Price of Britain’s Slave Trade Revealed at St. John’s College

Am I not a man and a brother (Slavery 4.9)

Earlier this month, St John’s College Library at the University of Cambridge, announced the acquisition of letters and papers revealing in detail how human beings were priced for sale during the 18th century Transatlantic Slave Trade. They are now available to researchers and the public. Special Collections Librarian Kathryn McKee reminds us that the 18th century letters provide “a distressing reminder of the powerful business interests that sustained one of the darkest chapters in British history.” Dr. Richard Benjamin, Head of the International Slavery Museum, points out that the letters are also part of a larger body of historical documentation that sheds light on resistance to slavery. Here are just a few excerpts; see the full article in the link below.

[. . .] Kathryn McKee, Special Collections Librarian, who acquired the papers, which were previously held in Derby County Records Office, said: “These documents provide first-hand evidence of the sale of slaves to British plantation owners. Though appalling to modern eyes, for those involved these were matter-of-fact business transactions: a routine part of the 18th century economy in which business magnates made substantial profits from commodities produced by slave labour and their customers benefited from cheap goods. In opposing the traffic in human cargo, Clarkson, Wilberforce and the Abolitionists were challenging powerful vested interests.”

The papers date from between 1772 and 1797, at the time when the Transatlantic Slave Trade in Britain and America was at its peak, and deal with the day-to-day running of Perrin’s plantation in Jamaica. Among letters and bills of sale specifying property disputes, shipping preparations and customs duties, are chilling details revealing the ubiquity and commercialisation of slavery and the vast industry it supported.

[. . .] Kathryn said: “What these letters reveal, apart from a total lack of empathy for their human commodities is the sheer amount of money involved. Many anti-slavery campaigns were grassroots efforts by ordinary people, while the pro-slavery lobby had significant wealth and influence they could use to exert pressure on Parliament.”

Dr Richard Benjamin, Head of the International Slavery Museum, said: “These papers are a rich resource which will rightly now be made available to the wider public. Something that should be done for all such papers wherever they may reside.

“The Perrin papers add another layer of information to the narrative of the transatlantic slave trade, which can be both disturbing and distressing, especially when humans are so calmly and callously treated as cargo. While adding to our understanding of the mechanics of the transatlantic slave trade, they also highlight uncomfortable truths – that greed, power and a misguided sense of superiority made up its dark heart.

“However, here lies the dilemma. Regardless of the unassailable fact that millions of African men, women and children were enslaved and treated as commodities so that individuals like Perrin became wealthy and many countries became powerful, we should never see them solely through those spectrums. Such documents are portals into the lives and struggles of fathers, mothers, sons, sisters, merchants, scholars and every possible profession that makes up any society.

“We should also see these papers as part of a larger body of historical documentation that sheds light on the resistance to that dark heart by abolitionists such as Clarkson and Wilberforce, sons of Cambridge University, and probably more importantly by Africans themselves, from Olaudah Equiano to the Maroons of Jamaica, from Cuffy in Berbice to daily acts of defiance by the enslaved across the Americas and Caribbean”. [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.joh.cam.ac.uk/price-britain%E2%80%99s-slave-trade-revealed

2 thoughts on “Price of Britain’s Slave Trade Revealed at St. John’s College

  1. Reblogged this on Truth- A Right to Fight For… and commented:
    Very interesting read.
    “What these letters reveal, apart from a total lack of empathy for their human commodities is the sheer amount of money involved. Many anti-slavery campaigns were grassroots efforts by ordinary people, while the pro-slavery lobby had significant wealth and influence they could use to exert pressure on Parliament.”

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