During his visit to Jamaica, David Cameron was asked to give an apology on behalf of the British for their part in the slave trade. If you have a view on that naturally emotive subject, you might find some or all of these facts helpful in deepening your understanding. I found they made a difference to mine. None of these or any other facts in any way justify or mitigate the evil of slavery, past or present.
1. Slavery was not introduced to Africa by Europeans. It existed there before the first explorers and traders went there.
2. The first Europeans to participate in the slave trade were the Portuguese in the Fifteenth Century.
3. The British sent white British prisoners to work as slaves on the plantations in the Caribbean. They were the losers after the Battle of Worcester in the Civil War, The Batle of Sedgemoor in Monmouth’s Rebellion against James II and Jacobites in the 1715 Rebellion.
4. Slavery was held to be illegal in Britain because it violated the principles of Magna Carta etc. but was somehow considered acceptable in British Overseas Possessions.
5. White British and other Europeans were taken as slaves by pirates from Noth Africa during the late Middle Ages until the Eighteenth Century.
6. The British abolished slavery in 1833. Other European nations did so at various dates during the Nineteenth Century. Many Asian and Middle Eastern countries postponed its abolition until the Twentieth Century. In Saudi Arabia’s case it was 1974.
7. Compensation was paid to British slave owners as the Government, and most other people, felt it could not deprive people of their “property” without doing so.
8. In the British Empire the Government had to use force to suppress slavery, as the abolition was not popular with native slave-traders in many places.
9. In Jamaica there are some black and mixed-race people who are descended from free people. There was a brief period when the island had been abandoned by the Spanish before the British arrived. Many slaves went into hiding and de facto became free. Their children were therefore never slaves.
10. Slavery still exists in many places. In Britain it is the domain of people-traffickers. In the Middle East it is thought to go on illegally in many countries but is openly practiced in areas controlled by ISIS. The victims are usually members of minorities.
Personally, I wish the campaigners would concentrate on freeing current slaves rather than keeping old wounds alive, given the complexity of the story and the difficulty in apportioning blame or credit.
After studying Economics and Accountancy at Bristol University, John worked in accountancy, audit and insurance in several types of local authority. He is currently self-employed as JHM Risk Management Services, offering risk management and liability claims-handling services to businesses and other organisations, to enable owners and managers to save time and stress as well as money. John is a member of the accountancy body CIPFA, is a Registered Risk Practitioner with ALARM, and is a Specialist Member of the Institute of Risk Managers.