British Slave Ownership Website With Searchable Database Launched

On Wednesday, February 27, 2013, a new website was launched that deals with British slave ownership. The database itself is to about 46,000 slave-owners or others who benefited indirectly from that ownership who filed claims and the awards made to the slave-owners & other beneficiaries.

The following is from the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership website:

In 1833 Parliament finally abolished slavery in the British Caribbean, Mauritius and the Cape. The slave trade had been abolished in 1807 but it took another 26 years to effect the emancipation of the enslaved. The legislation of 1833 was the result of a combination of factors – doubts amongst the financial and commercial sectors as to the long-term economic benefits of slavery as Eric Williams suggested long ago in Capitalism and Slavery, the sustained resistance of enslaved people, culminating in the major rebellion in Jamaica of Christmas 1831, and the campaign for abolition that gathered huge popular support across the United Kingdom. Despite all this the final negotiations between the British state and the West India interest – the main grouping defending the interests of the slave owners – were protracted because of the vested interests represented both in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The negotiated settlement brought emancipation – but only with the system of apprenticeship tying the newly freed men and women into another form of unfree labour for fixed terms, and the grant of £20 million in compensation, to be paid by the British taxpayers to slave owners.

That compensation money provided the starting point for our project. A commissioned group of officials were appointed by Parliament to determine who should receive what and on what basis. They carefully documented all claims made and all monies disbursed. The effect of this is that there is an extraordinary set of records, held in the National Archives at Kew, of the claimants and of the men, women and children that owners claimed as their ‘property’ and the monetary values that were assigned to them. If the claims were validated, having been checked in the relevant colonies, the owner received compensation. The amounts were fixed according to the classification of each individual – their gender, age, type of work and level of skill – and the level of productivity, and therefore profitability, of the different islands and territories. The average value of a slave in British Guiana (now Guyana), for example, was judged to be considerably higher than that in Jamaica. The compensation records also provide us with a snapshot of slave owners in 1834, in Britain as well as the Caribbean, Mauritius and the Cape. From Nick Draper’s initial research, The Price of Emancipation (Cambridge University Press, 2010), it is clear that approximately half of the £20 million stayed in Britain

It is the £10 million paid in compensation money in Britain, and the slave owners who received it, that our first project was focused upon. We know that in addition to the many absentee planters, bankers and financiers directly concerned with the business of sugar and slavery, there were many other types of claimant: clergymen, for example, or the widows and single women, some of whom had been left property in the enslaved in trust. Slave ownership was spread across the British Isles, by no means confined to the old slaving ports, and included men and women of varied ages, ranging from the aristocracy and gentry to sections of the middle classes. Despite the popular enthusiasm for abolition, slave owners had no compunction in seeking compensation – apparently totally unembarrassed by this property that had been widely constructed by abolitionists as a ‘stain on the nation’. We have been investigating these people and tracking, in so far as it is possible, what they did with the money. Eric Williams believed that the slave trade and slavery provided not only essential demand for manufactures and supply of raw materials but also vital capital for the early phases of industrialisation. So far his hypothesis has been partially substantiated, for example through the histories of particular family firms.

Read more about the project, check the history, or search the database.

Search the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership Database.

Check out a few People of Interest, and their records.

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