Sarah Blizard Phillips: Child of an Abolitionist and ‘Woman of Colour’

By: Kristy Warren

A few weeks ago a correspondent alerted my attention to the entry in the Legacies of British Slave-ownership database for Sarah Blizard Phillips. She was astonished to find Sarah’s name as she seemed to be the daughter of a British abolitionist and his Antigua born wife.

Based on the information supplied by the correspondent, Sarah’s father appears to be Joseph Phillips who emigrated from England to Antigua in the early part of the 19th century. He later gave many speeches for the Anti-Slavery Society whilst on an extended stay in England during the early 1830s. Additionally, he wrote a letter in defence of Mary Prince, for her case against her owner John Wood, explaining that her story bore ‘the genuine stamp of truth’.[1] Phillips was also the author of a pamphlet entitled “West Indian Question: The Outline of a Plan for the Total, Immediate, and Safe Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Colonies” which was published in 1833.  Less is known about her mother Mary Kezia Moore, who was described as being a woman of colour and was the daughter of Thomas Vernon Moore and Sarah Blizard.

How did Sarah become a slave owner?

The Slave Registers give us part of the answer.  Sarah’s name can be found in the Antigua Slave Registers of 1824, 1828, and 1832.[2] In all three registers she was listed under the entry of Thomas Blizard Moore, who was her trustee. It would appear from his name that Thomas was Sarah’s uncle, the brother of her mother. This would indicate that the link to slave-ownership was through her mother’s family. Significantly, neither Sarah’s father nor mother are listed as being slave-owners in any of the Antigua  registers.

The Slave Registers do give some other clues about Sarah and also give a little bit of information about the woman for whom Sarah was given compensation. They give an indication of Sarah’s age, making it clear that she was not an adult. Although her age was not listed, she was described as a minor in the 1824 register and an infant in 1828.[3] By the 1832 register, although she would only have been 12 at the time, she was simply listed as a proprietor.  The name of the enslaved woman listed in all three registers is Mary Ann. Mary Ann was about 27 years old in the 1824 return and was bought for Sarah sometime after the register of 1818 was taken.

The database shows that there were others like Sarah who had some African ancestry and were also slave-owners. The People of Interest section of this website includes biographical information about other such owners including Margaret Dunbar who was described as a ‘free quadroon woman’, and Ann Eliza French, the daughter of ‘free Mulatto’ Jane Charlotte Beckford. Using the Notes Search field on the Search the Database page, brings up the entries of many other men and women who were described as ‘free mulatto’, ‘free person of colour’ or ‘free quardroon’; meanwhile only two entries are found using the search ‘free black’.

There were also others who became owners before adulthood. A search for ‘minor’ reveals claims that were made for children and teenagers by trustees, agents, and guardians. Their stories reveal the ways in which such people became slave-owners. For instance, Sarah Hunter Taylor Cathcart, became the owner of an enslaved person in her grandfather’s will.

Exploring these stories can teach us more about the connections between British slave-owners and their mixed heritage descendants and the different approaches taken to slave-ownership by members of same family.

[1] The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave Related by Herself. Phillips had been employed by Wood as a clerk.

[2] T71/248/477; T71/249/521; T71/250/469, The National Archives. These can be found at Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834 [database on-line].

[3] The word infant can refer to ‘a person under (legal) age: a minor’ (Oxford English Dictionary).