shameful manifesto’; after its first story, the Telegraph ran a series of pieces decrying the report as ‘woke nonsense’, ‘self-flagellation’ and ‘depthless virtue signalling’.[1] National Trust members were encouraged to complain to the organisation; many of them also sought out individuals, particularly Hilary McGrady (the Director General of the National Trust) and Professor Corinne Fowler, to target with complaint and abuse. Both women have been called upon to defend themselves and have done so eloquently; they have pointed out that this is not a simplistic attack on British history but is an attempt to tell stories that reflect, as McGrady put it, the ‘true complexities of our past’ as a nation.

But why should a report, based on diligent academic research, cause such outrage? The answer is that British history has become a battleground in a culture war that seeks to carve out two sides on every topic. One side values patriotism, tradition, common-sense; they see British history as a story of victories to be celebrated (indeed, the group within the Conservative Party that seeks to defend this position has named itself the Common Sense Group).  They mass themselves against the side of the ‘woke’, a term that has been appropriated from African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) to attack any attempt to explain the complexities of British history, or to recognise the grim legacies of imperialism and racism (or, indeed, the histories of class inequality or gender oppression). One familiar ‘common sense’ argument is that we cannot judge people from the past by ‘modern standards’, implying that we have come so far that we cannot exercise any critical analysis of the actions of our ancestors. And yet somehow a whiggish narrative of progress is not enough; in fact, we must never call attention to the elements of British history that might seem shameful in comparison to the present. As far as these culture warriors are concerned, British history is a pageant of spectacular successes, of humanitarian concern, of tolerance and diversity, but also military might, economic prowess, imperial power (but never violence), and cultural greatness. In this telling, we can remember Britain proudly as the nation that abolished the transatlantic slave trade, without ever being asked to think about its history as a slave-trading nation or as consumer of commodities produced in its colonies by unfree labourers.

The NT report was also received in the context of a much wider reassessment of Britain’s imperial heritage. Museums, galleries and other heritage sites have come under increasing pressure to be explicit about their colonial connections, and the ways that their collections were either funded by, or comprise, spoils looted from imperial spaces and peoples. People like Alice Proctor, who runs the Uncomfortable Art Tours in which museum visitors are given an alternative commentary on the politics of display in these institutions, or Subhadra Das, who has been a key figure in the work to force UCL to face up to its historic connections to Eugenics and race science, or Dan Hicks, whose recent book The Brutish Museum held his institution, the Pitt Rivers museum, to account for its role in the looting of the Benin Bronzes, are increasingly demanding that institutions work towards ‘decolonising’ their collections. They are also working around institutional structures to speak truth to heritage audiences about the complex colonial histories that have hitherto been left out of official accounts.

As well as these shifts in the world of heritage and academic history, the NT produced its report against a backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, which coalesced in Britain around the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue into Bristol harbour. This act was so threatening to many commentators because it challenged their simplistic, celebratory view of British history. This is why they criticised these activists for trying to ‘rewrite’ history, and argued that pulling down statues is not only destroying British heritage but also preventing people from learning about the past. The fact that historians rewrite history for a living, the fact that statues are not effective means of educating the public (and are designed to resist attempts at contextualisation) is irrelevant, because these arguments are not being made in good faith. Instead, they are intended to delegitimize the work of experts in the field and to monster the actions of activists who are, in fact, engaging with history as they should: in a nuanced and complex manner.

Left to right: Teresia Khan, Lady Shirley, 1622, by Van Dyck (Petworth); Portrait of an unknown coachboy, late 18th century (Erddig); Ranjitsinhji, the Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar, 1922 (Polesden Lacey) © National Trust

The National Trust received a disproportionate amount of criticism for a report that simply set out the historical facts about imperial connections between colonies and metropole. Professor Corinne Fowler has experienced ridicule and anger from newspapers such as the Daily Mail, who have made her into a target, denigrated her work and set her up to receive more abuse. (Academics who take up a place in the culture wars battleground increasingly need to be prepared to experience this sort of abuse, and it is worse for women and worst for people of colour.)

Perhaps even more worryingly, the government itself has colluded in this culture war. A week after the NT report was released, Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, warned museums that they ‘should not be taking actions motivated by activism or politics’, hinting that if they removed ‘contentious’ artefacts they might find their funding cut in the upcoming Government Spending Review. On 13 February 2021, he announced to the Telegraph that he had summoned 25 heritage organisations to a summit at which they will be told ‘to defend our culture and history from the noisy minority of activists constantly trying to do Britain down’. The same story said that the Colonial Countryside project would receive no further government funding, because ‘public funds must never be used for political purposes’. This is a chilling assault on academic freedom, all the more ironic for being revealed in a story that also announced that the government is creating a ‘free speech champion’ for university campuses.[2]

All history writing is political, and the work of uncovering Britain’s colonial connections might not be to the current government’s taste, but it is vital to our understanding of our nation’s past. The idea that the government can shut down historical research that tells stories that they do not want to hear should be resisted by all historians.



Reconstructing biographies and reclaiming relationships – insights from the Port Royal slave registers

By Matt Stallard


We have recently begun a project at LBS to transcribe and digitise six registers of all enslaved people in Port Royal parish, Jamaica, compiled every three years from 1817 to 1832, currently held at the National Archives. Once complete, we will be able to add every enslaved person mentioned in these documents to the LBS database, enhancing existing records available at by producing a more complete and accurate index with a more robust search function and opening up broad opportunities for understanding the lives and experiences of enslaved people and huge potential for enhancing genealogical research.

The great potential of these records to illustrate aspects of people’s lives is demonstrated by the story of Letitia Smith, who first appears in the Port Royal registers in 1826 at the age of 22, having been sold to a William Kuckahn from the estate of Thomas Hynes in St George’s parish in the northeast. [1] In 1817 Letitia is recorded on Hynes’ Redington plantation alongside her mother and brother. [2] They were moved to Port Royal along with another enslaved person, Austin Clark, in 1823 following Hynes’ death when his property, and enslaved people, were separated and sold to numerous new owners. [3] The potential threat of sale and moving was a constant source of instability and lack of control in people’s lives, with the whim of an enslaver or the caprices of bankruptcy, death, and inheritance leading to the partition and sale of property in land and people and the uprooting of individuals from communities where they had spent much or most of their lives.

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Silva Smith, age 44, and her daughter Letitia Smith, age 22, in the slave register of 1826 (T71/122 p. 130)

As the registers record some relationships between enslaved persons we are able to tell that Letitia’s mother, Silva, who was 44, and brother, James Harris, who was 17, were moved together, and since arriving in the parish, Letitia had a daughter, Mary, who was 2 years old by 1826. [1] The main relationship recorded between enslaved individuals in these records is that of mother and child. This reinforces the original purpose of these records, which was to record and quantify the information of ownership to more effectively manage enslaved individuals and the plantation economy. One’s status as enslaved was passed generationally from mother to child, thus this was the paramount relationship for owners to record, in order to enforce their enslavement of children.

Though it is pleasing in one sense that records originally created to better enforce domination and control can now be repurposed to recover a meagre outline of biographies, the intentional decisions made by enslavers about what was important to record for their intentions (as opposed to what would best capture the experiences and identity of enslaved persons) create limitations on the stories and relationships we can recover.

We also know from these records that Silva, Letitia’s mother, was born in Africa. While we may only have small morsels of information this, in particular, is of great significance. One of the countless brutalities of the process of enslavement was the attempt to erase identities and the subsequent difficulty of tracing an individual ancestor or family branch back to Africa. In some cases these records may allow that tracing to take place. Unfortunately, in only a few instances in the Jamaican registers is more information about someone’s ethnicity or place of origin in Africa recorded, making linkage back to specific communities or areas more difficult.


Another dehumanising impact of enslavement was the widespread imposition of new names given by slave-owners to enslaved persons, an assault upon personal identity and attempt to stamp ownership and control upon other human beings. The registers are an important source in tracing resistance to the practice as some estates list “alias” or “baptised” names alongside the enslaver-imposed “plantation” names. Silva is recorded as “Tabia, alias Silva Smith” and Letitia as “Eve, alias Letitia Smith”. The inclusion of names asserted by enslaved persons is an important record of personal agency in resistance to the efforts of enslavers to erase identity, particularly reflective of the importance of Christian baptism as a way to create a personally-chosen “baptismal” name, which afforded an alternative “official” source of identity. It is difficult to gauge from these limited sources the restrictions that may have been placed by ministers upon the choosing of baptismal names but this was a way in which fatherhood, marriage, partnership, or familial relationship of some kind, or identification with an influential or admired person could be incorporated into one’s recognised identity. [4]

Letitia’s daughter, Mary, is listed in the register as “Mary Kuckahn”, the surname of the man who had purchased Letitia. While taking the surname of a slave-owner did not necessarily imply fatherhood, in Mary’s case this is likely as we have evidence of a long-term relationship between Letitia and William Kuckahn. In the 1829 register we find that Letitia was manumitted (freed from slavery) by William and therefore disappears from the registers. [5] The genealogical potential of linking these records with other sources is demonstrated, however, as we are able to pick up the continuance of their relationship in parish registers.


Baptisms of Richard and Edward Kuckahn children of Letitia Smith (Port Royal baptisms, marriages, burials 1725-1835, vol. 1 p. 266)

In 1831, Letitia is noted in a baptismal record as the mother of two sons, Richard and Edward Kuckahn, although there is no entry recorded for the boys’ father. Although now free, Letitia is recorded as living on New Prospect, the property owned by William. [6] Seemingly confirming the relationship, we have another baptismal entry, in July 1845, where this time William is listed as the father of a son with Letitia (another William Kuckahn), although the elder William had apparently died before the child’s birth. [7]

This brief tracking of Letitia and her children into the post-enslavement period clearly demonstrates one important avenue of research to be derived from the digitisation of the registers. The experiences and lives of individuals previously lost to history and difficult to follow, particularly through existing platforms, will be made traceable and searchable through this project and far easier to link with later generations. By curating the aspects of people’s biographies recorded in these sources and their linkages to relatives and places of residence and then presenting them publicly and freely online we are therefore facilitating their reclamation and assimilation into historical memory.


[1] National Archives, Ref T71/122 Office of Registry of Colonial Slaves and Slave Compensation Commission, Port Royal Slave Register, 1826, p. 130. Former British Colonial Dependencies, Slave Registers, 1813-1834 [database on-line] (

[2] National Archives, Ref T71/158 Office of Registry of Colonial Slaves and Slave Compensation Commission, St George’s Slave Register, 1817, pp. 79. Former British Colonial Dependencies, Slave Registers, 1813-1834 [database on-line] (

[3] ‘Thomas Hynes’, Legacies of British Slave-ownership database, [accessed 25th March 2020].

[4] For wider discussion of these themes see Jenny M. Jemmott, Ties That Bind: The Black Family in Post-Slavery Jamaica, 1834–1882 (Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2015) and Audra Diptee, From Africa to Jamaica: The Making of an Atlantic Slave Society, 1775-1807 (Gainesville, FL., USA: University Press of Florida, 2010).

[5] National Archives, Ref T71/123 Office of Registry of Colonial Slaves and Slave Compensation Commission, Port Royal Slave Register, 1829, p. 127. Former British Colonial Dependencies, Slave Registers, 1813-1834 [database on-line] (

[6] “Jamaica, Church of England Parish Register Transcripts, 1664-1880,” database with images, FamilySearch ( 20 May 2014), Port Royal > Baptisms, marriages, burials 1725-1835, Vol. 1 > image 135 of 186; Registrar General’s Department, Spanish Town.

[7] “Jamaica, Church of England Parish Register Transcripts, 1664-1880,” database with images, FamilySearch ( 20 May 2014), All Parishes > Baptisms 1844-1846, Vol. 2 > image 102 of 246; Registrar General’s Department, Spanish Town.


Speech and Slavery

by Miles Ogborn, Queen Mary University of London

At the heart of the system of enslavement lies a contradiction: the treatment as less than human of people on whose human capacities that system relies. For eighteenth-century Europeans one of the key defining characteristics of the human was the capacity to speak and, therefore, to make meaning with language. This then raises the question of what it meant to speak in the slave societies of the Caribbean where the humanity of the majority was under threat, and of how speech was implicated in the processes by which the slave system was produced, reproduced and challenged.

Freedom of speech

The Freedom of Speech (Chicago, 2019)

In The Freedom of Speech: Talk and Slavery in the Anglo-Caribbean World (Chicago, 2019), I have tried to address this by answering the simple question of who could speak, where, when and about what in the slave societies of Jamaica and Barbados. Doing so involves recognizing the myriad forms of speech (or ‘speech practices’) which speakers and listeners identify in order to determine what different ways of talking mean, who can speak them, whether they have been done well or badly, and what the outcomes of doing them should be. Differentiating between ways of speaking such as taking oaths, giving evidence, debating, conversing, giving a speech or a sermon, praying, prescribing healing treatments, promising, cursing, and many more, provides the key to a politics of speech which sought to separate black and white, enslaved and free, and a solution to the problem of how to find speech in the archive. It is obviously impossible to hear the voices of the past in the written record – particularly the voices of those who were far more often ignored by or made subject to the power of archival sources, rather than being their creators. However, the formal and informal rules of these many forms of speech, and the inevitable conflicts over them and their enforcement, can say a great deal about questions of power.

Think, for example, of the taking of oaths. These were the words spoken by free, white, propertied men (most of whom were claiming other people as property) in order to take up political offices – such as governor, assembly member or justice of the peace – and to make a legal system that enforced slavery and was heavily weighted in the slaveholders’ favour. Yet they were also – via other forms of words, spoken by other people and accompanied by different actions – the utterances that bound together uprisings of the enslaved, or underpinned informal legal proceedings on the plantations. These modes of oath taking operated according to a parallel but separate logic, which forced a recognition of their power and effect. As the slaveholder and historian of Jamaica, Edward Long, put it in 1774, ‘the oath ought to be administered by an obeah man; but their superstition makes them hold it in great reverence and horror, even when administered by another Black, especially by an old man or woman: but they do not apprehend any ill consequence will arise from breaking it, when tendered by a white person.’[1] This acknowledgement by slaveholders like Long that other people on these islands were oath takers, and of the power of spiritual specialists such as the practitioners of obeah in binding those oaths, had contradictory effects. On the one hand it led to violent – indeed, capital – punishment for those speaking such words as part of uprisings and ‘conspiracies’ across the long eighteenth century. On the other, it formed the basis for the colonial government and the Maroons – free black communities of the Jamaican mountains – to swear peace treaties in 1739.

Old Cudjoe Making Peace

Old Cudoe Making Peace, from R.C. Dallas (1803) The History of the Maroons (London) Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University

As well as these examples from the law, similar relationships of power, resistance and communication can be identified across the ways in which speech worked in politics, natural history, spiritual practice (including both Christianity and obeah), and the movements for abolition and emancipation. There are the ways in which modes of speech were organized and policed to create distinctions between the enslaved and free, black and white. For example, lines drawn by nonconformist missionaries between the sermon giving that was reserved for white preachers and the collective prayers that could be led by black ‘exhorters’; the distinctions between debating in the islands’ assemblies or conspiring in the slave quarters; or the forms of polite conversation between botanical gentlemen from which their enslaved interlocutors, gardeners and healers, and their plant knowledge, were excluded. In each instance, the impossibility of these distinctions – we might think of them as trying to enforce boundaries in a lot of hot air – meant recognizing, as it was condemned, denigrated or violently repressed, the power of the speech of the enslaved to make forms of law, to organize collectives, to know the natural world, to bring to bear other worldly powers and to claim freedom. In all these arenas, the speech of the enslaved always questioned slavery’s punitive definitions of the human and revealed the contradiction at its very heart.



[1] Edward Long, The History of Jamaica (London, 1774) Vol. II p. 423.

Compensation and Dividends: Protecting British Property during the Transformation of Empire

by Alan Lester, University of Sussex and La Trobe University

1833 was a critical year for Britons who had invested in the Empire. Thanks to the work of the Legacies of British Slave Ownership team at UCL, we have got to know more about the thousands of British people from nearly all classes, regions, towns and cities, who owned slaves and were paid compensation for their emancipation after the act abolishing slavery was passed in that year. We know that some 40% of GDP was handed over to slave owners while formerly enslaved people received nothing, and that much of the payout was invested in projects like the building of railways and the establishment of banking and insurance firms at home, and in projects like the colonization of South Australia overseas. But it is not often recognised that the simultaneous transformation of the East India Company also safeguarded the interests of Britons invested in empire.

In 1833, the East India Company’s charter came up for renewal. Its directors had to renegotiate its role in trade and the governance of India with the British government at exactly the same time that the Abolition of Slavery Act was being debated. The Company’s monopoly on trade with India had already been opened up by the last charter renewal act in 1813. In 1833, with the doctrine of free trade gaining ground in Britain, it was also stripped of its remaining monopoly, on the trade between India and China. In fact even this monopoly was more nominal than real, since the Company had long been encouraging private merchants to smuggle the opium that it grew in Bengal into China so that it could earn currency with which to buy tea. The element of the 1833 charter renewal that was perhaps more significant was the deal struck with the Company’s shareholders in Britain.


Official of the East India Company riding in an Indian procession, watercolour on paper, c. 1825–30; in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Now that it was no longer a viable commercial concern, rather than winding up the East India Company altogether, the British government decided to turn it exclusively into Britain’s proxy government of India. Its trading functions were closed down and, just as British slave owners were being compensated through the Abolition of Slavery Act, the creditors, warehouse labourers and managers of its trading arm were paid out. What remained, though, was the question of what to do with its shareholders.

Compensation for slave owners was conceded in 1833 because even the most ardent antislavery campaigners recognised that they needed compliance from the powerful West India lobby at home and from planter dominated legislative assemblies in the Caribbean if enslaved people were ever actually to be set free. Compensation (along with an intended four or six year period of continued ‘apprenticeship’ for slaves) was the compromise necessary to get the legislation approved. Remarkably, the East India Company’s shareholders were given the guarantee of continued dividends for their stock at the same time, and for similar reasons. The returns were generous to say the least: annual dividends of 10 ½ per cent.

As Thomas Babington Macaulay, at that time Secretary of the Board of Control which oversaw the Company on behalf of the British government, explained to parliament, this was “precisely the same dividend which they have been receiving for forty years, and which they have expected to receive permanently”.[1] Rather than being derived from the profits of trade, from now on these dividends would be extracted exclusively from the rent paid by the Company’s Indian subjects in return for the privilege of being governed by it.

As Catherine Hall points out in Macaulay and Son, the years 1832-3 were a time of great transformation. In Britain itself, both the 1832 Reform Act and the increasingly powerful doctrine of free trade were magnifying the political force of commercial and industrial interests.[2] As ever, imperial transformations were closely connected. The abolition of slavery, mainly in the western half of the empire, and the restructuring of the East India Company in the eastern half, were part of the same broad transformation. Both threatened vested interests among a cross section of British society. Both were handled simultaneously so as to protect those interests at the expense of colonial subjects.


The East India House in Leadenhall Street, London, drawing by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, c. 1817.

East India Company shareholders would continue to draw their guaranteed dividends even when the Company was stripped of its governmental functions too, in 1858, after the Indian Uprising. Contrary to popular belief, the Company was not dissolved. It remained in existence solely to continue collecting rent from Indian taxpayers to distribute to its shareholders, only now the funds were channelled via the Government of India. As Tim Robins puts it, the Company was “a corporate zombie, reduced to the most basic corporate task of all: the distribution of the annual dividend”. East India House in Leadenhall Street was sold off and most of the Company’s employees given a pension.[3] When the East India Company was finally dissolved in 1874, the shareholders were compensated with a generous government buy-out. The East India Stock Redemption Act offered shareholders a range of lucrative options so that they could continue to derive income from their investment in the colonisation of India. They could choose to receive £200 worth of 3 per cent government annuities, £200 worth of 4 per cent of India debt, or £200 in cash for every £100 of Company stock they owned. “In effect, another £12 million of debt was added to the India account, its interest to be covered by the Indian taxpayer, equivalent to over £650 million today”. Through this means Indian taxpayers continued to subsidise British investors until the Second World War.[4]



[1] Hansard HC Deb 10 July 1833 vol 19 cc479-550.

[2] C. Hall, Macaulay and Son: Architects of Imperial Britain, Yale University Press, 2012, 149-51.

[3] N. Robins The Corporation that Changed the World: How the East India Company Shaped the Modern Multinational, Pluto Press, 2006, 164-7.

[4] Robins, The Corporation.

Slavery and Britain’s infrastructure

by Nick Draper

On Wednesday 8th May, I gave a presentation on ‘Slavery and Britain’s Infrastructure’ to staff at the National Infrastructure Commission’s secretariat in Holborn. The NIC was established in 2017 as an executive agency of HM Treasury with a charter to provide advice and make independent recommendations to government on national infrastructure priorities, with the objectives of supporting sustainable economic growth across all regions of the UK, improving competitiveness and improving quality of life.

The invitation to speak to the NIC provided an opportunity to begin to consolidate our findings on the role of slavery in the development of Britain’s infrastructure, especially its transportation infrastructure, as part of the wider discussion of the role of slavery in the Industrial Revolution. Although, as the recent Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain argues, ‘[t]ransport improvements – both infrastructural and technological – were central to Britain’s early industrialisation’[i], little attention (other than to the early London dock companies[ii]) has been paid to the specific debt to slavery of this transport revolution, which spanned turnpikes, canals, ports and docks and railways, and which drove down both the time and cost of moving goods and people within an increasingly integrated national market. The findings from LBS’ work suggest that slave-owners played a prominent role as initiators, financiers and managers in a sufficient number of specific projects to indicate that slave-owners in aggregate constituted a meaningful source of capital and entrepreneurial endeavour in the development of Britain’s transport infrastructure.

Walton Bridge

Walton Bridge, across the Thames near Shepperton (originally built 1748-50)

Typically, early infrastructure projects were privately-funded under state sponsorship through Acts of Parliament which addressed property rights and toll-regimes. Capital was mobilized initially through local and regional networks of wealthy elites, the financing process only institutionalized in banks and joint-stock companies with open subscriptions in the 19th century. Slave-owners figured among these local elites, and therefore might have been expected at a minimum to figure also pro rata among the funders of such projects. In itself this would establish slavery as the source of some 5-10% of investing activity. The question to which we are yet to establish a comprehensive answer is whether they were disproportionately inclined to redeploy slavery-derived wealth into infrastructure and indeed industrial investment more generally, and that we can attribute a higher proportion of capital formation to slave-ownership.


Left: Conwy Suspension Bridge, Conwy, North Wales.
Right: Bakers Quay, Gloucester, now a residential development © Chris Gunns

What we can already say is that dozens of individual projects were in whole or part the legacies of slave-owners, ranging from Walton Bridge built by the Jamaican slave-owner Samuel Dicker and rebuilt by his heir Michael Dicker Sanders to the pioneering Conwy Suspension Bridge, funded in part by John Gladstone, and from Bakers Quay at Gloucester, which carries the name of its developer, the West India merchant and slave-owner Samuel Baker, to railway companies such as the Edinburgh & Northern, in which we know more than 40% of the initial subscriptions were from slave-owners and their families.

Direct financing by slave-owners constitutes perhaps the most immediate type of legacy in infrastructure. But many other more elaborate connections, whose nature and significance require elucidation case-by-case, permeate LBS’ research findings. Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, the great engineer of London’s sewage systems, was the grandson of Louis Bazalgette and nephew of Evelyn Bazalgette: the family wealth included investments in the slave-economy through mortgage loans to slave-owners. Sir James MacNaghten McGarel Hogg, the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) who commissioned the Blackwall Tunnel as the MBW was wound down for corruption in 1889, carried the name of his brother-in-law and benefactor, the slave-owner Charles McGarel. In both cases, the linkage to slavery is demonstrable but the unresolved issue is the extent to which slave-wealth underpinned their professional and social formation.

Left: Sir James McGarel Hogg (1823-1890) Right: Sir Joseph William Bazalgette (1819-1891) © NPG x647

[i] Dan Bogart, ‘The transport revolution in industrialising Britain’, in R. Floud, J. Humphries ad P. Johnson (eds.), Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain Vol. I 1700-1870 (Cambridge, 2016) p. 369.

[ii] Nicholas Draper, The City of London and slavery: evidence from the early dock companies 1795-1800’, Economic History Review, 61 (2) (May 2008) pp. 432-66.



Slave-owners and Abolitionists: some letters from William Wilberforce

by Rachel Lang


“My dear young friend,” wrote William Wilberforce to Abel Smith in January 1822, “For, friend I must term you or do myself great Injustice …” He was writing “for the purpose of asking a favour of you … [T]hat you would kindly undertake the Office of one of the Executors + Trustees under my last Will”. Two reasons are given: due to the age difference, Smith is likely “long to survive me”, and of course because of “the Estimation in which I hold you …”[i]

Smith was a banker and a fellow MP, 30 years Wilberforce’s junior. The Smith and Wilberforce families had been intertwined through multiple marriages for over one hundred years.[ii] “I cannot resist the opportunity that is afforded me,” Wilberforce continues, “of assuring you of my affectionate regard for you, + of the warm interest I take in your Wellbeing.” The affection reaches its peak in the letter’s conclusion: “So I will only add the af[f]irmances of my best wishes for yr Health + Happiness, + above all my dear Abel for yr augmenting usefulness + Comfort, in its best sense, as intimate the light + life of yr Blessed Spirit of peace + love + Joy – I am ever, my dear Abel, Sin[cerel]y + aff[ectionatel]y yours WWilberforce.”

There is a plaintive note as well: “I often regret that from various Circumstances, We have seen so little of each other … It will always give me pleasure to welcome you under our roof …” Wilberforce complains about problems caused by his eyesight, then adds a postscript: “Excuse the Mark I write fast that I may write more in less time – I now can’t read over what I have scrib[b]led – If there are any mistakes forgive them.”[iii]

Wilberforce to Smith, 30/01/1822

This is the first of four letters from Wilberforce to Smith held at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies Library. The second letter, written nearly two years later, begins, “My dear Abel, For let me use the freedom of friendship, when I can truly declare it is warranted by the reality of it …” Wilberforce’s purpose this time is to request the curacy of Stapleford for his son Samuel. Again the postscript shows vulnerability: “I say noth[in]g ab[ou]t yr coming to us … but I hope we shall sometime welcome you under our roof .”[iv]

The third letter, written in January 1829, is shorter and relates to a loan of £6,000 granted to Wilberforce by Abel Smith’s father. The tone is less effusive, beginning “Mr dear Mr Abel …” The relationship is not as close as Wilberforce would wish but is still personal: “I am sorry we never meet. But when Spring returns, if it please God to preserve me so long, I hope Mrs A. Smith + you will pay us yr long owe’d Visit.”[v] In the fourth letter, (“My dear Mr A –”), he is very agitated about a dispute with the Vicar of Hendon and worried and saddened by the business failures of his son William junior. He is still in debt to the Smiths: “It is the only comfort almost I now have in the affair that you (mean yr House under yr father + yr kind offices) are acting so friendly a part in relation to it.”[vi]

The name William Wilberforce has such resonance today. It was a strange experience to see the well-known signature on a page for the first time and to reconcile this with the somewhat needy voice that comes across in all four of his letters to Smith, written in old age and ill-health, with repeated requests to meet and, in the last two letters, the “sad turmoil” involved in his need for financial assistance.

Also surprising was that Abel Smith’s role in the slave economy posed no bar to Wilberforce’s affection. Abel Smith was a partner in the London bank Smith Payne & Smith, heavily involved in the credit arrangements of West India planters in part through their ties with the West India merchant firm Manning & Anderdon.[vii] Smith, Payne & Smith had taken possession of Farm estate in Jamaica in the 1790s and were mortgagees of enslaved people on Holland, Fish River and Petersville plantations in Jamaica in the 1820s.[viii] Smith was awarded compensation for the ownership of 222 enslaved people on Raymond’s estate in Jamaica as trustee of the marriage settlement of Harriet Smith, daughter of Wilberforce’s first cousin Robert Smith, 1st Baron Carrington.

Separate correspondence concerning the short-lived engagement of Wilberforce’s only daughter Elizabeth to Charles Pinney in 1827 reveals some of the logic behind Wilberforce’s attitude.[ix] Pinney was descended from Nevis slave-owners on both sides of his family and became a slave-owner himself.[x] He appears in the LBS database as the awardee or co-awardee for the ownership of 1,328 enslaved people, primarily as mortgagee.[xi] Wilberforce wrote to Pinney explaining his sympathy for Pinney’s approaches to Elizabeth: “Tho’ a suitor being a West Indian merchant was an objection, it was not an insuperable one … always taking for granted that the gentleman should possess, secure from mercantile or West Indian risk, so much property, as when combined with the Ladies Fortune, might suffice for their comfortable maintainance.”[xii]

Wilberforce soon changed his mind about the suitability of Charles Pinney for his daughter, and may not have considered the match at all if it had been proposed before the 1820s, when ill-health led to his retirement from active politics and the financial troubles of his son William had impacted him greatly. His wife Barbara explained the change of heart to her close friend and Pinney’s sister Mary Ames: “… having expressed, as I felt, my satisfaction that Mr Pinney was not a proprietor possessed of Lands & Negroes but only a West India Merchant, I ought to say that I was then ignorant of what we are now led to consider is the peculiar Situation of a West India Merchant … Mortgages uphold the System of Slavery & in many Respects, all the worst part of the system, even more than any other possessions in the West Indies.” Barbara suggested to Mary that, “however humane and good”, West India merchants may themselves be trapped by the workings of the system despite representing the worst of it: “I am sure your Brother would be amongst the first to rejoice if no such system existed.”[xiii]

Wilberforce’s friendship with Joseph Foster Barham (1759-1832) follows a similar vein. Barham was an MP and owner of four estates in Jamaica, with over six hundred enslaved people, and stressed the responsibility of slave-owners to care for their human property: “To improve the condition of the Slaves, in every safe and practicable way, I have ever deemed the first duty of the master …”[xiv] Barham regretted his role as slave-owner while at the same time profiting from it and deluding himself about the real conditions his enslaved people lived in. Wilberforce described Barham as “a generous fellow, and he seems to be actuated by a warm spirit of patriotism and philanthropy.” Friendships took place across the political divide and the small world of affluent London society meant that slave-owners and abolitionists did not always operate in separate spaces.

[i] William Wilberforce to Abel Smith, 22 Jan 1822, Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies Library (HALS), DE/AS/4414-7.

[ii] See LBS entry for Abel Smith, for details of Smith-Wilberforce inter-marriage provided by Sue Castle-Henry.

[iii] William Wilberforce to Abel Smith, 22 Jan 1822, HALS DE/AS/4414-7.

[iv] Wilberforce to Smith, 5 Dec 1827, HALS, DE/AS/4414-7. Samuel Wilberforce later became Bishop of Oxford, see Arthur Burns, ‘Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873), bishop of Oxford and of Winchester’, ODNB, online edition

[v] Wilberforce to Smith, Jan 1829, HALS, DE/AS/4414-7. Wilberforce was borrowing money to support his son William junior’s business enterprises which failed the following year, causing Wilberforce “disastrous financial losses” and enforcing a “severe financial retrenchment” – see John Wolffe, ‘William Wilberforce (1759-1833), politician, philanthropist, and slavery abolitionist’, ODNB, online edition

[vi] Wilberforce to Smith, 1 Mar 1827, HALS, DE/AS/4414-7. It appears the relationship had become less close and Smith was not named as an executor in Wilberforce’s final will.

[vii] See LBS entry for John Lavicount Anderdon,

[viii] Smith, Payne & Smith in the LBS database,;

[ix] See Anne Stott, Wilberforce: Family and Friends (2012) chapter 14 for an account of the engagement.

[x] Elizabeth Baigent, ‘Charles Pinney (1793-1867), mayor of Bristol’, ODNB online edition,

[xi] Charles Pinney in the LBS database,

[xii] Pinney Papers, S/4/21, William Wilberforce to Charles Pinney, 26 Apr 1827 quoted in Madge Dresser, Slavery Obscured: the Social History of the Slave Trade in an English Provincial Port (2001) p. 203.

[xiii] Pinney Papers, S/4/21, Barbara Wilberforce to Mary Ames, 18 Apr 1827 quoted in Stott, Wilberforce: Family and Friends p. 237.

[xiv] Joseph Foster Barham, ‘Considerations on the abolition of Negro slavery, and the means of practically effecting it’ (1823) p. vi.





Historical Association Fellowship

by Nick Draper

For several years, one of our priorities in the project has been to increase the use of the LBS database as a teaching resource in secondary schools. The teaching of the slave-trade is no longer mandatory in schools, after a brief period following 2007 when it joined the teaching of the Holocaust as an obligatory part of the curriculum, but many schools continue to teach the topic, and we have been eager to contribute to teachers’ classroom practice.

The pioneering Local Roots/Global Routes project in Hackney in 2014-2015 (, undertaken by Kristy Warren and Kate Donington from LBS in conjunction with Hackney Museum and Archives and two local schools, demonstrated the power of the LBS research in underpinning the connections between the local and the global, both historically and in the present. The Hackney project also emphasized the labour-intensive nature of such work, and led us to seek ways to streamline the processes of adapting our work for use in the classroom, so that we could reach more schools in less time. The addition of mapping on the website was an important step in the process, allowing immediate visualization of local connections to slave-ownership.


The Mill Yard, Antigua (British Library); Sugar Mills in Antigua (Pat Hawks, Wikimedia)

Now, in conjunction with Justice to History ( and the Historical Association, we have established a Historical Association Teacher Fellowship on Transatlantic Slavery ( for secondary school teachers, to run in 2019. There will be 15 places available on a three-day residential course, which will be followed by an eight-week online course. Participants will explore a range of sources and interpretations that can be used to develop meaningful and engaging approaches to teaching about the circumstances, experiences and consequences of African enslavement in the Atlantic world. Among the aims of the programme is the development of a set of principles for the teaching of transatlantic slavery that we hope will come to be adopted more widely among schools and teachers. The programme is open to all secondary school history teachers with a minimum of four years’ teaching experience. The deadline for applications is Friday 1 February 2019.

We have been fortunate in the establishment of the Fellowship to have had the support and collaboration of the Historical Association itself, which has in the past few years successfully mounted half-dozen such fellowships, and of Robin Whitburn and Abdul Mohamud of Justice to History, as well as the continued commitment of Kate Donington, now at London South Bank. In addition, UCL’s Research Impact team has contributed to funding the Fellowship, and we are grateful to Helen Stark for her championing of the proposal within UCL. We hope that the programme will attract a group of teachers from across the country, and that this cadre will become points of reference for their colleagues in the future.

Making an exhibition on the slave trade and slavery

by Catherine Hall

At the beginning of August I spent a week in the Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington talking with a group of international curators and historians. We were planning a travelling exhibition on the slave trade and slavery – one that could move between Dakar, Brussels, Liverpool, Rio, Washington and Cape Town and tell a global story – no small challenge! The Museum itself is an inspiring place to be, the product of many years struggle and many years work, the last of the Smithsonian museums which aim to represent US life and culture. It has been an incredible success, bringing in literally millions of visitors, both African American and others, and telling a very different history to the conventional US account, a history rooted in slavery and the long struggle for freedom, the centrality of ‘race’ to US culture and the making of both black and white Americans. Blazoned on the wall as you step down into the history galleries are James Baldwin’s marvellous words, a motif for the place, “The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.”


Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

The idea of an international travelling exhibition is the brainchild of a partnership between the Centre for Slavery and Justice at Brown University and the African American Museum. They initiated a project which has brought in museums, universities and public historians from West Africa and the Cape, Belgium and the Netherlands, France, the UK and the US. The objective is to develop a global story about colonial and racial slavery and its foundational role in the making of the modern world. The aim is to show how this history links Africa, Europe and the Americas in ways that link peoples and places; that there is a global story of power and exploitation that long precedes contemporary globalisation yet has important connections to the present. The work will involve objects and archives, artists and designers as well as curators and historians. Particular attention will be paid to the legacies and afterlives of slavery. At the meeting in Washington we began to map out some possible themes and storylines for the exhibition – focusing on the many dimensions of the slavery business, the making of gender and racial difference, bodies and knowledges, the importance of place, and the building of freedom. The plan is that over time a workshop will be held in each place that plans to host the exhibition, exploring specific links between the locality and the global story. An exhibit specific to the locality will then be developed to sit alongside the travelling exhibition, highlighting local stories and the ways in which they connect with contemporary issues of inequality. The hope is that this can make a contribution to the work of recognition and reparation, the work of challenging the destructive effects of colonialism and empires.

This is an ambitious agenda for the years ahead – but there is both excitement about such a collaborative project, and a determination amongst the participants to do this work. So watch this space!

Dreams of a new plantation society: Legacies of British Slavery in Queensland, Australia

by Emma Christopher, University of New South Wales

The doyen of Queensland sugar planters, John Ewen Davidson, was a man with one single conviction: ‘he believed in sugar, the sugar of the West Indies.’[1] Sugar, and the vast enslaved workforces that produced it, had made his great-grandfather, and his paternal and maternal grandfathers exceedingly wealthy. And for all the plantocracy claimed that the end of slavery had ruined them, the Davidsons—John’s father Henry and his uncles Duncan, John and William—gained vast payouts at the time of emancipation. In fact John’s father had purchased more plantations in the 1810s and ‘20s with the expectation of a large compensation payout, and had an enslaved workforce of more than 4,000 men, women and children by 1834.[2]

John Ewen Davidson

John Ewen Davidson, n.d.

It seems plausible that at least some of the £301,500 John Ewen Davidson invested in his Queensland sugar estates came indirectly from the £166,612 his father had received as compensation for the loss of his enslaved workforce some 30 years before, especially since John was an only son.[3] John had visited his father’s Highbury plantation in Berbice after graduating from Oxford University and clearly aspired to recreating this in Queensland, all the while keeping quiet about his family’s slave owning past.[4]

Davidson was not the only scion seemingly trying to relive family glories of the West Indies in Queensland. Among the colony’s ‘aristocracy’[5] was the founder of the sugar industry Louis Hope, the grandson of John Wedderburn of Ballindean of Knight vs. Wedderburn infamy. Louis’ elder brother had claimed compensation for the enslaved of Blackness estate in Jamaica.


Left: Louis Hope, 1870s. Right: Hope’s Ormiston Mill c.1871

Francis T. Tyssen Amherst (or Amhurst) was from the aristocratic family who had once founded plantations in Antigua. He owned Foulden plantation and then purchased Farleigh and owned ships that recruited in the South Sea Island labour trade.



3-South Sea Islander in Foulden plantation

South Sea Islanders on Tyssen Amhert’s Foulden Plantation, c. 1880

Three great-grandsons of Beeston Long, Chairman of the West India Merchants, were also Queensland sugar planters. George Long would drown ‘recruiting’ labour in the South Pacific, while William returned to England, leaving behind only Edward M. Long, namesake of his father’s cousin, the Edward Long who authored The History of Jamaica. Edward founded Habana plantation, named for the Cuban capital, just outside Mackay.

2-Habana Creek outside Mackay ca. 18802-Habana Sugar Mill outside Mackay ca. 1884

Left: Habana Creek c. 1880. Right: Habana Mill c. 1884

Down the coast at Bundaberg were Horace, Ernest and Arthur Young, grandsons of Emily Baring. One of their uncles was a partner in Barings Bank while another, Sir George Young, was involved with a slave emancipation payout in Grenada. The Young brothers were prominent planters and Pacific labour recruiters, while their sister Florence established a mission among the islanders.


Left: an advert for Florence Young’s South Sea Mission, n.d. Right: Report of ill-treatment aboard Young’s Schooner ‘Helena’, Maryborough Chronicle, 2 Jan. 1885

Charles Armstrong, better known as Kangaroo Charlie and the one-time husband of Dame Nellie Melba, was the grandson of George Alexander Fullerton who inherited his great-uncle’s estates in Jamaica and received the compensation for the enslaved people who worked there.


Charles Armstrong with Nellie Melba c. 1902

Others had smaller payouts, such as Dorothy Reddish, whose granddaughter, Maria, married Maurice Hume Black, and John Buhôt’s parents. Buhôt, who today has a plaque to his sugar-growing efforts in the Botanic Gardens in Brisbane and who worked for Louis Hope, was from Barbados. Both of Buhôt’s parents had received slave compensation; his mother, Elizabeth Walcott, likely received £708 15s 5d for 34 enslaved people in Barbados.



7-Buhot Plaque6-johnbuhot

None of these sums of money, Davidson’s excepted, may be enough to draw direct links between slave-made wealth and/or compensation and the early Queensland sugar industry. It does, however, cast another view on these planters’ insistence that ‘coloured’ labour was necessary in Queensland, a belief that resulted in the Pacific Labour Trade. These men were, after all, only a handful of those who arrived in Queensland from the Caribbean and Mauritius carrying with them ideas of labour and labour management from across the seas.



[1] ‘A Sugar Pioneer’ Cairns Post, 14.12.1923, p9

[2] Admin, ‘The History of Highbury’, Guyana International Times, 14 Jun. 2013.

[3] Aeneas F. Munro, The Sugar Fields of Mackay, (Mackay: Hodges and Chataway, 1895); David Ryden, ‘The Society of West India Planters and Merchants in the Age of Emancipation, c. 1816-1835’ [pdf], Unpublished paper, Economic History Society Annual Conference, March 2015.

[4] ‘Arrivals’, The Creole, Guyana, 24 December 1862, p2.

[5] Sir Ralph Cilento and Clem Lack Snr., Triumph in the Tropics: An Historical Sketch of Queensland (Brisbane: Smith & Paterson Pty Ltd, 1959) 94n.



John Ewen Davidson, Louis Hope, Ormiston Mill, South Sea Islanders at Foulden, Habana Creek, Habana Mill, Piri and Polly, all courtesy of the State Library of Queensland.

Charlie Armstrong and Nellie Melba, courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

John Buhôt, courtesy of State Archives of Queensland.

All above out of copyright.

Buhôt plaque, author’s own, 2017.


Bute House, official residence of the First Minister of Scotland

by Rachel Lang

In 1766, the Edinburgh town council announced a competition to design a new town to the north of Scotland’s capital city with the aim of providing grand, spacious houses for the city’s elite. The competition was won by 26-year-old James Craig with a plan for two garden squares connected by three wide, terraced streets. Built in stages between the 1760s and the 1820s, the New Town provided an alternative to the polluted, overcrowded wynds of old Edinburgh and symbolised Scotland’s confident steps towards a new Enlightenment.

On the north side of the grandest square, the houses blend together in a pleasingly unified palace façade, designed by Robert Adam in 1791 as the crowning glory of the whole development. The house in the centre of the façade, number 6 Charlotte Square, the most commanding house in the best position, is just that bit bigger and grander than the rest. Into this house, in the late 1790s, moved its first resident, John Innes Crawford[1].

6 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh

Crawford had a country residence too, Cleghorn House near Lanark. He was a member of the Highland Society, a Captain in the 10thRegiment of North British Militia and had scientific and literary interests. His mother lived with him until his marriage in 1799 and shortly after, he moved to nearby George Street[2].

Crawford’s wealth derived from Bellfield, the sugar plantation in St James, Jamaica, which he inherited at the age of five or six on the death of his father James Crawford[3]. James junior was born in Jamaica in 1776 but within two years of his father’s death, his mother had returned to Scotland where she remarried. He does not appear to have visited his plantation as an adult or met the several hundred enslaved people, also his personal property, who lived and worked there. But his fortunes were bound up with their subjugation and liable also for the debts of his planter father, reportedly over £15,000 in the mid-1790s, when the net proceeds of the estate were £3,000 a year[4].

First page of the slave register entry for Bellfield estate, 1820.TNA T71/205 p. 285

Subsequent residents of Bute House were also connected with the slave economy. Sir John Sinclair (1754-1835) bought the property in 1806, moving three doors down from his previous address at number 9. A more illustrious character than Crawford, he held a seat in the House of Commons from 1780 to 1811 but is best known today as the compiler of the Statistical Account of Scotland, a landmark survey of the country’s geography, economy and inhabitants[5]. Sinclair was a trustee of the marriage settlement of Hon. Archibald Macdonald and Jane Campbell, who had married in 1802; the settlement included three plantations in St Vincent. Sinclair died in 1835 before the slave compensation was paid out, but the remaining trustee received a half share in £15,766 7s 6d for the ownership of 610 enslaved people[6].

Sinclair sold 6 Charlotte Square in 1816 to Charles Oman, who ran the property as a hotel. Oman quickly expanded his property portfolio in the 1810s and 1820s, becoming the premier hotelier in the city[7]. His eldest son, also called Charles, does not appear to have joined his father’s business; he died on Trinity estate in St Mary, Jamaica, in 1819[8].

The house is now the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland and the venue of regular meetings of the Scottish Cabinet. Until recently, its connections to the slave economy have been overlooked, in common with many properties financed or inhabited by slave-owners. LBS seeks to reinscribe slave-ownership into the history of modern Britain.

[1]The ownership of Bute House from 1795 to 1911 can be traced through the Edinburgh Post Office Directories available at

[2]See for example Prize Essays and Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1816) vol. IV p. 628; Crawford as a subscriber to Scotland’s Skaith… together with some additional poems(Edinburgh, 1815); as a member of the Wernerian Natural History Society, Caledonian Mercury 23/04/1818; his role in the North British Militia is given in the announcement of his marriage, Aberdeen Press and Journal 14/10/1799; his mother appears in the Post Office Directories as Mrs Alex. Simpson.

[3]Ownership of Bellfield traced in the LBS database,

[4]Francis Vesey, Reports of Cases argued and determined in the High Court of Chancery, from the year 1789 to 1817 (London, 1827), Vol. VI, 2nd ed., pp. 460-465

[5]Rosalind Mitchison, ‘Sir John Sinlair, first baronet (1754-1835), agricultural improver, politician and codifier of “useful knowledge”’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online edition, 2015).

[6]The estates were Argyle,, Calder, and Calder Ridge,

[7]For more on the Oman family see ‘The History of Bute House – Home to the First Minister of Scotland’,

[8]Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, vol. 4 p. 637 (February 1819).

An Afternoon Lecture at Latymer Grammar School, Edmonton, North London

By James Dawkins

The lack of attention paid to the contribution of British West Indian slavery in the formation of modern Britain has been an on-going issue of concern amongst parents of African-Caribbean heritage and some school teachers. Slavery, its effects, and abolition in 1833 is currently taught as a non-statutory topic at Key Stage 3 (years 7 to 9) in English state maintained schools.[1] This is, however, the only period of compulsory schooling when pupils are exposed to the history of our country’s slave-based West Indian plantation economy. The brutal and inhumane nature of this system along with its lasting legacies, including a sustained sense of white guilt and the continued emotional pain along with feelings of injustice felt by the country’s African-Caribbean citizens, has made it a difficult subject to discuss in Britain. Interestingly, our nation’s active distancing, sanitisation, and downplaying of slavery and its role in the economic development of eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain has garnered increasing curiosity from a number of quarters, particularly secondary schools and I was happy to receive an invitation from Doctor Brenda Quinn at Latymer Grammar School in north London who asked if I could come in to talk about slavery and industrialisation with the institution’s year-13 pupils.


The Latymer School, Haselbury Road, Edmonton

Drawing upon several key texts – Capitalism and Slavery; Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England; and ‘Slavery Bristol’s ‘Golden Age’’ – I spoke about the broad range of industries and professions which emerged and developed from their connection to the slave trade and the plantation economy.[2] Eric Williams was one of the first historians to trace the investment of slave-based wealth into the establishment of sugar refineries and metal works. He also pointed to the slave-trade’s stimulation of Britain’s timber and maritime industries, along with the erection of cotton factories – all of which processed the raw goods arriving from the West Indies and America, or manufactured guns, textiles, and domestic utensils that were shipped to the west coast of Africa and exchanged for Africans. I moved on to discuss the development of Britain’s social and transportational infrastructure highlighting the rise of its banking system, railways and canals, and steam-powered mechanisation, upon which the foundations of our modern-day economy were constructed. The Legacies of British Slave-ownership online database is an excellent resource for exploring the commercial footprint of the slave-based economy and I provided the pupils with a demonstration that elaborated upon the spread of West Indian colonial wealth into and across the country.

My discussion shifted from the national to the local significance of slavery as I used the online database to present an example of the geographic closeness of slavery and slave-ownership to Latymer School. John Snell was a particularly interesting individual who, in 1836, received over £3,300 in exchange for the liberation of the 123 enslaved people he possessed on the Clare Valley estate in St. Vincent.[3] Snell was a wealthy absentee who lived on Fore Street, opposite Pymmes Park, which is under one mile’s walk from Latymer School. Moreover, before he died, in 1847, he gifted one acre of land to St. James’ Church, situated just over one mile away from Latymer School, upon which St. John and St. James’ Primary School was built and opened in 1851. This was, therefore, an intriguing example of how a former slave-owner contributed to the establishment of an English school which is a stone’s throw away from Latymer School. Indeed, some of St. John and St. James’ pupils may have attended Latymer Grammar given its close proximity.

My evening at the school concluded with a lively discussion on the topic of slavery, its legacies, and reparations. The Latymer pupils advanced a series of important questions and were genuinely interested in the aftermath of British West Indian slavery and how its current legacies might be addressed. One pupil asked the excellent question: “how was Britain able to sustain itself as a global economic superpower after the decline of its plantation economy?” whilst another student asked “do you think that the country is ready to discuss the issue of slavery and reparations?”. These were just two of the many good questions that were posed. I responded to the former by highlighting the shift in Britain’s commercial interest from the West to the East Indies along with its colonisation and subsequent extraction of mineral resources from Africa in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The latter question took a little more consideration and discussion with the pupils, after which I clarified my personal position and stated that stated Britain isn’t ready for an informed discussion on the subject of slavery and reparations yet. I explained that a discussion of such significance can best be addressed after a period of national education on the issue where the historical context, facts, and arguments are set out. Exposure to the numerous dimensions of this long-standing and complicated subject will allow for a more knowledgeable debate to take place. Indeed, I was informed that this lecture provoked a lively discussion in the classroom the following day as the pupils talked about slavery, industrialisation, and its legacies, which is exactly what the Legacies of British Slave-ownership’s outreach activities are intended to do.

I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon at Latymer Grammar School and appreciate Dr Quinn and her pupils’ kind invitation to come and talk about this overlooked period of British and African-Caribbean history.

[1] Statutory Guidance – National Curriculum in England: History Programmes of Study [].

[2] Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1944); Joseph E. Inikori, Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England: A Study in International Trade and Economic Development (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); David Richardson, ‘Slavery and Bristol’s ‘Golden Age’’ Slavery and Abolition, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Apr., 2005), pp. 35-54.

[3] Legacies of British Slave-ownership, “John Snell, 1774-1847” [, accessed on 30 October, 2017].

A Black Presence in the Isle of Wight

by Nick Draper

On 11th October, I gave a lecture on ‘Slave-Owners of the Isle of Wight’ at a meeting of the Isle of Wight branch of the Historical Association in Newport. The branch, I was told, was among the most active of the Historical Association’s affiliated local history organizations, borne out by an engaged audience of upwards of 90 people. The talk was part of a continuing series of local events in which we use the research embedded in the LBS database to illuminate connections to slavery, aspects of local history that are often overlooked.

The Isle of Wight, like almost every other community we have explored in this way, had connections at multiple levels with the slave-system. The name of modern-day Isle of Wight county in Virginia reflects the presence of local aristocrats among the early projectors and settlers there; Cowes became an important port in the rice trade with the American colonies; I learned from the audience that the family from whom Queen Victoria had purchased the original Osborne House descended from a slave-trader, Robert Blachford; a slave-ship named the Isle of Wight sailed from Portsmouth in the 1720s; and perhaps most remarkably, in the Slave Registers for St Ann, Jamaica can be found enslaved males named Isle of Wight, one of them self-liberated in the 1800s and marked as missing in the Registers, and another a young boy born in the 1820s.

Isle of Wight in the slave register

Isle of Wight in the 1817 slave register for St Ann, Jamaica: “Negro”, age 41, Creole, “about 5 ft 7 in high Runaway Feby 7th 1808”. Source: TNA T71/43 p. 58

Spring Hill House

Spring Hill House, East Cowes, home to generations of the Shedden family

The island also has a number of slave-owners contained in the database. Some were transient, often moving there towards the end of their lives, perhaps as an alternative to more expensive south coast resort towns. Others left more marked physical and social legacies. Several generations of the Shedden family lived on the island and William George Shedden rebuilt the Spring Hill mansion at East Cowes in 1863; Robert Holford, an elusive figure for LBS to date, gave the land on which stands the Niton lighthouse, built by Trinity House in 1838.

Caroline Shedden

Caroline Hamond, wife of George William Shedden, around the time of her marriage in 1861. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Beyond these connections to slave-owners, however, we had also earlier this year come across in the will of Maria Burns formerly Inglis (proved 18/04/1800, PROB 11/1340/175) a reference by her to Thomas Siras ‘my old black servant now living in the Isle of Wight’ to whom she left ‘£100 to be paid within 6 months of my decease.’ Maria Burns was the wife of a doctor in Southampton; she had previously been married to John Dickons Inglis, who left her the Charlton estate in St Thomas-in-the-Vale in Jamaica, together with the enslaved people attached to it. She was apparently the financially stronger partner in her second marriage, leaving her husband an annuity of £100 p.a. secured on her estates and enslaved people, which and whom she left to a female relative, probably the sister, of her first husband.

Prompted by the imminent lecture, I tried to trace Thomas Siras further, unsuccessfully until I recognised that Siras was almost certainly a phonetic variation of something else. That realisation took me quickly enough to the baptism 22/10/1797 of a Thomas Cyrus, born 08/10/1797 to Thomas Cyrus and Ann, at St Mary’s, Cowes; to the 01/07/1804 burial of a Thomas Cyrus at Hamble le Rice Hampshire; to the 07/09/1822 marriage of Thomas Cyrus ‘a black’ to Martha Lee in Manchester; and to the 1851 census entry for Ann Brennan pauper aged 86 born Hamble and daughter Elizabeth Cyrus dressmaker born Cowes 49 living at Hamble le Rice. These fragments suggest an African man, probably brought from Jamaica either enslaved or free but becoming a ‘servant’ in the UK, in a relationship with Ann or Anne Brennan and having at least two children with her, Elizabeth and a second Cyrus (the man marrying in Manchester in 1822), and dying in 1804. The rest of the story is missing, at least to us.

Thomas Cyrus marriage

Record of the marriage of Thomas Cyrus, “a Black” and Martha Lee in Manchester in 1822. Source: Anglican Parish Registers, Manchester Cathedral

LBS’s work is organized around slave-ownership: the sources we use irreducibly privilege their stories over those of the enslaved people. But on occasions these same sources give an oblique glimpse of different lives: and when that happens we hope that in recording the fragments we find, we can provide a start-point for further exploration by others, as well as mark the presence and passing in Britain of the individual himself or herself.

Repairing the Past, Imagining the Future: Reparations and Beyond

By: Nick Draper

Kristy Warren and Kate Donington (for two days) and Nick Draper (for one day) attended the Repairing the Past, Imagining the Future: Reparations and Beyond conference, organised by University of Edinburgh in collaboration with Wheelock College (Boston, US) in Edinburgh 5th and 6th November.  The conference was ambitious, combining academics and activists from the Caribbean, North America, South Africa, and Europe, and addressing not only the British Atlantic but the francophone and Dutch worlds. Historians were in a distinct minority. The number of proposals submitted in response to the Call for Papers led the organisers to organise parallel sessions around a handful of set-piece plenaries: this allowed a wide range of issues to be covered but inevitably forced the audience to choose among attractive conflicting alternatives.  Verene Shepherd of UWI Mona and Chair of the Jamaica National Committee opened the conference with a powerful keynote address re-stating and amplifying CARICOM’s arguments and evidence, which among other responses drew an intense exchange with representatives of pan-African reparations activists based in Britain; Verene later came back to the issue to stress the importance to CARICOM and the National Committees of grass-roots movements.  Her keynote was followed by a strong plenary panel on the state of play in the US among African American campaigners.

On Thursday afternoon, Nick attended panels on ‘Reparative Histories’ (at which Anita Rupprecht and Cathy Bergin with characteristic subtlety explored linkages between slavery and the imagining of the current refugee crisis and US memorialisation respectively) and on ‘International Law’, as well as giving a paper on LBS’s work in the economic history panel alongside Nuala Zahedieh.  The Law panel, which was noticeably well-attended, featured an innovative approach to jurisdiction-[s]hopping by Jean Allain of Queen’s Belfast, and what appeared to be a very important contribution by Kate Bracegirdle of  University of Sheffield on ‘unjust enrichment’ as a legal basis of claim over slavery: this appears to offer a solution to some of the difficulties of locus standi that have to date undermined in the courts reparations claims based on damage to the descendants of enslaved Africans.

On Friday, Kristy and Kate presented on the importance of teaching reparative histories using the Local Roots / Global Routes project as an example of how that might work in practice. They shared the ‘Educational Impacts’ panel with Warren C. Hope, who presented on need to imagine a new educational paradigm in order to address the academic achievement gap experienced by African Americans. While Amos N. Jones assessed the case for reparations using segregated education as an example.

Kristy attended the panel on the ‘Legacies of Slavery in the Francophone World’ which featured presentations from Fabienne Viala concerning the impact of white French supremacy on the ways and extent to which slavery is remembered; Kate Hodgson gave an historical overview of Haitian responses to reparations from the nineteenth century to the present day; and Magali Bessone explored the limits of tort law in the attempt to achieve reparations for slavery.  The day wrapped up with a public lecture by Hilary Beckles outlining the case against Britain for reparations for Caribbean slavery and its legacies.

The fact that a conference of this scale and reach could be mounted in Britain indicates that the question of reparations – for which grassroots campaigners have been working for years both in the Caribbean and Britain – is now for the first time entering academic discourse here.

Footage from the conference is available on Ustream

Henry Redhead Yorke: Politics and Identity in the Atlantic World, 1790-1813

By Amanda Goodrich, The Open University

Recently at the What’s Happening in Black History III Conference held by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, David Killingray and Ryan Hanley raised important issues about how we write ‘black history’ and who we study.  Both suggested that we need to dig deep in the archives, and find more and different black people in order to develop a broader perspective. For example, not all black people in Britain in the late eighteenth century were formerly enslaved Africans and nor were they all focused on slavery and abolition.  Hanley noted, though, that the difficulty of finding such people and the paucity of evidence about their lives presents a problem for historians. In common with the poor, women and others in the eighteenth century, black people in Britain tended to live on the fringes of society, they wrote little or nothing and anything they did write, or any record of their lives, is unlikely to have survived. There is much absent and much silence where the historian needs evidence and this means that it is often possible to reconstruct only a rather two dimensional and incomplete narrative.

Letters From FranceI am writing a book on just such an individual, Henry Redhead Yorke (1771/2-1813), a black political writer and agitator of the French Revolutionary period, little-known today. He became a revolutionary radical in 1792 but then after a spell in prison for his activities he performed a complete volte face and took up an ultra-loyalist Tory position.  We know this because he published much political writing and his arrest and trial are well-documented.   However, Yorke appears not to have left any personal letters, diaries or memoirs except an epistolary travelogue of a visit to France in 1802.  Finding evidence of his personal life required chasing threads through a motley collection of sources with many dead ends and false leads along the way.  Some of the questions this research generated illustrate the problems Hanley and Killingray identified.

Barbuda Satellite Map


The first such question was where did Yorke originate from?  After much detective work I discovered that his father was Samuel Redhead an estate manager for the Codrington family and sugar plantation owner in Antigua and his mother was an enslaved woman from Barbuda a poor, barren island, 30 miles north of Antigua. Yorke was born into the slave society on the island and was raised there until he was six. The only white person on the island would have been his visiting father who divided his time between Barbuda and Antigua (where he had children with another enslaved woman).


Antigua and BarbudaYorke was, then, an illegitimate Creole[1] and brought up with two other illegitimate children of his parents and probably a few children of either of them, all of mixed African and European descent. Samuel Redhead never married Yorke’s mother, he had been married years before to a white woman from a wealthy and established Antiguan family of English descent.  They had five children before she died in 1742.  Yorke was not Henry Redhead’s surname but one he attempted to adopt in 1792, the reason for this remains a mystery. He ended up being called ‘Redhead’ or ‘Yorke’, or Redhead Yorke, not quite one thing or another – the motif of his life.

So another question arises about parentage; was Samuel Redhead Yorke’s father? Yorke’s eldest step-brother was thirty-five when he was born and his father was sixty-nine and described in the sources as, ‘enfeebled’, shortly after Yorke’s birth. In his will Redhead left legacies to his illegitimate Barbudan children but referred to Yorke and his brother as ‘my natural or reputed sons’.  This seems to suggest uncertainty as to paternity but it was common at the time to identify the offspring of planters and enslaved women in this way.

Perhaps Henry’s real father was a Yorke, but there is no evidence of this. Samuel Redhead did take Yorke to England aged six to be educated as a gentleman which presumably he paid for.  This certainly implies paternity, but contemporary letters suggest that Yorke’s mother made false claims as to the paternity of her children and that  it was she who wanted her children to be educated in England. Unfortunately, we have no records from either her or Redhead to clarify the position.

Was Yorke free?  Samuel Redhead bought the freedom of Henry’s mother from her owner, Sir William Codrington, in 1771 and that should mean Henry was born free. But the rules about what emancipation actually meant in the West Indies at that time are unclear and vary from colony to colony. According to the contemporary writer, Bryan Edwards, manumission did not mean a complete or immediate status change to a free citizen with all the rights that might endow and certainly not to first generation offspring of manumitted enslaved people. All the inhabitants of Barbuda were enslaved except managers such as Redhead, and there was no way to make a living in such a slave economy. So on Barbuda, Yorke would have lived as more or less an enslaved person, but in England, within the Gentry milieu he was situated, it would have been assumed he was free.

Henry Redhead Yorke by James Ward, published by and after William Hay mezzotint, published 21 July 1796 NPG D4949 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Henry Redhead Yorke by James Ward © National Portrait Gallery, London

Was he ‘black’? Yorke was of ‘mixed race’[2], but does that class him as ‘black’ in terms of black history? I presume so but how different was the ‘mixed race’ experience from the ‘black’ African experience in Britain? Determining Yorke’s skin colour was not easy due to the lack of photography in his lifetime.  He did not mention it in his writings and was described by contemporaries as ‘a mulatto’, a ‘half caste’, and ‘of West Indian origin’. Two mezzotints of Yorke survive and in both he appears to have a dark skin tone. A curator at the National Portrait Gallery has confirmed that the mezzotints reflect contemporary representations of ‘mixed race’ as far as can be determined from such old black and white images.

The final question for now, then, is who was Henry Redhead Yorke? Someone committed to politics, albeit changeable politics, but working out his identity and his sense of self, is much more difficult. As an illegitimate ‘English’ gentleman of mixed African and European descent originally from a slave society in the West Indies, he clearly he had a ‘multi-layered’, ‘hybrid’ identity as historians might describe it. Only fragments as to his personal views and life can be gleaned from his published writings and these are difficult to piece together. Thus, as with many such individuals only an incomplete history of Yorke can be compiled, his story is one of absence as much as presence. Yet he gained a voice, asserted agency and made his mark on the society within which he lived.

I would argue that such micro histories of little known individuals are important. They may not alone provide conclusive answers to the big historical questions but they contribute to our understanding of the lives of ordinary people; those of excluded or low status, the poor, women, and ethnic minorities. Moreover, in developing the histories of political, cultural or social groups and movements in the past historians need, at least in part, to explore the individual histories of those involved. This may seem obvious but it is not actually what most historians do, or have done in the past as the work of E.P. Thompson illustrates. To return to  the original point perhaps we need now to expand our exploration of black history in Britain, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to incorporate those who were, black, or of ‘mixed race’, enslaved, or  not, in order to find a more accurate representation of the complexities of British culture and society.


[1] During the time in question, in the British context, this word was used to describe a person born in the Caribbean regardless of ethnicity. However, it had other meanings in other regions and at other times, most commonly to indicate mixed orgins.

[2] This term is being used by the author as the discussion refers to modern debates concerning ‘mixed race’ identity; it is still considered an official ethnicity category by the UK Office for National Statistics. However, the term is contested by some as it is linked to a history of thinking that implies it is possible to have pure ‘races’.

Manchester Workshop

By Catherine Hall

Manchester Central Library
On Saturday October 24 our fourth regional workshop was held in Manchester at the Central Library – one of Manchester’s impressive Victorian buildings which has recently been refurbished and is now home to digital hubs, local history activities, meeting rooms and a café with good food as well as the usual library facilities. We had a full day of talks and discussion, organised by Katie Donington, and despite a pretty early start for a Saturday morning we had an enthusiastic and interested audience. The day opened with presentations from the LBS team – I did a brief introduction about the project and Rachel Lang then talked about some of the possible uses of the database – this provoked many questions and much interest.  Katie rounded off this session with an introduction to the Hibbert family, a major slave-owning and mercantile family, their multiple Manchester connections and the ways in which they extended their business links and networks from Manchester to London and Jamaica. 28We were really fortunate after coffee to have the black feminist artist Lubaina Himid in conversation with Anna Arabindan-Kesson about Lubaina’s installation – Cotton.Com. Lubaina has worked as a politically engaged artist since the 1980s and not only did she bring  50 of the 100 pieces she had made from Cotton.Com to show us, but she talked about the connections between that work and other projects she has done. Much of that work has been preoccupied with those who have been rendered invisible by the ways in which histories have been constructed.

Cotton.Com, through the medium of 100 painted and framed textile blocs, evokes the conversations that might have happened between the cotton workers in Manchester, struggling in the new mills clustered around the canal in Ancoates, and the enslaved African men, women and children who were tending and picking the cotton on the plantations of the American South. When the installation was first shown the blocks were exhibited across walls with just one powerful quote from the many documentary sources that had been used: ‘He said I looked like a painting by Murillo as I carried water for the hoe gang, just because I balanced the bucket on my head.’ It was a very inspiring and moving session – reminding us all of the importance of the work that artists do in re-presenting our histories.

Robert WedderburnIn the afternoon Melinda Elder, who has done much work over the years on the slavery business in the North West, did a wonderfully illustrated talk on the Wildman family and their rise from being modest tenant farmers in Lancashire to becoming substantial members of the English gentry, via Jamaica and the spoils of King Sugar. Peter Maw then filled out the story of the transatlantic merchants and their Manchester connections, clarifying how significant these trade networks were to the patterns of colonial and capitalist development. The final talks of the day came from Alan Rice, a friend to LBS from the beginning, and the Director of the Institute for Black Atlantic Studies at the University of Central Lancashire. Alan talked about the renowned African-American activist and writer Frederick Douglass while his colleague Raphael Hoermann spoke about the impact of the revolution in Haiti and some of the black radicals in the UK such as Robert Wedderburn.

We ended the day with an open discussion. All thorough the day there were lots of questions and comments for all the speakers – one of the best characteristics of our workshops from the perspective of the LBS team is the level of audience engagement. In the last session it was good to hear from almost everyone who had been able to stay to the end. We all know what it means to give up a Saturday! Many different voices and experiences were heard, from an Irish woman who reminded us of the connections between Ireland and other sites of colonial oppression to the lively talk about possible ways of extending the reach of black histories and keeping the connections that had been made alive. Natalie Zacek gave us some terrific closing thoughts and eventually, so absorbed were we in our talk that we had to be shooed out of the building before it was locked up for the day!

Legacies of the Slave Past in the Post-Slave Present

By Nick Draper

One of the aims for LBS has been to connect more fully with the burgeoning scholarship in the US on slavery and American capitalism, and in turn to give LBS more visibility among academic audiences in North America. Accordingly, Catherine Hall and I accepted gratefully an invitation from David ScottDavid Scott of Columbia and Herman Bennett of CUNY to participate in joint CUNY/Columbia symposium in New York in early October. The genesis of the symposium was the sense on the part of the organisers (and shared by us) that LBS’ work needed to be thought through in the context of wider discussions of repair and reparation now underway, in the Caribbean, the US and Europe.

On Thursday 1st Catherine gave a wonderful and well-received lecture at the CUNY Graduate Centre on ‘What is a Man?’, which explored the importance of the writing in particular of the pro-slavery advocate Edward Long in constructing harsh racial stereotypes of enslaved Africans. On Friday 2nd, 6 scholars presented papers that to greater or lesser extents engaged with our work, and I attempted to provide a response to the papers and their relationship to our concerns in LBS. Jennifer Morgan of NYU gave a suggestive paper on the relationship between ‘political economy’ and the building of the slave-economy in the 17thC; Sven Beckert of Harvard reflected on the historiography of capitalism and slavery; Kathleen Wilson of SUNY at Stony Brook delivered a characteristically trenchant paper on liberty, slavery and Britishness; Natasha Lightfoot at Columbia supplied a densely-researched and conceptually nimble paper on Antiguan exceptionalism in dispensing with Apprenticeship; Melanie Newton of the University of Toronto complicated the CARICOM reparations claim with an wide-ranging sketch of the position of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean under both colonial rule and under post-independence nation states; and Richard Drayton at Kings College London closed with a powerful call for re-examination of the roots of modern inequalities in slavery and its colonial aftermath.

Together these papers gave Catherine and me a sense not only of the diversity and depth of American scholarship on race and slavery, but also an indication of the sometimes divergent concerns within that corpus of scholarship. In face of the very different approaches and adjacencies of the papers, I addressed the question of in what senses we – or at least I – conceive of LBS’s work as ‘reparative’ history. The audience, which stayed with us with great patience and commitment through the day, included Robin Blackburn and Eric Foner, who in relation to the question of slavery and industrialisation engaged fully in one case and resisted equally fully in the other.

We were privileged to be able to speak about LBS’ work to the audiences on both days: it both provided reinforcement of our own belief in the importance of the LBS project and furnished a salutary reminder that our work is only one contribution to a much larger scholarly endeavour to rethink slavery and modernity. Parts of the symposium will possibly be published in a future volume of the Caribbean cultural journal Small Axe.