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Every investor in Britain’s slave trade set to be detailed in new ‘dictionary’ after funding from UK government

London (CNN)The first ever index of investors in Britain’s extensive slave trade is being compiled by academics, after the project received £1 million ($1.4 million) in funding from the UK government.

The Dictionary of British Slave Traders will detail the 6,500 members of society who took part in the trade throughout a period stretching more then two centuries.
It comes after a year of debate about Britain’s celebration of its colonial past: A number of statues and public memorials to slave owners have been removed or renamed since Black Lives Matter protestors pulled down a sculpture of slaver Edward Colston in the city of Bristol in June.
 
 
William Pettigrew, professor of history at Lancaster University, who is leading the project, told CNN: “We’re looking at the entire population of investors in the slave trade — not just independent investors, but also the corporations that were involved.”
The index will highlight the involvement of some high-profile investors, including the man widely considered Britain’s first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole.
 
Set to be published in print and online around 2024, the project received £1 million in funding from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council.
 
It will show how deeply the slave trade permeated British society, Pettigrew said. “It’s not just this narrative of very, very wealthy merchants becoming extremely wealthy out of this horrific trade — it’s about the social breadth of investment,” he said, highlighting “the extent to which ordinary shopkeepers invested large proportions of their capital in slave trading voyages.”
 
Britain enslaved 3.1 million Africans between 1640 and 1807, transporting them to colonies around the world, according to Historic England, a public body.
Many of these people were taken to the Caribbean to work on sugar plantations, which made their owners very wealthy through the export of sugar, molasses and rum, according to the National Archives.
 
In 2020, as Black Lives Matter protests swept world, the country’s celebration of some of those involved in the trade — and the relative lack of teaching about the topic in British schools — came under more intense scrutiny.
“Public appetite and hunger for high-quality data that underpins these public debates has grown greater and greater” in recent months, Pettigrew said.
 

How did slave owners shape Britain?

An uncomfortable truth

 

In 1833, Britain emancipated its enslaved people and raised the equivalent of £17bn in compensation money. But that money wasn’t paid to the enslaved people – it was given to Britain’s slave owners for ‘loss of human property.’

It was the largest state-sponsored payout in British history before the banking crisis in 2008. Taxpayers’ money went straight into the pockets of people who had already profited from a cruel and inhumane business – the transatlantic slave trade.

Find out who Britain’s slave owners were and how their actions still impact our lives today.

Who were they?

The Slave Compensation Commission was set up to process the claims for compensation – 46,000 in all. Its records uncover how deeply slave ownership had infiltrated 19th century society and reveal many of us could have connections to the Britain’s slave-owning past.

Middle class Britons

Slave ownership wasn’t confined to the upper classes: an enslaved person was considered a sound investment. In 1833, middle class people including clergymen, naval personnel and people who had returned from the colonies were all slave owners. Some purchased enslaved people, others acquired them through inheritance or marriage. Their value was based on skills, gender, age, health and the profitability of the plantation where they worked.

Women

It was unusual for women to hold large financial assets, but they made up 25 percent of compensation claimants in Britain. When they were widowed, many women inherited enslaved people and relied solely on them as assets for their income. Some of the most urgent pleas for compensation came from widows, such as Hannah Barnes in Devon: “Myself, my daughter and her children are entirely dependent for support on what we receive from my late husband’s estate… I am much in want of money.”

Mixed-race Britons

Perhaps most surprisingly, the records detail a number of children born to plantation owners and enslaved women who inherited their fathers’ slaves. A striking example is politician John Stewart, the son of a slave owner and one of the first ethnic minority MPs. He inherited his father’s sugar plantations in the West Indies and received considerable compensation for the enslaved people there. He spoke in parliament on several occasions in defence of slavery.

 

What do you think?

Written by The Editor

warrior dedicated to the cause of fighting the takeover of our culture.

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