Slavery in Africa

From the middle of the 15th century, Africa entered into a unique relationship with Europe that led to the devastation and the depopulation of Africa, but contributed to the wealth and development of Europe. From then until the end of the 19th century, Europeans began to establish a trade for African captives. At first this trafficking only supplemented a trade in human beings that already existed within Europe, in which Europeans had enslaved each other. Some enslaved Africans had also reached Europe, the Middle East and other parts of the world before the mid-15th century, as a result of a trade in human beings that had also long existed in Africa. The Portuguese first began to kidnap people from the west coast of Africa and to take those they enslaved back to Europe. It is estimated that by the early 16th century as much as 10 per cent of Lisbon’s, (Portugal) population was of African descent. Many of these African captives crossed the Sahara and reached Europe and other destinations from North Africa, or were transported across the Indian Ocean.

Abolition of Slavery

The transatlantic slave trade began during the 15th century when Portugal, and subsequently other European kingdoms, was finally able to expand overseas and reach Africa. After the European discovery of the American continent, the demand for African labour gradually grew, as other sources of labour – both European and American – were found to be insufficient. The Spanish took the first African captives to the New World from Europe as early as 1503, and by 1518 the first captives were shipped directly from Africa to America. The majority of African captives were exported from the coast of West Africa, some 3,000 miles between what is now Senegal and Angola, and mostly from the modern Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon

 Historians still debate exactly how many Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic during the next four centuries. A comprehensive database compiled in the late 1990s puts the figure at just over 11 million people. Of those, fewer than 9.6 million survived the so-called middle passage across the Atlantic, due to the inhuman conditions in which they were transported, and the violent suppression of any on-board resistance. Many people who were enslaved in the African interior country also died on the long journey to the coast. The total number of Africans taken from the continent’s east coast and enslaved in the Arab world is estimated to be somewhere between 9.4 million and 14 million. These figures are imprecise due to the absence of written records. The forced removal of up to 25 million people from the continent obviously had a major effect on the growth of the population in Africa. It is now estimated that in the period from 1500 to 1900, the population of Africa remained stagnant or declined. Africa was the only continent to be affected in this way, and this loss of population and potential population was a major factor leading to its economic underdevelopment.

The transatlantic trade also created the conditions for the subsequent colonial conquest of Africa by the European powers and the unequal relationship that still exist between Africa and the world’s big powers today. Africa was impoverished by its relationship with Europe while the human and other resources that were taken from Africa contributed to the capitalist development and wealth of Europe and other parts of the world.

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The unequal relationship that was gradually created as a consequence of the enslavement of Africans was justified by the ideology of racism – the notion that Africans were naturally inferior to Europeans. This ideology, which was also perpetuated by colonialism, is one of the most significant legacies of this period of history.

 West Africa before European intervention

Africa’s economic and social development before 1500 may arguably have been ahead of Europe’s. It was gold from the great empires of West Africa, Ghana, Mali and Songhay that provided the means for the economic take-off of Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries and aroused the interest of Europeans in western Africa. In the 14th century, the West African empire of Mali was larger than Western Europe and reputed to be one of the richest and most powerful states in the world. When the emperor of Mali, Mansa Musa visited Cairo in 1324, it was said that he took so much gold with him that its price fell dramatically and had not recovered its value even 12 years later. The empire of Songhay was known, among other things, for the University of Sankore based in Timbuktu.

 African Enslavers

Historians have long debated how and why African kingdoms and merchants entered into a trade that was so disadvantageous to Africa and its inhabitants. Some have argued that slavery was endemic at that time in Africa and that, therefore, a demand from Europe quickly led to the development of an organised trade. Others have queried the use of the term ‘slave’ when referring to servitude in African societies, arguing that many of those designated slaves by Europeans had definite rights, and could sometimes own property or rise to public office.

 Africans could become slaves as punishment for a crime, as payment for a family debt, or most commonly of all, by being captured as prisoners of war. With the arrival of European and American ships offering trading goods in exchange for people, Africans had an added incentive to enslave each other, often by kidnapping. There is no doubt that Europeans were not capable of venturing inland to capture the millions of people who were transported from Africa. In the areas where slavery was not practised, such as among the Xhosa people of southern Africa, European captains were unable to buy slaves. On the African side, the slave trade was generally the business of rulers or wealthy and powerful merchants, concerned with their own selfish or narrow interests, rather than those of the continent. At that time, there was no concept of being African.

 African Continent

Rich and powerful Africans were able to demand a variety of consumer articles and in some places even gold for captives, who may have been acquired through warfare or by other means, initially without massive disruption to African societies. However, by the mid-17th century the European demand for captives, particularly for the sugar plantations in the Americas, became so great that they could only be acquired through initiating raiding and warfare. There is no doubt that some societies preyed on others to obtain captives in exchange for European firearms, in the belief that if they did not acquire firearms in this way to protect themselves, they would be attacked and captured by their rivals and enemies who did possess such weapons.

 African Resistance

However, some African rulers did attempt to resist the devastation of the European demand for captives. As early as 1526, King Afonso of Kongo, who had previously enjoyed good relations with the Portuguese, complained to the king of Portugal that Portuguese slave traders were kidnapping his subjects and depopulating his kingdom.In 1630, Queen Njingha Mbandi of Ndongo (in modern Angola) attempted to drive the Portuguese out of her realm, but was finally forced to compromise with them. In 1720, King Agaja Trudo of Dahomey not only opposed the trade, but even went as far as to attack the forts that the European powers had constructed on the coast. But his need for firearms forced him to reach an agreement with the European slave traders.

Other African leaders such as Donna Beatriz Kimpa Vita in Kongo and Abd al-Qadir, in what is now northern Senegal, also urged resistance against the forced export of Africans.

Many others, especially those who were threatened with enslavement, as well as those held captive on the coast, rebelled against enslavement and this resistance continued during the middle passage. It is now thought that there were rebellions on at least 20 percent of all slave ships crossing the Atlantic.

The African Diaspora

The transatlantic slave trade led to the greatest forced migration of a human population in history. Millions of Africans were transported to the Caribbean, North and South America, as well as Europe and elsewhere. An ‘African Diaspora’ or dispersal of Africans outside Africa was created in the modern world. Those in the Diaspora have often maintained links with the African continent, while forming an important part, and sometimes the majority, of new nations. Africans from the continent and the Diaspora have sometimes organised together for their common pan-African concerns, against slavery or colonial rule for example, and so over time a pan-African consciousness and various pan-African movements have developed.

In recent years the African Union, the organisation of African states, has recognised that the Diaspora, as well as Africans from the continent, must be fully represented in its discussions and decision making.

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 Britain and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

The British were actively involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Forms of slavery were practised in British settlements and colonies, particularly in the Caribbean and North America, for around 200 years. Britain was not the first country to enter the slave trade itself, nor the last to leave it. But during the time that Britain was involved (between 1660 and 1807) it turned the trade into a profitable business more than any other nation. At the height of the trade in the 18th century British ships carried more Africans than those of any other maritime nation. It is estimated that these ships transported over 3.1 million Africans across the Atlantic to the Americas. Approximately 2.7 million arrived – the others died during the notorious Middle Passage.

The Colonies

The British first successfully settled in the Americas in 1607 and in the Caribbean in 1623. Although Africans were among the early settlers it is uncertain what their exact status was – whether free settlers, indentured servants or slaves. Dutch planters from Brazil introduced sugar agriculture and African slaves to Barbados in 1640. It soon became apparent how much economic wealth could be gained from sugar. British colonies rapidly converted from predominantly white European settlements with small-scale agriculture aimed at domestic produce to slave colonies employing thousands of African slaves on large, white-owned plantations producing monoculture crops, mainly for export. It is estimated that 361,000 Africans were transported to the North American colonies and another 2.2 million to the Caribbean. The Atlantic slave trade, also called Triangle trade, encompassed the trafficking in slaves by British merchants who exported manufactured goods from ports such as Bristol and Liverpool, sold or exchanged these for slaves in West Africa (where the African chieftain hierarchy was tied to slavery), and shipped the slaves to British colonies and other Caribbean countries or the American colonies. There traders sold or exchanged the slaves for rum and sugar (in the Caribbean) and tobacco and rice (in the American South), which they took back to British ports. The merchants traded in three places with each round-trip. Political influence against the inhumanity of the slave trade grew strongly in the late 18th century.

In 1772, Lord Mansfield’s judgement in the Somersett’s Case emancipated a slave in England, which helped launch the movement to abolish slavery. While slavery was unsupported by law in England and Scotland and no authority could be exercised on slaves entering English or Scottish soil, this did not yet apply to the rest of the British Empire.

At the time, England had no naturalization procedure. The African slaves’ legal status was unclear until 1772 and the Somersett’s Case, when the fugitive slave James Somersett forced a legal decision. Somersett had escaped, and his master, Charles Steuart, had him captured and imprisoned on board a ship, intending to ship him to Jamaica to be resold into slavery. While in London, Somersett had been baptised; three godparents issued a writ of habeas corpus. As a result, Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of the Court of the King’s Bench, had to judge whether Somersett’s abduction was legal or not under English Common Law. No legislation had ever been passed to establish slavery in England. The case received national attention, and five advocates defended Somersett.

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In his judgment of 22 June 1772, Mansfield declared:

“The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasions, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory. It is so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law. Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from a decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged.”

 Abolitionist Movement

 Although the exact legal implications of the judgement are unclear when analysed by lawyers, it was generally taken at the time to have determined that slavery did not exist under English common law and was thus prohibited in England.The decision did not apply to other British territories; by then, for example, the American colonies had established slavery by positive laws.The Somersett’s case became a significant part of the common law of slavery in the English-speaking world, and it helped launch the movement to abolish slavery.

After reading about the Somersett’s Case, Joseph Knight, an enslaved African who had been purchased by his master John Wedderburn in Jamaica and brought to Scotland, left him. Married and with a child, he filed a freedom suit, on the grounds that he could not be held as a slave in Great Britain. In the case of Knight v. Wedderburn (1778), Wedderburn said that Knight owed him “perpetual servitude”. The Court of Sessions of Scotland ruled against him, saying that chattel slavery was not recognised under the law of Scotland, and slaves could seek court protection to leave a master or avoid being forcibly removed from Scotland to be returned to slavery in the colonies.

But at the same time, legally mandated, hereditary slavery of Scots persons in Scotland had existed from 1606 until 1799, when colliers and salters were legally emancipated by an act of the Parliament of Great Britain. Skilled workers, they were restricted to a place and could be sold with the works. A prior law enacted in 1775 was intended to end what the act referred to as “a state of slavery and bondage,” but it was ineffectual, necessitating the 1799 act. Some of the first freedom suits, court cases in the British Isles to challenge the legality of slavery, took place in Scotland from 1755 to 1778. The cases were Montgomery v. Sheddan (1755), Spens v. Dalrymple (1769), and Knight v. Wedderburn (1778). Each of the slaves had been baptized in Scotland and challenged the legality of slavery. They set the precedent of legal procedure in British courts that would later lead to successful outcomes for the plaintiffs. In the first two cases, deaths of the plaintiff and defendant, respectively, brought an end before court decisions. The Knight case was decided in favour of the plaintiff, the former slave.

In 1783, an anti-slavery movement began among the British public. That year a group of Quakers founded the first British abolitionist organization. The Quakers continued to be influential throughout the lifetime of the movement, in many ways leading the campaign. On 17 June 1783, Sir Cecil Wray (Member of Parliament for Westminster) presented the Quaker petition to parliament. Also in 1783, Dr Beilby Porteus issued a call to the Church of England to cease its involvement in the slave trade and to formulate a policy to improve the conditions of Afro-Caribbean slaves. The exploration of the African continent, by such British groups as the African Association (1788), promoted the abolitionists’ cause. Such expeditions highlighted the legitimate, complex cultures of Africans; before the Europeans had considered them “other” and “uncivilized.” The African Association had close ties with William Wilberforce, who became known as a prominent figure in the battle for abolition in the British Empire.

Despite the ending of slavery in Great Britain, the United States continued to rely on it as an institution in the South, and the West Indian colonies of the British Empire also kept slavery.

In 1785, English poet William Cowper wrote:

“We have no slaves at home – Then why abroad? Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs receive our air, that moment they are free. They touch our country, and their shackles fall. That’s noble, and bespeaks a nation proud. And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then, and let it circulate through every vein.”

One aspect of the history of abolitionism during this period was the effective use of images such as the famous Wedgewood medallion of 1787 and the engraving showing the horrific layout of the infamous slave ship, “The Brooks”. In 1796, John Gabriel Stedman published the memoirs of his five-year voyage to the Dutch-controlled Surinam in South America as part of a military force sent out to subdue former slaves living in the inlands. The book is critical of the treatment of slaves and contains many images by William Blake and Francesco Bartolozzi depicting the cruel treatment of runaway slaves. It was an example of what became a large body of abolitionist literature.


Growth of the movement

William Wilberforce (1759–1833), politician and philanthropist was a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade, the ‘Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade’ in 1787; Wilberforce led the cause of abolition through the parliamentary campaign. It finally abolished the slave trade in the British Empire with the Slave Trade Act 1807. He continued to campaign for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, which he lived to see in the ‘Slavery Abolition Act 1833.’

People of both European and African ethnicity worked for abolition of the slave trade and slavery. Well-known abolitionists in Britain included James Ramsay, who had seen the cruelty of the trade at first hand; the Unitarian William Roscoe who courageously campaigned for parliament in the port city of Liverpool for which he was briefly M.P., Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood, who produced the ”Am I Not A Man And A Brother ?” Medallion for the Committee; and other members of the Clapham Sect. The latter made up most of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, and were the first to present a petition against the slave trade to the British Parliament. As Dissenters, Quakers were not eligible to become British MPs in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Anglican evangelist William Wilberforce led the parliamentary campaign. Clarkson became the group’s most prominent researcher, gathering vast amounts of data, and gaining firsthand accounts by interviewing sailors and former slaves at British ports such as Bristol, Liverpool and London.

Africans also played an important part in the abolition movement. In Britain, Olaudah Equiano (c1745–1797), whose autobiography was published in nine editions in his lifetime, campaigned tirelessly against the slave trade. He was one of the most prominent Africans involved in the British debate for the abolition of the slave trade.

Ignatius Sancho (c1729–1780) gained fame in his time as “the extraordinary Negro”. To 18th-century British abolitionists, he became a symbol of the humanity of Africans and immorality of the slave trade.


Mainly because of Thomas Clarkson’s efforts, a network of local abolition groups was established across England. They campaigned through public meetings and the publication of pamphlets and petitions. One of the earliest books promoted by Clarkson and the ‘Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade’ was the autobiography of the freed slave Olaudah Equiano. The movement had support from such freed slaves, from many denominational groups such as Swedenborgians, Quakers, Baptists, Methodists and others. They reached out for support from the new industrial workers of the cities in the midlands and north of England. Even women and children, previously un-politicised groups, became involved in the campaign. At this time, women often had to hold separate meetings as there were social rules against their appearing in public meetings. They could not vote, nor could the majority of the men in Britain at the time.

The abolitionists negotiated with chieftains in West Africa to purchase land to establish ‘Freetown’ – a settlement for former slaves of the British Empire (the Poor Blacks of London) and the United States. Great Britain had promised freedom to American slaves who left rebel owners to join its cause during the American Revolutionary War. It evacuated thousands of slaves together with its troops and transported 3,000 Black Loyalists to Nova Scotia for resettlement. About a decade later, they were offered a chance to resettle in Freetown, and several hundred made the move. Freetown was the first settlement of the colony of Sierra Leone, which was protected under a British Act of Parliament in 1807–8. British influence in West Africa grew through a series of negotiations with local chieftains to end trading in slaves. These included agreements to permit British navy ships to intercept chieftains’ ships to ensure their merchants were not carrying slaves.

The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed on 25 March 1807. However, ships that had lawfully been cleared to leave British ports before 1 May 1807 could trade until 1 March 1808. It is estimated that 34 ships left British ports for Africa after 1 May; the last slaves’ ship, the ‘Eliza’, left Liverpool on 16 August 1807. Several ships (including the Eliza) disembarked their slaves in February 1808. There is evidence that at least two ships legally traded after the 1 March deadline because they had been captured. These included the ‘Robert’, which arrived in Martinique (under British control) on 12 March, and ‘Royal Edwards’, which arrived in Surinam (also under British control) with 316 slaves on 3 October. Throughout the duration of the transatlantic slave trade (started by the Portuguese in 1519 and ended in 1867) it is estimated that around 11 million Africans boarded ships to be transported to the Caribbean and America. Roughly 9.6 million survived the voyage to be sold into enslavement in the plantations, estates, mines and households of mainly European settlers.

Main points of the Act

Slavery was officially abolished in most of the British Empire on 1 August 1834. In practical terms, however, only slaves below the age of six were freed in the colonies, as all former slaves over the age of six were redesignated as “apprentices”, which was abolished in two stages; the first set of apprenticeships came to an end on 1 August 1838, while the final apprenticeships were scheduled to cease on 1 August 1840. The Act also included the right of compensation for slave-owners who would be losing their property. The amount of money to be spent on the compensation claims was set at “the Sum of Twenty Millions Pounds Sterling”.Under the terms of the Act the British government raised £20 million to pay out in compensation for the loss of the slaves as business assets to the registered owners of the freed slaves. The names listed in the returns for slave compensation show that ownership was spread over many hundreds of British families, many of them of high social standing. For example, Henry Phillpotts (then the Bishop of Exeter), in a partnership with three business colleagues, received £12,700 for 665 slaves in the West Indies.The majority of men and women who were awarded compensation under the 1833 Abolition Act are listed in a Parliamentary Return, entitled Slavery Abolition Act, which is an account of all moneys awarded by the Commissioners of Slave Compensation in the Parliamentary Papers.

In all, the government paid out over 5,000 separate awards. The £20 million fund was 40% of the government’s total annual expenditure.

The Slave Trade Act was passed by the British Parliament on 25 March 1807, making the slave trade illegal throughout the British Empire. The Act imposed a fine of £100 for every slave found aboard a British ship. In 1808, after Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act of 1807, the Royal Navy established the West Africa Squadron. Having been the largest slaving nation, Britain became a determined abolitionist power after 1833, using the Royal Navy to stop ships suspected of being slavers. The squadron’s task was to suppress the Atlantic slave trade by patrolling the coast of West Africa. It did suppress the slave trade, but did not stop it entirely. At a time when Napoleon decided to revive slavery, which had been abolished during the French Revolution, and to send his troops to re-enslave the people of Haiti, ground with their prohibition of the slave trade. The act’s intention was to entirely outlaw the slave trade within the British Empire, but the lucrative trade continued through smuggling. Sometimes captains at risk of being caught by the Royal Navy would throw slaves into the sea to reduce their fines. In 1827, Britain defined participation in the slave trade as piracy and punishable by death. Between 1808 and 1860, the Royal Navy’s West Africa Squadron seized approximately 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans who were aboard.Britain took action against African leaders who refused to agree to British treaties to outlaw the trade, for example, in 1851 it deposed “the usurping King of Lagos”. Britain signed anti-slavery treaties with more than 50 African rulers.

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East African enslaved people released from a dhow by HMS Daphne,
1 November 1868 – National Archives

Notwithstanding what had been done to suppress the trade, further measures were soon discovered to be necessary, and in 1823, the Anti-Slavery Society was founded. Members included Joseph Sturge, Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce,Henry Brougham, Thomas Fowell Buxton, Elizabeth Heyrick, Mary Lloyd, Jane Smeal, Elizabeth Pease and Anne Knight.

During the Christmas holiday of 1831, a large-scale slave revolt in Jamaica known as the ‘Baptist War’ broke out. It was organised originally as a peaceful strike by Baptist minister Samuel Sharpe. The rebellion was suppressed by the militia of the Jamaican plantocracy and the British garrison ten days later in early 1832. Because of the loss of property and life in the 1831 rebellion, the British Parliament held two inquiries. The results of these inquiries contributed greatly to the abolition of slavery with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

Mauritius and Sir John Jeremie

Sir John Jeremie (1795 – 23 April 1841) was a British judge and diplomat, Chief Justice of Saint Lucia and Governor of Sierra Leone. When the ‘Ganges’, the ship which was bringing Sir John Jeremie to Mauritius approached our shores in 1832, almost all people of Mauritius of French descent organized a general strike until Sir Jeremie was expelled from the country. Openly defying the Government, the plantocracy, which had a well-organized and heavily armed militia, completely locked out the country for 45 days. Jeremie was appointed the procurer and advocate general of the island of Mauritius in 1832, but this was a very difficult appointment. In 1830, the Governor Sir Charles Colville reported that there was a great deal of bad feeling against His Majesty’s Government continues to prevail and shew itself here… there is an almost total cessation in the payment of taxes…Sir Jeremie arrived there in June 1832, and the hostility to him as a known abolitionist was very difficult to handle. It took an armed escort to get him off his boat after trying to leave for two days. The judges refused to turn up to appoint him, and he was attacked by a mob in the street.

citadelle MAURITIUS

 “A reign of terror prevailed and those who would not play the game had to bear the brunt of the insurgents who even offered considerable amount of food to the poorer sections of the coloured population to incite them into participating in the mob movements”.

Sir Charles Colville ordered him home, but he was sent out again when he arrived back in Great Britain. Governor Charles Colville, who was incompetent in dealing with the slave owners, expelled Jeremie from the country on the 28 July 1832 while he only arrived on 3rd June of the same year. Moreover, once in England Jeremie exposed his most risky enterprise to influence members of the British Anti Slavery Society and he obtained the permission to return to Mauritius on 29 April 1833. This humiliation to Sir Jeremie was however extremely unwelcome by the British government who considered it to be an equal disgrace for the central government.

In 1833 he charged the judges with bias and involvement with slavery. The governor failed to support him, and he resigned again and left on 28 October 1833.  Jeremie could see that slavery would be illegal soon, and he predicted that other existing laws predicated on colour prejudice would be a source of further ill feeling. He petitioned to have the respective laws revoked.

Ten years ago a legal distinction broad and galling existed between the free classes throughout our negro colonies - the distinction of colour It was said to be interwoven with the whole frame work of society and inexpugnable …

He undoubtedly helped in bringing order back to the country thanks to the appointment of Governor Nicolay and helped hasten the abolition of slavery in 1835. His detailed report of the situation in Mauritius in his book ‘Recent events at Mauritius’, printed in 1835, testifies how far our own people have gone in their endeavour in maintaining, against all odds, a system which was keeping other human beings in an abject state of slavery.

“Within the last three years he has traversed fifty thousand miles encountered the assassin on shore and the pirate at sea for ten years has it been his fate to face in the service of the crown every peril to which life is subject whether from the ocean from climate or the hand of man.”

The imposing ‘La Citadelle’,(Fort Adelaide) built between 1834 and 1840, in view of suppressing revolts among the inhabitants of Port Louis is a reminiscent of the determining chapter Sir John Jeremie wrote in our history. (La Citadelle, see interesting places)

Sir John Jeremie was given an award in 1836 for advancing “negro freedom” after accusing the judges in Mauritius of bias.He understood that colour prejudice and slavery were different problems.

Slavery Abolition Act 1833 (Emancipation Bill) Slavery was abolished on 1 August 1834 but only children under the age of six were freed immediately under the terms of the 1833 Emancipation Act. Slaves in the Bahamas and Antigua were also freed at this point. All other former slaves were bound, as apprentices, to their former masters for periods up to a further six years. Laws were passed in the Bahamas and Antigua to abolish the apprenticeship clause, with political and public pressure forcing the other colonies including Mauritius to follow suit on 1 August 1838.


For this reason 1838 is often considered to be the date that slavery was abolished in the Caribbean. African slaves were not bought or sold in London but were brought by masters from other areas. Together with people from other nations, especially non-Christian, Africans were considered foreigners, not able to be English subjects.

As a notable exception to the rest of the British Empire, the Act did not “extend to any of the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company, or to the Island of Ceylon, or to the Island of Saint Helena.”

On 28 August 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was given Royal Assent, which paved the way for the abolition of slavery within the British Empire and its colonies. On 1 August 1834, all slaves in the British Empire were emancipated, but they were indentured to their former owners in an apprenticeship system that meant gradual abolition: the first set of apprenticeships came to an end on 1 August 1838, while the final apprenticeships were scheduled to cease on 1 August 1840, six years later.

On 1 August 1834, as the Governor in Port of Spain, Trinidad addressed an audience about the new laws; the mostly elderly, unarmed slaves began chanting: “Pas de six ans. Point de six ans” (“Not six years. No six years”), drowning out his voice. Peaceful protests continued until the government passed a resolution to abolish apprenticeship and the slaves gained de facto freedom. Full emancipation for all slaves was legally granted on 1 August 1838, ahead of schedule, making Trinidad the first British slave society to fully end slavery.The government set aside £20 million for compensation of slave owners for their “property” across the Empire, but it did not offer the former slaves compensation or reparations.


Campaigning after the Act

In 1839, the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society attempted to outlaw slavery in other countries and also to pressure the government to help enforce the suppression of the slave trade by declaring slave traders pirates and pursuing them. A successor organisation to the Anti-Slavery Society was formed in London in 1839, which worked to outlaw slavery in other countries. Its official name was the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.The world’s oldest active international human rights organisation, which until today continues its work as Anti-Slavery International.’

Mauritius Celebrate the Abolition

Abolition of slavery was officially marked, by the government of Mauritius for the first time in 150 years, in 1985 with an official national celebration. The festivities included the unveiling of a new monument in Pointe Canon, Mahebourg, in the South East of Mauritius. The monument is a column on a pedestal. Its central component is the stone disc on top, which shows fists breaking the chains that bound them. Until recently, this monument was the site for the annual official celebrations on 1 February, the day slavery was abolished in Mauritius.


Edited by SkyBlue Global Ltd.
References & acknowledgements:
Africa and the Transatlantic Slave Trade by Dr Hakim Adi
‘Abolition History’ bbc.co.uk
National Archives.gov.uk
A comprehensive history of Mauritius by Sydney Selvom.

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