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Foundations in Slavery

The Profits of enslavement

What industries in the UK benefited from the Trade in enslaved Africans?

Britain was the most dominant between 1640 and 1807 when the British slave trade was abolished. Why was this?

During 1761-1807 (46 years) an estimated profit of £8.8 million (£814 million today) was made by Britain's involvement in trafficking human beings to the Caribbean, North and South America. 3.8 million Africans landed as enslaved people.

It is easy to connect the profits with slavers and those who sailed between Europe, West Africa and the 'New World' but how did Britain benefit? 

The web of those that supported - directly or indirectly - the trade in enslaved Africans is complex. The profits ran deep and fed many aspects of various British industries. 

Shipbuilders, joiners and master craftsmen, sailmakers, ropemakers and metal-workers who made chains, manacles and other restraints used on slave ships profited from this trade. Others included those employed to service the Royal Navy, as naval ships were used to ensure the safety of the merchant navy, including slaving ships and exports to slave regimes.

Cloth producers, alcohol producers, gunmakers, producers of copper pans and other metal goods or manillas used to barter for enslaved people were always in demand. Trading also included Indian cotton and other goods imported by the East India Company.

Food producers - beef and salted fish travelled well as well as producers of cheap and durable caps and clothing, makers of industrial equipment, tools and apparatus such as copper ‘stills’ for distilling sugar were also a necessary part of the industry that sprang up around the work enslaved people performed. 

Candle-makers, booksellers, watchmakers, haberdashers, milliners, furniture makers, wine merchants, even snuff manufacturers, sugar refiners, cotton spinners and weavers, furniture makers were an integral part of proceedings. 

So many people's livelihoods were interwoven with the abuse of enslaved Africans and their descendants, it is indeed a tangled web that was woven around the suffering of millions of enslaved Africans. 

 

Foundations in Slavery

Follow the Money: Transatlantic Trade and English Universities

Rhodes Must Fall was a 2015 South African protest movement aimed at removing the statue of Cecil Rhodes, considered one of the architects of the South African Apartheid system. Within a month of the protest, which gained worldwide attention, the University of Cape Town removed the statue. 

Unfortunately, this was not the only statue of such a problematic individual at a higher learning institute. The Cecil Rhodes statue at Oxford University was also campaigned about; students and the wider public felt it was time that it too fell.  

Born in Hertfordshire, England, in 1853, Rhodes attended Oxford in 1881. He founded the De Beers diamond company in 1888 and, incredibly, recent studies claim Rhodes may well have been responsible for the deaths of over 20,000 African people. He left the equivalent of £12.5 million to the university in his 1902 will. 

The reasons why universities around the world have links with the institution of slavery and imperialism are complex. The highly profitable institution of enslaving Africans was intertwined with all tiers of British society; the monarchy, the political class, religious organisation and institutes of learning. Former students who made vast profits from the system of enslaving African people, would donate funds to their former places of learning. These funds were then accepted without question. 

As the world begins to confront these uncomfortable truths, commissions, such as the Working Group on Oxford and Colonialism, are making decisions about aligning their current policies with their past practices. 

In 2018, the University of Bristol acknowledged that 85% of the wealth used to found the university in 1876 came from the unpaid labour of trafficked people. Edward Colston, Joseph Fry and Henry Overton Wills, who combined funds to start the university, all had deep ties to the industry. 

Also in 2018, the University of Glasgow acknowledged it had received nearly £200 million from past funders who had been engaged in the enslavement of Africans. It has since started a program of reparative justice. 

What about Oxford University? It watched the University of Cape Town remove its own statue of Cecil Rhodes, its Working Group decided Oxford should do the same and yet, as of today, the statue is still in place. Changing minds and changing attitudes, even in a venerated place of learning, remains a complex and lengthy process. 

 

Foundations in Slavery

“Retain and Explain” Problematic Statues

Less than six months after the Bristol statue of enslaver Edward Colston was torn down and tossed into Bristol Harbour during Black Lives Matter protests, the City of London Corporation announced it would remove controversial statues of its own. The Corporation is responsible for many world-famous buildings within the “Square Mile” financial heart of England’s capital city.  

The statues of William Beckford and Sir John Cass - 18th century British politicians who had ties to the trade in enslaved Africans - stand proudly outside the Guildhall Building in Moorgate, London. The announcement of the statues’ removal was hailed, in January 2021, as “an important milestone in our journey towards a more inclusive and diverse City.”

However, not long after this announcement, the Corporation performed a U-turn and opted to “retain and explain” the problematic statues.  Doug Barrow, the Statues Working Group’s Chairman, said it was important to not “erase history”. Instead, the issue of legacy should be dealt with “openness and honesty.” He added that the City was “inextricably linked to slavery”. 

The “retain and explain” approach is one that the government prefers to removing statues. The corporation intends to hold educational events that would inform the public of the history of such statues and other historical artefacts of interest.

 

Foundations in Slavery

J.M.W. Turner and La Soufrière volcano

Considered by many to be Britain's greatest artist, Joseph Mallord William (J.M.W.) Turner (1755 – 1851) completed his painting, The Eruption of the Soufrière Mountains in the Island of St Vincent, 30 April 1812, in 1815. Turner presents a spectacular pyrotechnic display of flames and molten lava shooting upwards into the night sky. Silhouetted in the foreground is a small boat rescuing people from the deadly event.

The artist, who was not present at the eruption of the La Soufrière volcano, painted the piece in his London studio with inspiration from a "sketch" or description by Hugh Perry Keane.

Keane was a plantation and slave owner on St Vincent, an island of many sugar plantations worked by enslaved Africans. He kept a diary of the eruptions and earthquakes which continued in bursts of activity for several months. These disasters were followed by severe flooding in August. Records indicate that 34 enslaved people died as a result of these events. 

Although it's not clear if Turner was making a comment on enslavement in this painting, he made his anti-enslavement views known in later works. The most notable of these is Slave Ship (1840). The painting was based on a recorded atrocity which took place on a ship carrying enslaved people in 1781. Concerned he would not make a profit from the sick and dying enslaved people aboard the ship, the captain of Zong threw 132 enslaved Africans overboard to certain death. He did this so that he could claim the insurance money.

 

Foundations in Slavery

The Black Girl’s Silhouette

In 1770s Lancashire, a young Black woman sat still while a visitor cut paper in the shape of her profile. We have no record of the woman in the silhouette portrait. The only reason we know the sitter was Black is because of a note attached to her image: ‘Black Girl lived at Mr Couplands, Ormskirk … time of the Slave Trade in Liverpool.’ 

The woman lived with the family of Richard Coupland, a wealthy leather dealer. Although we don’t know her name or if she was born in Britain, another note underneath the first teaches us something of her perceived character: ‘Good without pretence and a safe companion.’ 

Probably written by Miss Isabella Gregson, who displayed the portrait when she opened the Gregson Memorial Institute in Liverpool, 1897. It is thought the silhouette was created by Isabella's grandfather, Matthew Gregson. The notes offer insight into attitudes towards Black people living in Britain.

“Good without pretence” may mean she conformed to social norms but could also be telling of honesty. That she was a “safe companion” may carry the connotation that Black people were seen as dangerous, but may also imply affection. The woman could have been more than a servant within the household. The role of “companion” was a paid position, usually reserved for a female member of the family, to provide engaging company at home and at social events.

The notes provide compelling evidence of the potential complexities in relationships between people of different races at the time.

 

Foundations in Slavery

Casta Paintings

In 2009, a set of five paintings were discovered in the art stores of Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, by a trainee curator. 

It transpires that these paintings - over 200 years old - belonged to a long-forgotten style of art. Dating back to the late 18th century, this genre of paintings was developed to document the racial mixing that was happening across the New World and in Mexico. 

These paintings were originally developed to show the Bourbon Monarch of Spain, Phillip V (1700-46), how easily the Black African and Native Indian races could be converted to the white European race. 

The paintings were donated to Leicester Museum by Joseph Noble MP in 1852 and have remained in the museum stores ever since: they had never been displayed before. 

The paintings will be going through a complete restoration process, so the museum can showcase them in a full exhibition to be shown at Leicester Museum and Art Gallery in 2023. The whole process will also be developed into a documentary to benefit all in the future.

 

https://opal22artsed.com/

 https://casta.opal22artsed.com/the-paintings/

Original Opal22 Arts and Eduatainment research


 

https://opal22artsed.com/

 https://casta.opal22artsed.com/the-paintings/

Original Opal22 Arts and Eduatainment research


 

Foundations in Slavery

London - Birmingham - Glasgow: Train Travel and Enslavement

While you sit on the train line that runs from London to Birmingham and Glasgow, have you ever wondered whose money funded its construction?

Rail lines began to spring up all around Britain during the 19th century, funded by private rail companies. Many rail companies received investment from families that had been heavily invested in the Trade in enslaved Africans to the Americas for plantation labour. 

The Gladstone family invested the equivalent of about £19 million in parts of the West Coast Main Line. They were a very wealthy and politically active family whose money came directly from the enslavement of Africans.

Remember, when the institution of enslavement ended, the families who ran the institution were compensated by the British government for the loss of their “property”. The Gladstone family received one of the largest compensation payouts, approximately the equivalent of £12 million today. The family's involvement and investment was not limited to railways; John Gladstone, patriarch of the family, also established several schools, churches, and charitable institutions that exist today. 

The wealth that produced positive social institutions and buildings in the UK was generated by more than 400 enslaved Africans that worked on the Gladstone plantations in Jamaica and Demerara (present-day Guyana); and by Gladstone’s schemes to lure many East Indians into indentured labour, maintaining low labour costs for British overseas plantations.

 

Compensation of Political Power

West India Interest and the classification of enslaved people as objects

Each day we pass by buildings and have no idea what happens inside, and even less about what happened there before. 

For example, the London headquarters of Deutsche Bank is based in a huge building straddling London Wall and Great Winchester Street. Inside, traders and employees shuffle paper and click on keys that move billions of pounds, euros, dollars and many other currencies that circulate old and new wealth. 

So, who would guess that a man named Patrick Maxwell Stewart lived in this same spot in the 19th century and probably met with many of his friends, colleagues and cohorts there. And, why should we even care? 

Well, Patrick Stewart was a Scottish Member of Parliament, a key member of the West India Interest (a political coalition in the Parliament), a noted railway investor and a plantation owner in the British colony of Tobago.

He is also notable for his role in lobbying and successfully convincing the British Parliament that it was logical and acceptable to classify the enslaved Africans on British overseas plantations as equal to inanimate objects or assets - not as human beings. 

This led to enslaved people across the empire being tallied and labelled. When, enslaved people were eventually emancipated these ‘assets’ were paid for by the British taxpayer as compensation to British ex-slave owners to the tune of £20 million pounds (£3 billion in today’s money), a victory for Mr. Stewart and the West India Interest.

 

Compensation of Political Power

Buchanan Street, Glasgow: Founded on the Enslaved

The name of Buchanan Street, Scotland’s largest shopping street, has become a controversial subject. Situated in Glasgow, the street is a central hub for visitors and locals alike. A place where many stroll and engage in retail therapy. However, the land on which they tread was purchased with the proceeds of enslaving and exploiting human beings. 

The street takes its name from tobacco merchant, Andrew Buchanan. The ground on which street runs was kept and maintained by the Buchanan family that owned tobacco plantations in Virginia. The wealth derived from the North American plantations, which used the labour of up to 300 enslaved Africans, would enable Andrew Buchanan to buy the land on which the famous shopping street is built.

Andrew Buchanan of Buchanan, Hastie & Co went on to hold political power as one of the joint founders of the Ship Bank (Glasgow's first local bank), Dean of the Guild and Lord Provost of Glasgow. The eventual loss of the family’s fortune as a result of the American Revolution of 1776 did not preclude the naming of the street after the family - immortalising their impact on the area.

Reflections on how Buchanan created the wealth that bought the land mean there are now calls for the street to be renamed.

 

Compensation of Political Power

Sir John Julius Angerstein: An art collector and his links to enslavement

Wandering through the rooms of the National Gallery in London, past the many gilded-frame portraits, have you ever stopped to wonder who the people in the portraits were, and why they were painted? 

There’s a fascinating history behind every picture but no painting, however well made, can ever tell us the full story. Take the portrait of Sir John Julius Angerstein, for example, whose art collection was bought by the British Government after his death and became a significant part of the National Gallery’s original collection. 

Angerstein knew all the members of London’s high society of his day, including royalty. He had a successful career in the City of London and became vice-president of the London Institution when it was set up in 1806, an educational foundation which eventually led to the creation of the University of London. 

But Angerstein’s legacy is not as glittering as it may appear. He became wealthy working in the insurance of slave ships sailing across the Atlantic in the 18th century.

This esteemed patron of the arts directly profited from plantations which used enslaved African labourers in the British Caribbean colonies of St Kitts, Antigua and Grenada. This allowed him to amass great wealth, power and influence in Britain and helped to fund this rich collection of artwork which went on to play a significant role in the foundation of one of our most influential cultural institutions.

The National Gallery itself is currently collaborating in a research project documenting Angerstein’s involvement with the plantation systems, and the fruits of his labour which  depended on slavery. It’s an important move from the National Gallery to confront its connections with Britain’s colonial past, and one that will hopefully inspire other British cultural institutions to do the same.

 

Compensation of Political Power

Wealth Maintenance and Expansion Through Marriage

For the last 1000 years, marriage has mostly been an institution based on maintaining status and wealth, and colonial times were no different.

A dowry was often obligatory from a groom's family for securing the marriage allegiance. It was also essential that a woman marries into a family of the same status. Romance and love as a prerequisite for marriage did not begin to emerge until the 18th century.

The intersection between the idea of marriage as a financial institution and the fortunes being made or expanded through the enslavement of people meant a great deal of wealth was generated or retained by the upper and middle classes. Many of the British aristocracy and elite, including former British prime minister John Gladstone, came from families that "owned" and benefitted from enslaved people.

Whilst the transatlantic trade of enslaved people and enslavement itself has been abolished, the wealth of these families, in part begot from the enslavement of humans persists and generates new opportunities for creating wealth.

Chris Bryant, a Labour MP who wrote A Critical History of the British Aristocracy, says of the elite group:

‘The last century has seen many do remarkably well. The result is that the great old landed, crested and hallmarked families of the United Kingdom are still in possession of most of the land and a large part of the wealth of the nation.’

 

Compensation of Political Power

Abolition: A Heated Debate

Through the 17th century, the debate around the abolition of enslavement was furiously debated in the British parliament.

On the one side, abolitionists entreated humanity, drew upon economic theory and referenced the bible to put together a compelling case for the eradication of enslavement. On the other side, anti-abolitionists felt just as strongly; the arguments of merchants, traders and plantation owners ranged from their fears of loss of livelihood to the belief that enslavement was vital to the wealth and prosperity of Britain. Any anti-abolitionist stance, ultimately put profits before the value of human rights, putting economic gain above the suffering of others.

Interestingly, abolitionists were not always in opposition to enslavement itself. For example, Adam Williams took the purely economic view that, since the enslavement trade itself was not particularly profitable, it should be banned. However, he was not opposed to the continuation of the use of enslaved people within the plantation, which made vast sums of money.

The debates were not only reserved for discussion in parliament. Newspapers were used by both camps to convey their messages and attract public sympathy. Cartoons were often employed to persuade the public. The abolitionists would create cartoons which depicted the horrors and realities of being enslaved, whilst the opposition would play down the atrocities. Enslavement would be presented by those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo as a fairly comfortable existence.

With the abolition of the transatlantic trade of enslaved people in 1807, followed by the Slavery Emancipation Act in 1833, Britain eventually took tentative steps towards ending a dark period of its history.

 

Compensation of Political Power

Edward Colston: A Bitter Legacy

Amidst an anti-racist Black Lives Matter protest on June 7 2020, the statue of Edward Colston, which had stood for 125 years, was toppled and thrown into Bristol's harbour. The protesters responsible were subsequently arrested and put on trial. The case was surrounded by heated debate in the media on both sides. Some called the act 'appalling', citing it as a denouncement of decency and disrespectful of property. However, the crime also garnered a great deal of support from activists and the general public.

The four defendants were acquitted. But what moved a jury of peers to find the defendants innocent of criminal damage to property in a case with such clear evidence? The answer lies in what the statue and its toppling represented.

Edward Colston (1636-1721), was a merchant trader with many shares in the Royal African Company. Colston made an enormous fortune through this venture, which traded 84,000 people from Africa into enslavement. Amongst the enslaved were some 12,000 children. Throughout his life and upon his death, Colston created a complex and controversial relationship with the city of Bristol, donating vast sums of money to charitable causes. These donations, which supported institutions including schools, hospitals and churches, gave him a reputation as a philanthropist. The acts also made it difficult for people to address the morality of where the money came from. 

The paradigm decision of the courts opens up a necessary conversation. The questions go beyond the statues of Colston, and the streets and buildings, which are adorned with his name. We are asked to consider how we present the figures that have been held in esteem by past generations. How do we reshape our cities and psyches, acknowledging the past, but with lenses toward the future?

 

Compensation of Political Power

Liverpool's Confederacy Sentiments: Flags Along the Mersey

Liverpool had an intimate relationship with the American Confederacy and one of the chief sentiments they shared was the anti-abolitionist stance.

This affinity is understandable: the enslavement trade directly, through buying and selling enslaved people, and indirectly, through the supply of cotton picked by enslaved people, benefited Liverpool and the Confederates alike. It wasn't just the backbone, but the whole skeletal system of Liverpool that was founded upon the wealth of the transatlantic trade of enslaved people. 

The advent of civil war in America, driven largely by opposing views on enslavement, showed just how deep this symbiotic relationship ran. When the Unionist government of America halted exports through port blockades, the once prosperous mill workers of Liverpool were left destitute.

Although Britain took a neutral stance throughout the war and forbade citizens from fighting on either side, this did not stop Liverpudlian shipwrights, renowned for their skilled work, from building ships for the Confederates capable of outrunning the cotton blockades. Due to their clear support, it was said there were more Confederate flags flying along the Mersey than in the Confederacy base of Virginia.

Mersey became the scene for a final act of loyalty. Around three months after the end of the civil war on 9 April, 1865, a covert operation, run by a Liverpool-built Confederacy ship, CSS Shenandoah, finally received the news of the war's end. Their operations for the past three months had been acts of piracy.

With certain death awaiting them in North America, the crew sailed to Liverpool. After lively negotiations between Liverpool and London, the American crew were pardoned, whilst the English were to be punished for breaking the neutral stance. Every member claimed to be born in the American South and all were acquitted. 

 

Compensation of Political Power

Admiral Rodney - a Hero to Whom?

For hundreds of years, British Admiral Rodney has been celebrated as a colonial hero. However, people have not been taught the entire truth. 


 

Admiral George Rodney was a British naval general, who has several landmarks named in his honour in the UK, Saint Lucia and Jamaica. He is also credited with being the originator of the naval tactic called 'breaking the line' in which breaking the enemy's formation made it possible to overwhelm individual ships in battle. 


 

In Saint Lucia alone, his name is everywhere - Fort Rodney (Pigeon Island), where the relics of a fort still stands; Rodney Heights, a residential area, and most famously - Rodney Bay, Saint Lucia's tourism hot spot.


 

Admiral Rodney was a Pro-Slavery advocate who argued against the abolition of slavery on several occasions. In the House of Lords he stated the concept of abolition would be “a folly that delusions should take place.” He vehemently opposed the 1788 Slave Act, a bill created to improve the conditions of the enslaved on ships during the transatlantic crossing. 


 

Rodney became a British hero through his successful naval battles, reclaiming several islands in the Caribbean from the French. Heralded for his bravery in public, he was nevertheless criticised by those close to him for the greed he displayed. While on the island of St. Eustatius he committed anti-Semitic violence against the Jewish community there, separating families and robbing their graves for gold and jewels. He continued to garner bounty from his conquests in the Caribbean, while writing home to his family with promises of buying a new house. 


 

News of his behaviour reached England and Rodney fell from grace, having to defend his actions in Parliament. Despite his shortcomings, Rodney continued to be a representative of the British flag and labelled a hero in British history. The omission of the truth from Caribbean history books, means that those walking the streets where his landmarks lie may still believe he was a hero. 


 

Places in the UK named after Rodney include: 

Rodney Street, Liverpool

Rodney Street, Edinburgh

Rodney Bay, Saint Lucia, the Caribbean

Rodney County, New Zealand

Rodney, Ontario, Canada

Admiral Lord Rodney - Pub, Colne, Lancashire

Admiral Rodney - Hotel, Horncastle, Lincolnshire

Admiral Rodney - Pub Sheffield


 

At least now, if you visit any of these places, named after Admiral Rodney, you will know that he was a highly complicated person who, even in his own time, was disgraced due to his behaviour and beliefs. 


 

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Compensation of Political Power

Compensation to British Plantation Owners

In 1837, following hundreds of years of enslavement and hundreds of thousands of lost lives, the House of Commons considered the cost of the Abolition of Slavery Act. 


 

The chart they used to calculate costs wasn’t merely about raw material sales in the colonies. It was used as the basis for calculating the sum of money that would be paid in compensation to plantation owners for their ‘loss of assets’. The assets were being calculated and given values based on the kind of work they did. 


 

Curiously, even enslaved people weren’t valued equally. In addition to being assigned varying values based on skill and work performed, they were valued differently depending on the colony in which they lived and laboured. 


 

Will we ever know what made an enslaved person in Honduras, Trinidad or British Guiana more valuable than one in Bermuda, the Bahamas or the Virgin Islands? Was ‘calculated worth’ based on the weight of work the enslaved person did, the number of acres they walked, hours they toiled or numbers of sugar cane stalks they cut? This propensity to value a person based on their production continues in managerial techniques today. How do we buy into systems that urge us to value ourselves and others by labour? 


 

The pounds sterling paid to British plantation owners in compensation for their loss of enslaved labour would swell their bank accounts - but at what price to the newly emancipated? Studies have shown that British taxpayers continued paying the compensation British enslavers earned right up until 2015? If you (or your parents) paid tax before 2015, then some of that money was incredibly used to profit those who had already profited from the labour of enslaved peoples.


 

 

Upon this Church

The Chapel above the Dungeon

In 2009, American President Barack Obama visited the Cape Coast Castle slave fort in Accra, Ghana. The Chicago Tribune noted, “The U.S. president was particularly struck by the fact that a church had stood over the dungeons where the male captives were kept, saying it "reminds us that sometimes we can tolerate and stand by great evil even as we think that we're doing good.""

Originally built by Swedish explorers in the 1650s, Cape Coast Castle shifted into Danish, Dutch, and then finally English possession in 1664. In the castle’s early decades, trade revolved around gold, wood, and textiles before British merchants began to seek captive Africans in large numbers. One of the additions under British control was a chapel on the upper levels that Europeans inhabited. It sat right above the dungeons where captured Africans were kept in despicable, cramped conditions until they were loaded onto boats for the Americas.

Which members of the Church of England were stationed at this chapel and how did they contribute to the nefarious activities that took place below? What was the nature of the relationship between the ‘traders’ of enslaved Africans at the fort and the church? How did Europeans benefit financially from the horrors of treating humans like objects? What is the lasting legacy of such behaviour? Has the Church ever properly confronted and admitted its role in the atrocities of trading in enslaved Africans?

 

Upon this Church

Acknowledging the Past: Abell, Liverpool's First Black Citizen

Very little is known about Liverpool's first recorded Black resident. Only his first name, Abell, is preserved in records.

It is believed Abell was an ex-enslaved African man who was brought to Liverpool and who eventually became an emancipated resident of the city. The record was discovered by Liverpool historian Laurence Westgaph in the Liverpool Parish Church records. The church has since changed names to the Church of Our Lady and St. Nicholas from the time Abell's death was registered in 1717. 

More than any other city in Britain, Liverpool itself thrived off the back of the transatlantic trade of enslaved people. In 100 years, the trade facilitated Liverpool's transformation from a fishing port of 5000 people in 1700, into a booming city with a population of 75,000 people in 1800.  

Throughout the 1700s, Liverpool earned a revenue of £300,000 (more than £46m in today's money) from activities in the trade of enslaved people. This amounted to more than the rest of Britains ports made in revenue combined.

The acknowledgement of Abell's status as Liverpool's first Black parisher over 300 years after his death, is part of an ongoing effort the city is making to face up to its colonialist past.

 

Upon this Church

The Code Noir and Christianity

In 1685, French King Louis XIV passed a decree called which governed the practice of slavery in the French colonies. This Code Noir was a set of laws which mandated the conversion of all enslaved people to Roman Catholicism, restricted the activities of free people of colour and defined the punishments for slaves, among other things. 

Although, King Louis XIV wasn’t initially in favour of slavery, he was eventually convinced in favour of it as a means to convert the so-called “savages” to Christianity.

The Code Noir is particularly insistent that all enslaved become baptised and all other religions are banned. The Church owned countless plantations in the Caribbean, and priests and nuns across the region had their own personal slaves.

Some of the islands in the French Caribbean were initially against Christianising the enslaved. In Barbados, for example, the early slaves brought from Africa were not permitted to become Christians. However, this changed over the years with the Church’s continued insistence on having a presence in the Caribbean.

Today, Guyana has the lowest number of Christians per capita at 57% due to the influx of other nationalities post slavery from India and Indonesia. The highest per capita is Grenada at 97.3% and Jamaica has more churches per square mile than any other country in the world. 

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean 

Upon this Church

The Negro Bible

An edited version of the Bible, known as “The Negro Bible” was used as a tool to manipulate enslaved people. In the standard protestant Bible, there are 1,189 chapters, the version for the enslaved contains only 232.

With 90% of the Bible omitted, the verses left behind spoke only of subserviences and turning the other cheek. It was used not only as a means to deter rebellions but also to demonise African religions, in an attempt to control gatherings of enslaved people and diminish attitudes of empowerment. 

The Church itself owned several plantations, as well as nuns, priests and pastors being private owners. Father LaBat, a French priest who spent a considerable amount of time in the Caribbean noted that the Church was the second largest entity of slave owners in Martinique.

Obeah, one of the African religions that travelled across the Atlantic, was made illegal in Jamaica in 1760 and across the rest of the Caribbean, as it was seen as encouraging the enslaved to resist enslavement.

The impact of these manipulations can still be seen today. Discussions of repealing Obeah laws in Jamaica - which is home to the most Christian churches per square mile in the world - came into force in 2019, where met with much opposition by Jamaicans, mostly of African descent, who see the African religion as ‘evil’ .


 

 

Upon this Church

How slavery in Dominica was founded on Christianity

The plantation system and enslavement was brought to the island of Dominica by a free Christian Black man, Jeannot Rolle. 

Originally from Martinique, he acquired a large portion of land from the Kalinago (the indigenous people of Dominica) where he began a plantation. 

The Kalinago asked him not to build any crucifixes on the island. He built one. They burned it. He built it again. They burned it again. They did so because they associated the cross with the suffering and genocide hat the Spanish Christians had brought to the island.

Rolle ‘owned’ enslaved people himself and he imported more to the island. He made them chisel a 7 foot crucifix out of stone, completely disrespecting the wishes of the indigenous people. It became known as “Le Belle Croix” (the beautiful cross) and still stands on the island today, 400 years later.

Dominica is unique in the Caribbean in that the systems for enslavement were started by a man of African descent.

Rolle lived a long and prosperous life breaching all the agreements on the contract, made lots of money and donated his land and much of his money he made from enslavement to the church; an institution that also owned enslaved people and plantations


 

 

Upon this Church

The Wretch of Amazing Grace

The hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ is incredibly well-known around the world. Written in 1772 by the poet and Anglican preacher, John Newton, the powerful themes of restoration, relief and redemption have resonated with people for over 250 years. 


 

What a lot of people do not know, however, are the links the hymn-writer had with the abhorrent trade in enslaved Africans. 


 

Newton, born in 1725, spent many of his early days working in the trade. Initially, he laboured on ships transporting enslaved people from the west coast of Africa to the Americas. Interestingly, he himself was once captured and became an enslaved person, forced to work for a Princess Peye for three years.” He referred to himself during this time as an “infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves”. Unfortunately, once he was rescued, he returned to the trade, demonstrating how pervasive this industry was in the eighteenth century. 


 

Rising through the ranks to become a captain, Newton continued to participate in the Middle Passage, considered by many to be one of the most harrowing aspects of the trade in enslaved Africans. By age 25, he captained several slaving voyages before quitting the trade due to health reasons at 29. 


 

Although he no longer personally worked in the industry, Newton continued to invest in the trade. It appears that, only after his conversion to Christianity and a considerable time had elapsed, did he realise how disgusting the treatment of enslaved people was to anyone with a conscience. He denounced the trade and became a strong abolitionist, publishing the pamphlet ‘Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade’ where he wrote about the horrors of the Middle Passage. 


 

Newton came into contact with William Wilberforce, a young Member of Parliament, who went on to successfully campaign for an end to the trade in enslaved Africans.  


 

As an Anglican priest and hymn writer, Newton can be said to have contributed positively to the abolition of the trade in enslaved people. Thankfully, he lived to see the law of abolition pass through parliament successfully, in 1807. 


 

 

Upon this Church

Justification Through Biblical Interpretation

It seems counterintuitive that the group of Protestants, who created the United States to practice their version of Christianity freely, could condone enslavement. However, many enslavement advocates in the US, Britain and other colonialist countries, used biblical scripture to justify enslavement. 

A popular passage at the time can be found in Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, VI, 5-7. It runs: 

'Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ'.

Another common justification amongst pro-enslavement camps was that the New Testament, with its much more forgiving and loving tone, did not condemn enslavement. 

This convenient interpretation of religious texts and values to quell guilt or doubts did not just extend to enslavers. One Bishop from the state of Georgia, Stephen Elliott (1806-1866), reflecting on the positive impacts of enslavement, boasted of the 'millions, who have learned the way to Heaven and who have been made to know their Savior through the means of African slavery!'

Frederick Douglas (1818-1895), an African-American abolitionist, writer and statesman was alive to the division in values these biblical and religious interpretations created. Commenting on how white churches had conducted their work, Douglas lamented: 'Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference'.

 

Upon this Church

Rituals During and After Enslavement

Despite many enslaved populations converting to Christianity, others managed to keep rituals from their homelands alive. Voodoo in Haiti, Santería in Cuba, obeah and myalism in Jamaican and Candomblé in Brazil all evolved from different African spiritual traditions. Adapted by the enslaved to environments and means, they eventually became their own independent traditions, whilst still being shrouded with elements of their ancestral practices.

Found today throughout the Caribbean islands and South and Central America, these spiritual practices not only played an important social role for enslaved people but also created a framework around which secret organisations could form and mount resistance against enslavers.

Following Tacky's Rebellion (1760-1761), in which a collection of Ghanaian ethnic groups coordinated an uprising in Jamaica, Obeah was outlawed. It had been with the council of practitioners of obeah that Tacky, the rebellion leader from the Fante ethnic group, had gone into battle. Due to fears of unification around the religion, Obeah was banned.

It was not only in Jamaica that the religious practice was made illegal. Anguilla, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia and Guyana all had laws making obeah a criminal practice until as recently as 2018. In Jamaica, where the vast majority of people are Christian, the country is now reluctant to allow the decriminalisation of Obeah, relating the practice to hostility and bad spirits.

 

[Dis]inheritance

Blockages to Black Ownership: Wealth, Property & Mixed-Race Children

The sexual abuse of enslaved women by the men who enslaved them was commonplace. These abuses are readily documented in the diaries and more strikingly in the public writings of slave owners.

One interesting phenomenon is that occasionally, European slave owners bequeathed their property, or granted manumission to their mixed-race children or the women they had taken as lovers in the event of their death. Some 38% of 40 wills brought before the Assembly included masters’ wishes to leave property to their illegitimate children and mistresses.

This trend became an important issue with the white-controlled Assembly, which collectively wanted to maintain European control over wealth in the colonies. They initiated The Deficiency Act of 1715 which excluded free Black and mixed-race people from holding supervisory positions on estates or plantations. The law stipulated that even as a Black or mixed-race property owner, it was against the law to hire Black or mixed-race people for supervisory or managerial positions.

In addition to the Deficiency Act in 1761, the Assembly attempted to limit generational wealth for mixed-race and Black people. They did this by passing legislation prohibiting whites from leaving real estate or personal property worth more than £1,200 to anyone who was not white.

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

[Dis]inheritance

Hans Sloane And The Birth Of The British Museum

Today, the British Museum is a public institution dedicated to art, history and culture, comprising millions of works and artefacts which document the story of human existence from its beginnings to the present day. However, the story of the British Museum itself is one that is inextricably linked to the exploitation of enslaved people and the European pursuit of power, status and wealth.

Hans Sloane was a physician and collector, born in 1660, who worked for the Governor of Jamaica, Duke of Albemarle,spending 15 months in Jamaica, as well as some time in St.Kitts and Barbados.

The months Sloane spent witnessing the harsh realities of enslaved people did nothing to change his perception of people of African descent or deter his mission as a collector and a man moving up the social ranks in British society. His writings from the time reflect his sentiments:

‘After they are whip’t (sic) till they are raw, some put on their skins pepper and salt to make them smart … they put iron rings of great weight on their ankles ... these punishments are sometimes merited by the blacks, who are a very perverse generation of people.’

However, it was thanks to the help of enslaved Africans in his explorations athat Sloane had knowledge and access to the thousands of specimens he documented. Following the death of the Duke, Sloane left Jamaica bringing with him thousands of artefacts, including a switch for beating made from palm, a noose for ‘catching game or hanging runaway slaves’, a coat worn by a runaway, and whip made from manatee skin.

Sloane married the daughter of a wealthy Jamaican slave owner, inhertiting a third of the plantation’s wealth at the peak of the sugar industry. This money was used to continue investing in the trade of enslaved people via the South Sea Company, which in turn funded the expansion of his collection. 

A doctor to many of Britain’s elite, including Queen Anne, Sloane’s wealth grew, along with his collection, filling up two houses in London’s prestigious Bloomsbury. His collection was eventually sold to the British Government for £20,000 (millions in today’s money) with a view to setting up a museum. This is how the British Museum was born, with 55,000 books, thousands of coins and other artefacts, some of which are also in the Natural History Museum.

Sloane’s influence can still be seen today. His bust sat in the entrance of the British Museum until 2020 until it was removed during the Black Lives Matter protests. His descendants still own his residence which is valued at tens of millions, and Sloane Square and Hans Crescent, named in his honour, still exist today. Almost three centuries later, his legacy of abuse, enlightenment and entitlement lives on.

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean

[Dis]inheritance

Literacy and Liberty: Funding Education In The British Caribbean

Educating the enslaved and formerly enslaved was low on the priority list for the European plantocracy and government, whose primary focus was to exploit as much money from the colonies and repress any potential uprisings. Education initiatives were few and fleeting, driven only by religious groups and evangelical missionaries who wanted to further the spread of Christianity.

Many trade schools erected under the guise of educating the formerly enslaved, focused on skills such as ‘husbandry’ (breeding crops and animals) and other trades which kept them dependent on the plantation system which had been so profitable for Britain for so long. This limited education system made it hugely difficult for formerly enslaved and their descendants to gain financial literacy and independence. 

The Emancipation Act marked the beginning of the Imperial Government financing education in the colonies for the formerly enslaved and through the Negro Education Grant. Following the Emancipation bill in 1833 and incorporating Christian beliefs for the first few years, the Negro Education Grant was only initially available to Christian factions in the colonies 1835 to 1845, who used it to build schools with selective subjects on offer.

During the apprenticeship period (1834-38), the idea was that the ex-enslaved could be satisfactorily prepared for the apparently ‘onerous’ burden of emancipation and comprehend the necessary skills, qualities, and virtues, thus becoming a “grateful peasantry.”

In less than two decades (1823-1841) the number of schools open to black people in Jamaica grew from just three to more than 180 day schools, along with 100 sabbath schools and 25 evening schools for adults.

In 1900, Barbados had only eight secondary schools, with a total enrollment of 532 students. As of 2019, 23,000 students are enrolled at this level representing 95% of the age group 11+ to 16+ with 33 secondary schools. Barbados now boasts the second highest literacy rate per capita in the world at 99.6%.

The islands of St Lucia, Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines each had no more than two secondary schools when they gained independence in the 1970s. Now, those numbers have grown to 26, 22 and 26 respectively. 

Change took time but the education system in the British Caribbean has totally transformed post-independence. Today, there are more than 150 higher education institutions, of which around 60% are publicly or nationally funded and 30% partially funded.

 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean 

Fiona Compton - Know Your Caribbean 

[Dis]inheritance

US Land Ownership

After emancipation from slavery, many African Americans turned to farming for their livelihood. By 1910, Black farmers owned around 16 to 19 million acres of land in the USHowever, whether through systemic discrimination, legal loopholes, or even extreme violence, Black land ownership has been on a steady decline ever since.

Formerly enslaved people in the late 19th century were still excluded from much of the legal process. This meant that even after securing land, they were not able to write wills. Their descendants, then, inherited land without titles and were subject to the Heirs Property Law which restricted them from getting a mortgage or applying for state or federal housing. Additionally, there were often multiple heirs throughout the country. Any heir could choose to independently sell their share and, gradually, Black farms were lost to property developers.

The Federal Government contributed to this decline through the practice of Redlining. Made common during the 1930s New Deal era, Redlining meant that neighbourhoods with Black populations were denied government funding or mortgages as they were considered too risky for investment. Private lenders began using the same logic, preventing Black buyers from qualifying for loans from banks.

Violence undermined Black ownership of property too, the most famous example being the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. Resenting Black economic success, white mobs looted and burned the thriving town of Greenwood to the ground. Greenwood spanned three blocks and was home to Black businesses including a hotel, restaurants, schools, and retail. At the end of the attack, over 300 residents had been killed and nearly 10,000 people made homeless. The property damage was over US $1.8million, equivalent to US $27million today. 

To this day, Black land ownership has never recovered to its 1910 peak, and the ramifications of racist practices and events are still felt through America.

 

[Dis]inheritance

William Hardin Burnley: Intergenerational Wealth Through Exploitation

The story of William Hardin Burnley tells of the enormous intergenerational wealth increased through enslaved labour. Born in New York in 1780, Burnley inherited a vast sum when his father died. The London merchant family received an estate of £120,000 (equivalent to £14.6 million today).

Burnley had the largest population of enslaved people in Trinidad. His inherited wealth was advantageous, but he also conspired with the Chief Justice of Trinidad, George Smith, to steal property. The 15 or more plantations Burnley owned were worked by over 1,000 enslaved Africans. Burnley developed political stances which supported his enslaver financial interests. He was pro corporal punishment for the enslaved, anti-emancipation, pro compensation for "loss of labour” upon abolition and supported the eventual scheme to bring people from India and surrounding countries to Trinidad. These were to replace emancipated enslaved Africans.

Burnley's wealth was created from the exploitation of the free labour of enslaved African and Asian people. Following emancipation, he received a significant sum compensating him for the loss of labour. Having benefitted from a large family inheritance and increased his wealth by becoming an owner of multiple plantations, Burnley was able to pass on enormous wealth to his progeny. On his death in 1904, one of William's sons, Joseph Hume Burnley, left an estate worth over £190,000 (£23.7 million today).

The tremendous advantage delivered by intergenerational wealth – much of it gained from the exploitation of the enslaved, and compensation granted upon emancipation – continues to confer an advantage to the descendants of enslavers, even today.