Black British - History - 17th and 18th Centuries - The Slave Trade

The Slave Trade

During this era there was an increase in black settlement in London. Britain was involved with the tri-continental slave trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas. Black slaves were attendants to sea captains and ex-colonial officials as well as traders, plantation owners and military personnel. This marked growing evidence of the black presence in the northern, eastern, and southern areas of London. There were also small numbers of free slaves and seamen from West Africa and South Asia. Many of these people were forced into beggary due to the lack of jobs and racial discrimination.

The involvement of merchants from the British Isles in the transatlantic slave trade was the most important factor in the development of the Black British community. These communities flourished in port cities strongly involved in the slave trade, such as Liverpool (from 1630) and Bristol. As a result, Liverpool is home to Britain's oldest black community, dating to at least the 1620s, and some Black Liverpudlians are able to trace their ancestors in the city back ten generations. Early Black settlers in the city included seamen, the children of traders sent to be educated, and freed slaves, since slaves entering the country after 1722 were deemed free men.

The legality of slavery in England had been questioned following the Cartwright decision of 1569, when it was "resolved that England was too pure an air for a slave to breathe in". From the early 18th century, there are records of slave sales and various attempts to capture Africans described as escaped slaves. The issue was not legally contested until the Somerset case of 1772, which concerned James Somersett, a fugitive black slave from Virginia. Chief Justice Mansfield (whose own presumed great-niece Dido was of mixed race) concluded that Somersett could not be forced to leave England against his will. (See generally, Slavery at common law.)

Around the 1750s, London became the home of many Blacks, as well as Jews, Irish, Germans and Huguenots. According to Gretchen Gerzina in her Black London, by the mid-18th century, Blacks comprised somewhere between one and three percent of the London populace. Evidence of the number of Black residents in the city has been found through registered burials. The whites of London held widespread views that Black people in London were less than human; these views were expressed in slave sale advertisements. Some Black people in London resisted through escape. Leading Black activists of this era included Olaudah Equiano, Ignatius Sancho and Quobna Ottobah Cugoano.

With the support of other Britons, these activists demanded that Blacks be freed from slavery. Supporters involved in these movements included workers and other nationalities of the urban poor. London Blacks vocally contested slavery and the slave trade. At this time, the slavery of whites was forbidden, but the legal statuses of these practices were not clearly defined. Free black slaves could not be enslaved, but blacks who were bought as slaves to Britain were considered the property of their owners. During this era, Lord Mansfield declared that a slave who fled from his master could not be taken by force or sold abroad. This verdict fueled the numbers of Blacks that escaped slavery, and helped send slavery into decline. During this same period, many slave soldiers who had fought on the side of the British in the American Revolutionary War arrived in London. These soldiers were deprived of pensions and many of them became poverty-stricken and were reduced to begging on the streets. The Blacks in London lived among the whites in areas of Mile End, Stepney, Paddington, and St Giles. The majority of these people did not live as slaves, but as servants to wealthy whites. Many became labeled as the "Black Poor" defined as former low wage soldiers, seafarers and plantation workers.

During the late 18th century, there were many publications and memoirs written about the "black poor". One example is the writings of Equiano, who became an unofficial spokesman for Britain’s Black community. A memoir about his life and attributions in Black London is entitled The Interesting Narratives of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.

The Black Londoners, encouraged by the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor, decided to immigrate to Sierra Leone to found the first British colony in Africa. They demanded that their status as British subjects be recognized, along with the duty of the Royal Navy to defend them.

The number of people in the United Kingdom with Black African origins was relatively small. There were, however, significant communities of South Asians, especially East Indian seamen known as lascars. In short, the links established through the British Empire led to increased population movement and immigration.

In a famous case, an Indian Briton, Dadabhai Naoroji, stood for election to parliament for the Liberal Party in 1886. He was defeated, leading the leader of the Conservative Party, Lord Salisbury to remark that "however great the progress of mankind has been, and however far we have advanced in overcoming prejudice, I doubt if we have yet got to the point of view where a British constituency would elect a black man". This led to much discussion about the applicability of the term "black" to South Asians. Naoroji was subsequently elected to parliament in 1892, becoming the first Member of Parliament (MP) of Indian descent.

Read more about this topic:  Black British, History, 17th and 18th Centuries

Other articles related to "trade, slaves, the slave trade, slave":

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Alexander Falconbridge - The Slave Trade
... Falconbridge had taken part in four voyages on slave ships before he met the anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson following which he became a member of the Anti-Slavery Society (ASS) ... Clarkson was the author of a pamphlet entitled A Summary View of the Slave Trade and of the Probable Consequences of Its Abolition, published in 1787 ... personal armed bodyguard whilst he gathered evidence against the slave trade ...

Famous quotes containing the words trade and/or slave:

    Conversation is a traffick; and if you enter into it, without some stock of knowledge, to ballance the account perpetually betwixt you,—the trade drops at once: and this is the reason ... why travellers have so little [good] conversation with natives,—owing to their [the natives’] suspicion ... that there is nothing to be extracted from the conversation ... worth the trouble of their bad language.
    Laurence Sterne (1713–1768)

    Of all insults, the temporary condescension of a master to a slave is the most outrageous and galling. That potentate who most condescends, mark him well; for that potentate, if occasion come, will prove your uttermost tyrant.
    Herman Melville (1819–1891)