For most learners it is often the individual stories that bring the past to life. Indeed overarching structures and ideas of a particular moment can sometimes only be fully appreciated through lived experiences. When considering the biographies of historical actors.
Just by way of an example – the life and struggles of the self-emancipated James Somerset are a case in point. His very existence in England in the 1770s caused havoc for those involved. An English legal system with little by the way of codified race laws was brought into conflict with a society which had constructed codified racial hierarchies both at home and abroad. Somerset’s biography thus reveals so much of the complex workings of race and colonialism at the time.
Students are therefore encouraged to use the ‘Key Figure Notetaker’ to follow the stories of historical actors in order to build a deeper appreciation of the history as a whole.
Historians are also included in this list – with a coloured background- to support students’ appreciation of different interpretations of this past. As most scholars of the British Empire will tell you, not only is a ‘balance-sheet’ approach (good vs. bad) incredibly frustrating for those still living with the legacies and ongoing impact of the British Empire, it’s boring. The debate just isn’t that lively beyond the comments page of a Niall Ferguson piece in the Telegraph.
Instead there is so much more interesting a debate ongoing about the nature, causes, changes and continuities of the British Empire and it’s ongoing significance. Specifically around the history of British rule in Jamaica during this period; debates over economics, race, politics and resistance spring out from the academic literature.
Students should therefore gain a meaningful appreciation of the active role they also play in reshaping our understandings of the past.
Anonymous Morant Bay Author(s)
The inspiration behind this enquiry.
In August 1865 an Anonymous placard was found, posted up on a tree in St-Thomas in the East, South East Jamaica. The placard read… Remember that, ” he only is free whom the truth makes free.” You are no longer slaves, but free men…
What happened from there became known as the Morant Bay War.
Born in 1942. An American historian who discussed the importance of various figures in the British Abolitionist movement in his 2005 book Bury the Chains. Hochschild emphasises the significance of the establishment of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in achieving abolition and in particular the roles played by Thomas Clarkson, Olaudah Equiano and Granville Sharp.t Bay War.
Associate Professor of African American Studies, Political Science, and Sociology – University of Essex (UK). Critical Race theorist who provides an analysis of how the constructions of racial hierarchies were constructed and reocnstructed as part of Transatlantic Slavery. Features in the BBC Four’s (2007) Racism: A History documentary.
Carl Frederik von Breda
(1759 – 1818). A Swedish painter who resided for a time in Great Britain and famously exhibited in 1789 at the Royal Academy in London with the title Portrait of a Swedish Gentleman instructing a Negro Prince. Von Breda’s portrait depicts a Swedish abolitionist liberating Peter Panah, son of the king of Cape Mesurado (in present-day Liberia) and tells us something about abolitionist ideas of race at the time.
Born 1946. A prominent historian focused on the 18th and 19th centuries, and the themes of gender, class, race and empire. Hall provides a response to both Williams’ decline thesis and Drescher’s econocide thesis. Instead Hall – as part of the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership Project – maps out the ongoing economic and political dominance of the ‘West Indian’ classes into the 19th century.
Born 1966. Former Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who in 2013 was shown to have had descendants who benefited from Slavery and the Slave Compensation scheme of the 1830s and 1840s. Has spoken about the history of the British Empire before in a positive manner that reflects large parts of the British population today.
Born 1972. A British Labour Party politician serving as Member of Parliament (MP) for Tottenham since 2000. Lammy provided a prominent critique of the government and home office during the ‘Windrush Scandal’ and emphasised links with the history of both Slavery and migration in the Caribbean.
(1734 – 1813). Edward Long was a Jamaican planter/ slave owner, pro-slavery activist and self-styled ‘Historian’. His ‘Histories’ – published in multiple volumes – were written soon after the Mansfield Judgement in the Somerset Case (1772). Although initially well read, his work became even more popular after the abolition of Slavery by racist theorists, scientists and philosophers in Britain such as Thomas Carlyle in 1847. Some even used it as justification for British colonialism in West Africa in the late 19th Century.
(1769 –1831). An English philanthropist and campaigner against the slave trade.
1824 she wrote a pamphlet entitled Immediate, not Gradual Abolition. Heyrick was almost as critical of the abolitionist establishment as she was of the West India planters, rounding upon the abolitionist establishment for its lack of immediacy in demanding emancipation.
(1911 – 1981). Anti-Colonial campaigner and the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, from 1962 until his death in 1981. He was also a noted Caribbean historian and in 1944 wrote Capitalism and Slavery, which argued that the Abolition of the Slave Trade only came after a decline in the profitability of Caribbean slave production for the British. He also – in The Negro in the Caribbean (1942) argued that there had been considerable continuities in the conditions of most Black peoples in the Caribbean even after their eventual emancipation in 1838.
Lieutenant General John Vaughan
(c. 1731 – 1795). A British soldier and a Member of Parliament in both the British and Irish Parliaments. In 1794 – as the revolt in St. Domingue began to develop into a revolution led by formerly enslaved workers, he was commander of British forces on Jamaica. Vaughan wrote an urgent letter to the Secretary of War in London suggesting that the British should raise an army to fight in the Caribbean.
(1770 – 1827). A British Tory politician who occupied various senior cabinet positions including Prime Minister. Crucially, as Foreign Secretary, his name was lent to the ‘Canning Resolutions’ or the AMELIORATION OF THE CONDITION OF THE SLAVE POPULATION IN THE WEST INDIES in March 1824 – measures which sought to ‘ameliorate’ the conditions of the enslaved peoples under the British Empire.
(1792 – 1878). A British caricaturist and book illustrator, praised as the “modern Hogarth” during his life. His book illustrations for his friend Charles Dickens, and many other authors, reached an international audience. In 1826 he notably produced the image ‘John Bull taking a clear view of the Negro Slavery Question’ which provided a particularly critical view of the Abolitionist movement and the plight of the enslaved peoples in the Caribbean.
George Hibbert MP
(1757 – 1837). Member of the notable Hibbert family, George was a West India merchant, slave and plantation owner, collector and philanthropist and member of Parliament. Crucially he was both Chairman of the West India Dock Company and a key figure in the Society of West India Planters and Merchants.
George William Gordon
(1820 – 1865). A wealthy mixed-race Jamaican businessman, magistrate and politician, one of two representatives to the Assembly from St. Thomas-in-the-East Parish. He was a leading critic of the colonial government and the policies of Jamaican Governor Edward Eyre and was executed without trial by Eyre under martial law during the Morant Bay massacre.
(1815 – 1901). An English land explorer of the Australian continent, colonial administrator, and a Governor of Jamaica. Infamously Eyre was responsible for the brutal response of the colonial administration during the Morant Bay war – including the summary executions of Paul Bogle and George William Gordon under Martial Law. Eyre himself became the centre of a political debate over the massacre in England – subsequently known as the Eyre Controversy that historians have argued came to shape late Victorian ideas of empire and race.
(1735 – 1813) A lifelong campaigner against Slavery and – as Adam Hochschild argues – the founding father of 18th century abolitionism in Britain. Sharp was notably involved in several important court cases; Strong (1765), Somerset (1772) and Zong (1783). In May 1787 Sharp, alongside Thomas Clarkson and ten others (including nine Quakers) established the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Sharp was also a key driver behind an attempt to set up a ‘Province of Freedom’ for formerly enslaved Africans in what is modern-day Sierra Leone.
Born in 1955. Hilary Beckles is a Barbadian historian, and is the current vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Committee. In Britain’s Black Debt, Beckles argues the case for reparations. He also identifies continuities in the wealth and power of the West Indian merchants after emancipation, partly as a result of the compensation scheme that parliament put in palce for the Slave Owners.
John Stuart Mill
(1806 – 1873). A British philosopher, political economist, and civil servant. One of the most influential thinkers in the history of classical liberalism, he contributed widely to social theory, political theory, and political economy. In response to actions of Governor Eyre at Morant Bay in 1865, English ‘abolitionists’ formed the Jamaica Committee to protest the Governor’s actions and demand an investigation by parliament. Crucially Mill was chosen as it’s head – alongside other liberal luminaries such as Charles Darwin. Mill engaged in debate with Thomas Carlyle – head of the Governor Eyre Defence Committee – that would, according to many historians, shape late Victorian ideas of race and empire.
(1778–1843). An English Architect and acclaimed painter took the opportunity to tour Jamaica in the 1820s upon the hospitality of planters and ultimately impress upon them the merits of having their estates immortalized – memorably in the 1820-21 ‘Plate depicting a monument to Thomas Hibbert on his plantation’.
(1833 – 1869). A speech therapist and founder of the London Anthropological Society in 1863, which after his death merged with the more established Ethnological Society of London to become the Royal Anthropological Institute. In 1866 in Hunt’s Third Annual Address, he reflected upon Morant Bay and the ‘Eyre Controversy‘ by constructing a scientific, racial justificaiton for Eyre’s actions.
(c.1741 – c.1772). A west African man of unknown origin, who became the centre of a crucial legal case brought by Abolitionist Granville Sharp in 1772 : Somerset v Stewart. Somerset had been kidnapped and brought to America to be sold in the Colony of Virginia. He was then taken to England with his master Charles Stewart in 1769, where he was able to run away in October 1771. After evading slave hunters employed by Stewart for 56 days, Somerset was caught and set to be trafficked to Jamaica and sold before three Londoners successfully applied to Lord Justice Mansfield for a writ of habeas corpus. Mansfield eventually reached the judgement that chattel slavery was unsupported by the common law in England and Wales, although the position elsewhere in the British Empire was left ambiguous. This did not instantly free any enslaved person but left the legal justifications for slavery slightly more vulnerable. Somerset disappeared from public view after his trial and is presumed to have died in Great Britain sometime after 1772.
Born in 1942. Professor of History Emeritus at University of York. Walvin features in the BBC Four’s (2007) Racism: A History documentary. Walvin – in his 2011 work Why Did the British Abolish the Slave Trade? Econocide Revisited fundamentally supports Drescher‘s econocide thesis, identifying “tectonic” shifts in late 18th century ideas (rather than economics) as crucial to the changes that then occur in Transatlantic Slavery.
John Hubert Washington Hibbert
(1804-1875). The nephew of Thomas Hibbert Snr (1710-1780), John Hubert grew up at the end of Transatlantic Slavery. His father died when he was young leaving him an inheritance of £20,000 – a considerable amount of money gained through Slavery. John Hubert lived of his family wealth and invested in dozens of Victorian projects – including the Eyre Defence Fund in 1865.
Dr. Katie Donnington
Historian and lecturer in History at London South Bank University and historian of cultural, commercial, political and familial world the slave-owners made in both Jamaica and Britain. As part of the Legacies of British-Slave Ownership project, Donnington argued for the existence of significant continuities in ‘West-Indian’ power and wealth after emancipation.
An inspiration for this enquiry.
London Society of West India Planters and Merchants
Formed in 1780. An organisation established in London to represent the views of the British West Indian planters (and their related businesses). It played a major role in resisting the abolition of the slave trade and that of slavery itself. The organisation played a major role in resisting the abolition of the slave trade and that of slavery itself. The society evolved into the West India Committee, which now declares itself a British-based organisation “promoting ties and trade with the British Caribbean”. It also boasts of being the “oldest body representative of the Commonwealth” with very little mention of it’s active role in stopping and delaying abolition and emancipation.
Born in 1951. An American professor, historian, writer, and activist for a variety of peace and social justice causes. His specialism is in Atlantic history and his book The Slave Ship provides a vivid and terrifying picture of the trafficking of African peoples as part of Transatlantic Slavery.
(1788 – 1833). A British abolitionist and autobiographer, born in Bermuda to an enslaved family of African descent. Prince successfully escaped whilst travelling to England with the man who claimed ownership of her – thanks in part to the 1772 Somerset Judgement. She subsequently became the first woman to present an anti-slavery petition to Parliament and the first black woman to write and publish an autobiography, ‘The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave ‘ in 1831, Her became a key tool for abolitionists seeking for the end of Slavery in the 1830s.
(1949 –2012). A Haitian academic and anthropologist, he was Professor of Anthropology and of Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. Trouillot memorably identified the political purposes for particular silences in history – such as the pure shock of white European politicians when confronted with the news of a slave-led revolution in St. Domingue and the subsequent telling of the story by historians and commentators.
National Human Genome Research Institute
A US institute of the National Institutes of Health, which began in 1990 to map the human genome.
Former Director of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership at UCL. Draper’s research formed a huge part of the project and his consideration of both Williams’ decline thesis and Walvin’s econocide thesis has been central to current historical debates on the legacy of Transatlantic Slavery in Britain.
Another inspiration for this enquiry.
During our period of study this referred to enslaved people who ran away and set up their own communities in mountainous regions. Their relationship with the Slave-Owning authorities was complicated. In Jamaica, after a war with them in 1730s (the First Maroon War 1728-39) a treaty was signed which gave them a certain amount of political autonomy on the island. In return several Maroon leaders agreed to return any runaway slaves. Some tension therefore between Maroon and enslaved communities on the island. For instance, during Tacky’s Revolt in 1760-61, the Jamaican government called upon the maroons to honour their treaties and come to their assistance. Some Maroons played a similar role during both the Baptist War (1831-32) and even after emancipation during the Morant Bay War (1865). However tension remained between the Jamaican government and Maroons throughout the period. The Second Maroon War of 1795-96 took place at a time of great fear and instability for white rule on the island. Maroon forces were eventually forced to surrender and many were deported from the island.
Today the term Maroon now also refers to their descendants, many of whom still live in distinct communities on Caribbean islands.
(1745 – 1797). Known for most of his life as Gustavus Vassa, Equiano was a writer and abolitionist from (according to his memoir) the Eboe region of the Kingdom of Benin (today southern Nigeria). He purchased his own freedom in 1766 (having worked as a Slave upon British ships). The publication of his memoir – The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano – and his campaigning were central in promoting the abolitionist cause according to historians such as Adam Hochschild.
(1948 – 2016). A writer and historian who lived and worked in Wurundjeri country near Healesville, Australia. His books include Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race – in which he identifies the material bases of ideas about race in America, Palestine and Australia. For our enquiry, Wolfe’s definition of “race as colonialism speaking” is particularly useful to understand developments in ideas of race during our period of study.
Born 1968. Gopal is a Reader at the Faculty of English at Cambridge University and her research interests are in colonial and postcolonial literature and theory. Gopal’s recent book Insurgent Empire provides an account of the lessons learnt by activists in Britain from anti-colonial struggles in the Empire. In particular Gopal identifies the radical potential in some of J.S. Mill’s responses to the Eyre Controversy that followed the Morant Bay war.
(1820 – 24 October 1865). A Jamaican Baptist deacon and activist, who led the 1865 Morant Bay protesters. After leading the Morant Bay rebellion, Bogle was captured by government troops and maroons (on the orders of Governor Eyre), tried and convicted by British authorities under martial law, and hanged on 24 October 1865 in the Morant Bay court house
Members of The Society of Friends who believe that individuals have a direct relationship with the divine. They are known for their pacifism and charity. Many Quakers were opposed to slavery – nine of whom were founding members of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, but some others were slave-owners.
Born in 1938. A British journalist and historian. Richard Gott is currently an honorary research fellow at the Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of London. His 2011 work Britain’s empire: resistance, repression and revolt lays out a potted history of resistance from enslaved workers to British rule in the Caribbean. In it he claims that the Haitian Revolution encouraged unprecedented resistance to colonial rule in the British West Indies. .
Robert (Jnr) Hibbert
The son of John Hibbert (1732-1769) and Janet Gordon (1740-1779) and nephew of Thomas Hibbert Snr. Robert Jnr was a planter – most notably running the Coventry plantation during the Baptist War in 1831-2. He also wrote a widely read pro-slavery pamphlet in 1825 ‘Hints to the young Jamaica Sugar Planter’, which suggested the horrific conditions of Slavery had in fact been exaggerated by abolitionist literature. In 1817 Robert Junior invited Reverend Thomas Cooper, a Unitarian missionary, Revered Thomas Cooper, to his estates to preach to the enslaved workers. The move, conceived of as an ameliorative gesture of a benevolent planter, backfired when Cooper published a critical account of his time in Jamaica.
(1746 – 1809). A prominent Scottish merchant and ship-owner, and was the driving force behind the construction of the West India Docks in London – where a statue of him remains to this day. Having grown up on his wealthy family’s sugar plantations in Jamaica, Milligan left Jamaica in 1779 to establish himself in London. There he worked alongside George Hibbert MP and the West India Docks Company to establish the West India Dock Company and construct the first purpose built docks in London for goods produced by enslaved labour in the Caribbean. Milligan was also a key member of the Society for West Indian Planters and Merchants and campaigned heavily against the abolition of the Slave Trade in the British Empire.
(1804 – 1832). An enslaved Jamaican man who was a self-taught Baptist preacher and the leader of the widespread 1831-32 Baptist War slave rebellion in Jamaica.The uprising lasted 10 days and spread throughout the entire island, mobilizing as many as 60,000 of Jamaica’s 300,000 enslaved population. Sam Sharpe was captured and executed in Market Square, Montego Bay on 23 May, 1832. He was proclaimed a National Hero of Jamaica in 1975 and his image is on the $50 Jamaican banknote.
Born in 1932. An American historian and a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, known for his studies on Alexis de Tocqueville and Slavery. Drescher famously refuted Eric Williams’ decline thesis and instead in his 1979 work Econocide, argued that the British had abolished the Slave Trade inspite rather than because of it’s profitability. The debate between Drescher and Williams (and those that have followed their line of arguments) has animated the study the economic history of Transatlantic Slavery ever since.
Factors bought enslaved persons from the Slave Traders in large amounts and held them in large ‘pens’ in Slave Port towns like Kingston, for the process of ‘seasoning’ in which they readied them for the brutalities of life working in the West Indies.
Factors made a profit (usually 4-7% increase) on the difference in price the enslaved person was bought for from the ‘Slave Traders’, and the price the enslaved person was then sold for to the ‘Slave Owners’.
In this context, they were commonly landowners in the West Indies – sometimes referred to as ‘Planters’. Many Slave Owners would visit the West Indies for short periods but were commonly ‘absentee landowners’ – such as Edward Long – who paid other white men to purchase, manage and discipline the enslaved workforce whilst they lived across the Atlantic in Britain. Slave Owners made profit most commonly from the goods produced by Enslaved Persons and sold on the market (usually Sugar).
The vast majority of buying and selling enslaved persons during Transatlantic Slavery was conducted by Europeans who would arrive on the shores of West Africa and buy enslaved persons from West African Slave Traders.
Slave-Traders made their profit primarily on the difference between price they bought the enslaved person on the coast of West Africa and the price they sold the enslaved person for (usually to the Slave Factor).
Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade
Established on 22 May 1787 by Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharp and ten others (including nine Quakers) in a London print shop. The society worked to educate the public about the abuses of the slave trade and ultimately obtain an act of Parliament. It later was superseded by development of the Anti-Slavery Society in 1823, which worked to abolish the institution of slavery throughout the British colonies. They were regularly mocked and attacked by anti-abolitionists – most notably the pro-slavery London Society for West Indian Planters and Mercants (SWIPM). But they were also subsequently criticised by others- such as Thomas Carlyle and even the radical William Cobbett for the supposed lack of concern for the plight of white workers in England.
c.1760. The supposed leader of ‘Tacky’s Revolt’, Tacky (Akan spelling: Takyi), was originally from the Fante ethnic group in West Africa and had been a paramount chief in Fante land (in the Central region of present-day Ghana) before being enslaved. Great historical debate exists over the nature of the revolt however Edward Long subsequently- in his Histories of Jamaica – described the revolt as “more formidable than any hitherto known in the West Indies.”
(1795 – 1881) was a British historian, satirical writer, essayist, translator, philosopher, mathematician, and teacher. Carlyle, in 1849, published the infamoussatirical article The Occassional Discourses on the Negro Question – which, under a pseudonym, agrued for the restoration of Slavery in the West Indies. The article was taken up by other pro-Slavery advocates and racial theorists who, in 1865, rallied around Governor Eyre during the parliamentary enquiry into the massacre at Morant Bay. Carlyle himself became a central figure of the Eyre Defence Committee and engaged in revealing debates with J.S. Mill (of the Jamaica Committee) that historians have argued came to define late Victorian ideas of race and empire.
(1760 – 1846) was an English abolitionist, and a leading campaigner against the slave trade in the British Empire. He helped found The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787 and, according to historian Adam Hochschild, was the key builder of momentum behind the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807 – working with Wilberforce steering it through parliament.
(1743 – 1803), also known as Toussaint L’Ouverture or Toussaint Bréda, was a formerly enslaved Haitian general and best-known leader of the Haitian Revolution.
(1838 – 1903) was an Irish historian, essayist, and political theorist whose major work was an eight-volume History of England during the Eighteenth Century. He famously argued that Britain had engaged in an “inglorious crusade” against the evils of Slavery.
West African Slave-Traders
Provided Enslaved People to European ‘Slave Traders’ who arrived on the coast seeking workers to transport across to the ‘Americas’.
They made profit (in money and goods) through kidnapping other West Africans (commonly of other ‘nationalities’ within the region) and trading / selling them to ‘Slave Traders’ who overwhelmingly European.
West India Dock Company
1790s – 1810s. Established by Robert Milligan and other members of SWIPM such as George Hibbert MP. It’s aim was to construct a purpose-built dock for goods produced by enslaved workers in the West Indies and thereby ensure losses due to theft and delay at London’s riverside wharves were halted. The Docks were authorised by the West India Dock Act 1799 and opened in 1802. They were closed to commercial traffic in 1980 and a statue to Milligan remains overlooking them.
West India Merchant Consignees
Consignees’ were investors in the industries that used enslaved labour in the West Indies (sometimes individuals, usually families such as ‘The Hibberts’). These investors, or Consignees, were crucial in getting goods produced by Enslaved persons to the market to be sold. This was not always guaranteed. Indeed a whole industry (Marine Insurance) arose out of Consignees’ fears that their goods (produced by enslaved Labour) would not reach their destination. Companies such as Aviva specialised in this type of insurance. This was just one more way in which profit was collected from goods produced by enslaved labour. Consignees maximised their profits through using their networks to take percentages at all stages and historians such as Nicholas Draper have argued that some functioned in a similar way that Multinational Corporations do today.
(1763 –1835). An English pamphleteer, independent journalist, Member of Parliament who was seen as a ‘radical’ supporter of democracy in Georgian England. His publication – the Political Register- regularly criticised the powerful and wealthy. However Cobbett was heavily critical of the Abolitionist movement – which he saw as hypocritical – with figures such as William Wilberforce denouncing exploitation in the Caribbean whilst remaining silent on exploitation in England. However Cobbett, in later life, was – according to historian Seymour Drescher, forced in to an anti-slavery position by his working class supporters who saw reasons for building solidarity with abolitionist struggles and an opportunity to economically injur the wealthier classes by abolishing Slavery in all it’s forms.
(1803 – 1845). An English Baptist minister and missionary to Jamaica who was outspoken in his criticism of Slavery and the slow pace in which emancipation was delivered after the 1833 Act of Parliament. Knibb proclaimed in his diary the ‘Monster is dead’ upon the arrival of emancipation in August 1838.
(1759 – 1833). A British politician, philanthropist, evangelical Christian and a parliamentary leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. Wilberforce was central to the passing of the 1807 Act to abolish the Slave Trade in the British Empire. Historians such as Eric Williams, Adam Hochschild, Hilary Beckles and Katie Donnington among others have argued his role in the emancipation of enslaved peoples has been exaggerated.
(1838 – 1875). A British historian, explorer, and philosopher. Reade spoke at the 1866 Anthropological Society Meeting at which James Hunt also spoke and outline a ‘Social Darwinist’, race-based justification for the massacre at Morant Bay. In reference to Governor Eyre’s actions – and as a direction for future British imperialists, he argued “‘if you must fight with natives, kill them down. Kill them down not only for self-protection, but from a philanthropic principle. It seems paradoxical to say so, but there may be mercy in a massacre . . . had not Governor Eyre shown such prompt severity, we should now be sending out troops to save white men’s lives, instead of a Commission to sit upon black men’s carcases.