Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

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Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by Fishnut » Thu Apr 08, 2021 2:03 pm

I found this report from Historic England [PDF] in my reference manager and thought I'd have a quick skim before I filed it away. I went to the South West section given that's where I'm from. It starts with Bristol and saw a lot of known links to the slave trade and more I didn't know and others I'd forgotten about. But then it expanded outside of the city and the very first place mentioned is my home town.
Bristol was at the centre of a supply of trading goods for the Atlantic slave economy coming from the surrounding areas. Bristol glass was used to transport brandy and rum processed in the city, in turn traded in West Africa in exchange for enslaved Africans. Remains survive of the John Robert Lucas glassworks in Nailsea: the employment and investment opportunities offered by the glassworks, the fourth largest in Britain by 1835, had a significant impact on the built environment of the local area.
I knew Nailsea was an important glass manufacturer - Nailsea glass is famous in some very niche circles - but had never made the connection to the slave trade. But the connection ends up being even closer than just my home town. My house was part of the mining infrastructure. The coal from those mines was used in the glassworks, which produced the bottles that contained the brandy and rum that was traded in Africa to purchase people. It's a very weird feeling, to realise I'm sitting in a room that once played a part in the slave trade. I never expected it to come so directly into my home.

But it got me wondering, am I unusual, or are we all able to make similar connections? I think of the beneficiaries of slavery as being the wealthy and landed - those who made or maintained their fortunes through the trade directly or the plantations that exploited slave labour. I never really thought of the way that, for example "the herring fishing fleet provided salted herring and cod to the plantations in the Caribbean as part of the diet of enslaved people" (the quote is in reference to Minehead but I suspect the same can be said for many fishing villages). I've generally thought that if you come from a poor background you don't have any connection, any benefit, but just a very quick skim has made it clear that the slave trade was fundamental to the English economy at all levels for a very long time.

So, can anyone else connect themselves to the trade? Maybe you've lived on a street named after a slave trader, or your ancestors worked in cotton mills that were supplied by slave-produced cotton? I can already connect Tessa K as she and I went to the same school which is mentioned in the report,
Until recently a private school for girls, Redland Court has longstanding connections with the slave trade. The original house was owned by Sir Robert Yeamans in the 1680s, inherited by his nephew, Colonel Robert Yeamans of Barbados. After being sold to other plantation owners, by 1738 the house was rebuilt (and Redland Chapel added) by the London grocer John Cossins, whose wife Martha Innys had inherited land in the Caribbean. The house was subsequently inherited by Slade Baker, a merchant and shipowner involved in the slave trade, after his marriage to Elizabeth Innes.
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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by jimbob » Thu Apr 08, 2021 2:13 pm

I don't know about the details, but Dad told me of one of the BBC programmes from last year where the number of families "of moderate means" (e.g. parsons) who "invested" in individual slaves, and who of course got compensation when the British Empire abolished slavery.
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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by Fishnut » Thu Apr 08, 2021 2:16 pm

UCL has a website - Legacies of British Slavery - where you can search the database of payments. David Olusoga's BBC series "Britain's Forgotten Slave Owners" is based on their research.
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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by bolo » Thu Apr 08, 2021 2:28 pm

Well, there's a good chance that my 3-greats grandfather was captain of a slave ship. Does that count?

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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by Sciolus » Thu Apr 08, 2021 2:48 pm

Fishnut wrote:
Thu Apr 08, 2021 2:03 pm
...the slave trade was fundamental to the English economy at all levels for a very long time.
I went to a talk a couple of years ago about the slave trade and $my_town, and this was the most eye-opening thing for me. I always rather lazily assumed that the slave industry was a discrete thing apart from everything else. But no, it was deeply intertwined with the wider economy and society. One particular local example was the factory that made copper ingots that were sold in west Africa, without which the Britain-Africa leg of the triangular slave routes would have been non-viable.

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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by Tessa K » Thu Apr 08, 2021 3:16 pm

Fishnut wrote:
Thu Apr 08, 2021 2:03 pm
I found this report from Historic England [PDF] in my reference manager and thought I'd have a quick skim before I filed it away. I went to the South West section given that's where I'm from. It starts with Bristol and saw a lot of known links to the slave trade and more I didn't know and others I'd forgotten about. But then it expanded outside of the city and the very first place mentioned is my home town.
Bristol was at the centre of a supply of trading goods for the Atlantic slave economy coming from the surrounding areas. Bristol glass was used to transport brandy and rum processed in the city, in turn traded in West Africa in exchange for enslaved Africans. Remains survive of the John Robert Lucas glassworks in Nailsea: the employment and investment opportunities offered by the glassworks, the fourth largest in Britain by 1835, had a significant impact on the built environment of the local area.
I knew Nailsea was an important glass manufacturer - Nailsea glass is famous in some very niche circles - but had never made the connection to the slave trade. But the connection ends up being even closer than just my home town. My house was part of the mining infrastructure. The coal from those mines was used in the glassworks, which produced the bottles that contained the brandy and rum that was traded in Africa to purchase people. It's a very weird feeling, to realise I'm sitting in a room that once played a part in the slave trade. I never expected it to come so directly into my home.

But it got me wondering, am I unusual, or are we all able to make similar connections? I think of the beneficiaries of slavery as being the wealthy and landed - those who made or maintained their fortunes through the trade directly or the plantations that exploited slave labour. I never really thought of the way that, for example "the herring fishing fleet provided salted herring and cod to the plantations in the Caribbean as part of the diet of enslaved people" (the quote is in reference to Minehead but I suspect the same can be said for many fishing villages). I've generally thought that if you come from a poor background you don't have any connection, any benefit, but just a very quick skim has made it clear that the slave trade was fundamental to the English economy at all levels for a very long time.

So, can anyone else connect themselves to the trade? Maybe you've lived on a street named after a slave trader, or your ancestors worked in cotton mills that were supplied by slave-produced cotton? I can already connect Tessa K as she and I went to the same school which is mentioned in the report,
Until recently a private school for girls, Redland Court has longstanding connections with the slave trade. The original house was owned by Sir Robert Yeamans in the 1680s, inherited by his nephew, Colonel Robert Yeamans of Barbados. After being sold to other plantation owners, by 1738 the house was rebuilt (and Redland Chapel added) by the London grocer John Cossins, whose wife Martha Innys had inherited land in the Caribbean. The house was subsequently inherited by Slade Baker, a merchant and shipowner involved in the slave trade, after his marriage to Elizabeth Innes.
I vaguely remember something about Redland and I also vaguely knew about Dodington House which I went to a few times as a kiddie as it was near us and had an adventure playground there. That's a useful resource for more than just vague memories, so thanks.

Pretty much every big house or important building built after the mid 17th/early 18th century (depending on the area) has some connection to slavery, it looks like. Even after slavery was abolished, there was still slavery money used to build.

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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by Tessa K » Thu Apr 08, 2021 3:21 pm

Fishnut wrote:
Thu Apr 08, 2021 2:03 pm
I found this report from Historic England [PDF] in my reference manager and thought I'd have a quick skim before I filed it away. I went to the South West section given that's where I'm from. It starts with Bristol and saw a lot of known links to the slave trade and more I didn't know and others I'd forgotten about. But then it expanded outside of the city and the very first place mentioned is my home town.
Bristol was at the centre of a supply of trading goods for the Atlantic slave economy coming from the surrounding areas. Bristol glass was used to transport brandy and rum processed in the city, in turn traded in West Africa in exchange for enslaved Africans. Remains survive of the John Robert Lucas glassworks in Nailsea: the employment and investment opportunities offered by the glassworks, the fourth largest in Britain by 1835, had a significant impact on the built environment of the local area.
I knew Nailsea was an important glass manufacturer - Nailsea glass is famous in some very niche circles - but had never made the connection to the slave trade. But the connection ends up being even closer than just my home town. My house was part of the mining infrastructure. The coal from those mines was used in the glassworks, which produced the bottles that contained the brandy and rum that was traded in Africa to purchase people. It's a very weird feeling, to realise I'm sitting in a room that once played a part in the slave trade. I never expected it to come so directly into my home.

But it got me wondering, am I unusual, or are we all able to make similar connections? I think of the beneficiaries of slavery as being the wealthy and landed - those who made or maintained their fortunes through the trade directly or the plantations that exploited slave labour. I never really thought of the way that, for example "the herring fishing fleet provided salted herring and cod to the plantations in the Caribbean as part of the diet of enslaved people" (the quote is in reference to Minehead but I suspect the same can be said for many fishing villages). I've generally thought that if you come from a poor background you don't have any connection, any benefit, but just a very quick skim has made it clear that the slave trade was fundamental to the English economy at all levels for a very long time.

So, can anyone else connect themselves to the trade? Maybe you've lived on a street named after a slave trader, or your ancestors worked in cotton mills that were supplied by slave-produced cotton? I can already connect Tessa K as she and I went to the same school which is mentioned in the report,
Until recently a private school for girls, Redland Court has longstanding connections with the slave trade. The original house was owned by Sir Robert Yeamans in the 1680s, inherited by his nephew, Colonel Robert Yeamans of Barbados. After being sold to other plantation owners, by 1738 the house was rebuilt (and Redland Chapel added) by the London grocer John Cossins, whose wife Martha Innys had inherited land in the Caribbean. The house was subsequently inherited by Slade Baker, a merchant and shipowner involved in the slave trade, after his marriage to Elizabeth Innes.
I vaguely remember something about Redland and I also vaguely knew about Dodington House which I went to a few times as a kiddie as it was near us and had an adventure playground there. That's a useful resource for more than just vague memories, so thanks.

Pretty much every big house or important building built after the mid 17th/early 18th century (depending on the area) has some connection to slavery, it looks like. Even after slavery was abolished, there was still slavery money used to build.

The village I'm from has no direct links as it didn't exist until the mid 19th century when it began as a mining settlement.

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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by lpm » Thu Apr 08, 2021 3:41 pm

Fishnut wrote:
Thu Apr 08, 2021 2:03 pm
your ancestors worked in cotton mills that were supplied by slave-produced cotton?
My ancestors, I believe, worked in the cotton mills. The Bradford mills are certainly where relatives worked until about 1970.

But although there's a connection it's uncertain if it can be seen as a benefit. The excess rural hoards migrated into the urban areas to whatever jobs they could find, exchanging life-threatening poverty for life-shortening poverty. There were once more people needed to weave a bolt of wool than the people needed for the mechanised weaving of a bolt of cotton, hence the industrial revolution killed off the less efficient wool industry. It's not clear that cheap slave cotton benefited the British working class, even if it's likely that it allowed all consumers to buy a lot more clothing more cheaply.

It's one of those economic history questions where agreement swings about between competing theories. Not sure what the latest consensus is. Generally the Atlantic slave trade is seen as being bad for labour, good for capital, with the loss of wages for British workers outweighing the cheaper goods, while the benefits from both capital investment and cheaper goods were a clear benefit to the middle and upper classes. Current debates are over whether slave labour was actually more expensive in the new world than hired labour - did plantations etc get locked into an inefficient labour model with slavery having larger labour costs than alternative systems? Labour costs obviously includes the transportation costs, the cargo losses, the costs of imprisonment, the losses due to sabotage, insurrections and slave suicides, rather than weekly wages. I've seen an argument that the high cost of new world labour trickled down into higher returns to British labour, rather than the money being made by slavers that trickled down to the poor.

People at the time certainly didn't think the working class and the poor benefited from the slave trade. Some of the anti-slaving campaigners made the link between zero wages in the new world and starvation wages in the factories of England. They probably had a pretty good sense of how the economic pluses and minuses balanced out.
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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by Woodchopper » Thu Apr 08, 2021 4:01 pm

Its an important point to raise the role played by the wider economy, and not just focus upon the slave owners themselves.

As far as I know my weren't involved. As far as I remember from conversations with my mother, prior to the early 19th Century my English and Scots ancestors were tenant farmers or agricultural labourers. Though there are a few grey areas in the family tree.

The report mentions a few National Trust stately homes that I visited as a child. I'm not surprised they were built with sugar money.

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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by dyqik » Thu Apr 08, 2021 4:22 pm

Tessa K wrote:
Thu Apr 08, 2021 3:21 pm
Pretty much every big house or important building built after the mid 17th/early 18th century (depending on the area) has some connection to slavery, it looks like. Even after slavery was abolished, there was still slavery money used to build.
I've seen this mentioned in relation to Jane Austen (who had her characters express abolitionist feelings in her novels), and how when someone is mentioned as "being worth a thousand pounds a year" or similar, that much of that income was from overseas slave holdings (the rest from local tenant farming etc.)

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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by dyqik » Thu Apr 08, 2021 4:26 pm

I don't know that much of my family tree or history, but my father's family name can be traced back to the middle of Ireland in the 18th century, which means it's more likely that I'm related to Jedward than to a slaver in that particular direction.

OTOH, I'm sitting in a house in Massa-adchu-es-et in a street whose name turns into a Nipmuc placename at the town line.

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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by veravista » Thu Apr 08, 2021 8:56 pm

I don't know a huge amount about my ancestors apart from fairly recent. I do know they have close connections (and a few distant relatives) with Bristol and Plymouth and have some seafaring connections.

I don't suppose there were any famous people named Hawkins in those areas?

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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by Bird on a Fire » Thu Apr 08, 2021 9:43 pm

I'm genuinely surprised at how few place near where I grew up (Hampshire). I think I've visited the Hinton Ampner estate (built by slave-owners). The local clay pipe industry benefited from slavery via the slaves used to grow tobacco, apparently. Southampton doesn't seem to be have been heavily involved in the slave trade. For Portsmouth it says,
In 1796 a fleet of ships from the Caribbean carrying over 2500 prisoners of war docked at Portsmouth harbour; almost all of them lived for a time at Portchester Castle.273 Some people of African descent would have arrived in England on Royal Navy ships involved in the suppression of the transatlantic slave trade in the nineteenth century.
The prisoners of war were soldiers in a revolution in Guadeloupe that freed slaves. Freed, they joined with the French to fight the British slave-owners. The British agreed to treat surrendered soldiers of any colour as prisoners of war.

But then my ancestors aren't from round there, and I don't really know where any of ancestors beyond 4 generations lived. Some were in Denmark or Sweden, so probably haven't been involved in slavery since Viking times(?). Some were up in Tyneside or Cumbria, so were probably involved in industry. Googling the surnames I know + slavery brings up noted opponents to slavery: Florence Nightingale sounds like a good egg, and David Turnbull was an abolitionist who even started a slave revolt in Cuba (it didn't go that well). Of course Florence definitely isn't my ancestor, and Turnbull probably isn't (but I'd like to claim him anyway - sounds like a ledge).

And then there's the South African lot. While the Dutch then British did have slaves in South Africa, the numbers were less than many Caribbean islands despite the much larger black population. So it's pretty unlikely my ancestors were enslaved, either, which is nice. I'm sure they saw some sh.t, though. Also, I'm fairly sure there's some South Asian in the mix, in which case some of them may well have been indentured workers, which was basically just Slavery 2: Electric Vindaloo.

Interesting exercise, thanks Fishnut. This is giving me a bit of a kick up the bum to try and research a few more generations of my white-devil English ancestors. I'm sure some of those old bastards must have been up to something. #racialprofiling

I'm actually also really enjoying turfing up some of these untold stories of black folk from the past.
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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by Bird on a Fire » Thu Apr 08, 2021 9:49 pm

I also looked up where I did my first degree. Norwich was the birthplace of the fabulously-named Pablo Fanque, Britain's first black circus owner:
This same edition of The Illustrated London News provides an example of how contemporaries regarded his performance:

This extraordinary feat of the manege has proved very attractive, as we anticipated in our Journal of last week; and we have judged the success worthy of graphic commemoration. As we have already described, the steed dances to the air, and the band has not to accommodate itself to the action of the horse, as in previous performances of this kind. The grace and facility in shifting time and paces with change of the air, is truly surprising." Fanque is described as a "skilful rider" and "a very good equestrian.

Sounding almost as grand as the boasts of Fanque's own broadside posters, the paper said, "Mr. Pablo has trained [his black mare] to do the most extraordinary feats of the 'manège' [note, related to dressage], an art hitherto considered to belong only to the French and German professors of equitation, and her style certainly far exceeds anything that has ever yet been brought from the Continent."
Performed for the queen, toured for 30 years, and also built a circus in Cork. And came up with the name Pablo Funque. Pablo Funque. Pablo. Funque. Pablo Funque.

Check it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Fanque
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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by Bird on a Fire » Thu Apr 08, 2021 10:00 pm

Just found out a grandfather was from Hereford. That seems like prime slavery-benefitting territory.

I think I might have to wander over to the geaneology thread at some point.
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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by Chris Preston » Thu Apr 08, 2021 11:20 pm

My agricultural labourer ancestors from the Horringtons who worked on farms that provided food for Bristol and ultimately for the sailors on slave ships?

My Irish 3rd great grandfather's elder brother was a merchant based at Demerara, now Guyana, and almost certainly benefitted from slavery in the Caribbean. But then one of his cousins was a junior officer on one of the first naval ships that the British Government sent to enforce the blockade of West Africa.

More equivocally, my Wiltshire ancestors were in the woolen industry that was devastated by the dark satanic cotton mills. They turned to malting and some of their product would have ended up down the throats of the slave ship sailors.
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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by Imrael » Fri Apr 09, 2021 4:35 am

There's an elaborate tomb in our village church yard in South Northamptonshire which is in need of restoration. But the family in question made their money in the slave trade, so churchwardens conflicted on what to do. I suppose it's s kind of horizontal statue.

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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by gosling » Fri Apr 09, 2021 7:58 am

My brother worked on Lundy for many years, and we usually visit every year. One of the most important former owners was the appropriately named Rev. Heaven. Wikipedia has this to say:
William Hudson Heaven purchased Lundy in 1834, as a summer retreat and for hunting, at a cost of 9,400 guineas (£9,870, or £955,600 today). ... Many of the buildings on the island today, including St. Helen's Church, designed by the architect John Norton, and Millcombe House (originally known simply as the Villa), date from the Heaven period. The Georgian-style villa was built in 1836. However, the expense of building the road from the beach (...), the villa and the general cost of running the island had a ruinous effect on the family's finances, which had been damaged by reduced profits from their sugar plantations in Jamaica.
What it doesn't say is that the money to purchase the island came from his compensation after the abolition of slavery.

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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by individualmember » Fri Apr 09, 2021 8:13 am

I was having a conversation about my ancestors yesterday and something struck me, I’ll try not to get bogged down in the meanderings, suffice to say that my inability to stay on a subject won’t surprise anyone. My train of thought was my antecedents were basically railwaymen/engineers in the 19th century (farmers and clergy up other strands, but those with my surname were railway)... railways leads to industrial revolution... that leads to replacement of manpower with automation. Anyway, there’s an argument that the speedy development of the industrial revolution in the late 18th century (continuing through the 19th century) was at least partly spurred on my labour shortages. We seem to have been at war with someone, and quite often a couple at a time, all through that period and that must have had an effect on how many people were actually available to do non-military work.

So, my rambling goes, the dates of the anti-slavery laws being passed in the UK more or less follow the expansion of steam power. James Watt’s step change in the efficiency of steam engines 1778, abolition of the slave trade 1807. Steam boats and trains start in the 1800s, Locomotion 1825, Liverpool-Manchester line 1830, abolition of slavery act passed in 1833.

Is it a coincidence that the British decided that slavery is wrong and should be abolished just at the time when an alternative source of power made a fundamental change to the need for manpower to get stuff done? Did we already know that it was wrong but couldn’t contemplate ending slavery for economic reasons?

I guess there’s probably books on the subject, I just don’t know about them.
Last edited by individualmember on Fri Apr 09, 2021 8:23 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by Lydia Gwilt » Fri Apr 09, 2021 8:19 am

One of my grandmothers was a Powell of Birmingham - Shotgun makers who supplied the army, the East India Company and the slave traders, in addition to supplying the run of the mill pheasant-slaughterers. The other branches of the family were farmers, doctors and coal miners.

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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by Tessa K » Fri Apr 09, 2021 8:31 am

veravista wrote:
Thu Apr 08, 2021 8:56 pm
I don't know a huge amount about my ancestors apart from fairly recent. I do know they have close connections (and a few distant relatives) with Bristol and Plymouth and have some seafaring connections.

I don't suppose there were any famous people named Hawkins in those areas?
I have ancestors called Hawkins from the Bristol and Somerset areas. Not famous though.

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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by Woodchopper » Fri Apr 09, 2021 8:49 am

individualmember wrote:
Fri Apr 09, 2021 8:13 am

Is it a coincidence that the British decided that slavery is wrong and should be abolished just at the time when an alternative source of power made a fundamental change to the need for manpower to get stuff done?
I think its very unlikely that it was a coincidence. To start with from the late 18th century on enormous wealth was being created by the industrial revolution. The relative political influence of the sugar industry was reduced.
individualmember wrote:
Fri Apr 09, 2021 8:13 am
Did we already know that it was wrong but couldn’t contemplate ending slavery for economic reasons?
Slavery within the British Isles stopped during the period of Norman rule. As far as I know it was never explicitly made illegal, but was condemned by the Church.

By the 18th Century there were several judgements that slavery was not recognized as being lawful in England and Scotland. Yes, there were slaves present in the UK, which is a reflection of the lack of a criminal justice system to enforce laws. At the time a plaintive had to bring a case to a court, there weren't any police tasked with enforcing laws.

As soon as slavery and the slave trade started in the colonies it was opposed, particularly by Quakers and other non-conformists.

People didn't suddenly discover that slavery was wrong in the latter part of the 18th Century.

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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by Fishnut » Fri Apr 09, 2021 9:26 am

gosling wrote:
Fri Apr 09, 2021 7:58 am
My brother worked on Lundy for many years, and we usually visit every year. One of the most important former owners was the appropriately named Rev. Heaven. Wikipedia has this to say:
William Hudson Heaven purchased Lundy in 1834, as a summer retreat and for hunting, at a cost of 9,400 guineas (£9,870, or £955,600 today). ... Many of the buildings on the island today, including St. Helen's Church, designed by the architect John Norton, and Millcombe House (originally known simply as the Villa), date from the Heaven period. The Georgian-style villa was built in 1836. However, the expense of building the road from the beach (...), the villa and the general cost of running the island had a ruinous effect on the family's finances, which had been damaged by reduced profits from their sugar plantations in Jamaica.
What it doesn't say is that the money to purchase the island came from his compensation after the abolition of slavery.
Oh, the National Trust's [PDF] Interim Report on the Connections between Colonialism and Properties now in the Care of the National Trust,Including Links with Historic Slavery talks about Lundy.
Thomas Benson (1708–72) was Sheriff of Devon (1746–47) and the MP for Barnstaple (1747–54), as well as a smuggler and practitioner of piracy. In 1747, he gained a contract to ship convicts to Virginia and Maryland, but instead shipped them to Lundy, where he employed them as slave labour. In the subsequent court case, Benson argued that transporting the convicts to Lundy was no different from transporting them to the Americas, and his interpretation of the law was upheld. [p102]
This is the report that led the “Common Sense Group” to write to the Daily Telegraph to announce that they had written to the Culture Secretary "requesting he review the trust’s funding applications to public bodies" and led to the National Trust being investigated by the Charity Commission to see if they had breached charity law by funding and publishing the report. They had not. It's the report that has stirred up so much sh.t that unions representing museum staff have complained to the National Museum Directors’ Council, "urging them to stand firm against government interference" as the government has threatened to deny funding for Corinne Fowler, one of the academics who edited the report. The irony that these threats are from politicians who routinely decry 'cancel culture' and claim to care about 'free speech' is not lost on anyone.
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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by Sciolus » Fri Apr 09, 2021 1:02 pm

individualmember wrote:
Fri Apr 09, 2021 8:13 am
Did we already know that it was wrong but couldn’t contemplate ending X for economic reasons?
For copious examples of X, see here.

Specifically on slavery, the causation can go the other way as well, with the riches from slavery being used to capitalise the industrial revolution:
The cotton spinning mill Quarry Bank Mill (NT) in Styal, Cheshire, was built at the end of the eighteenth century by the industrialist Samuel Greg, a man whose initial capital came from family slavery-related business in the West Indies. By 1832 the Greg firm was the largest spinning and weaving business in the country.

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lpm
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Re: Six degrees of separation - slave trade edition

Post by lpm » Fri Apr 09, 2021 1:38 pm

Woodchopper wrote:
Fri Apr 09, 2021 8:49 am
individualmember wrote:
Fri Apr 09, 2021 8:13 am

Is it a coincidence that the British decided that slavery is wrong and should be abolished just at the time when an alternative source of power made a fundamental change to the need for manpower to get stuff done?
I think its very unlikely that it was a coincidence. To start with from the late 18th century on enormous wealth was being created by the industrial revolution. The relative political influence of the sugar industry was reduced.
individualmember wrote:
Fri Apr 09, 2021 8:13 am
Did we already know that it was wrong but couldn’t contemplate ending slavery for economic reasons?
Slavery within the British Isles stopped during the period of Norman rule. As far as I know it was never explicitly made illegal, but was condemned by the Church.

By the 18th Century there were several judgements that slavery was not recognized as being lawful in England and Scotland. Yes, there were slaves present in the UK, which is a reflection of the lack of a criminal justice system to enforce laws. At the time a plaintive had to bring a case to a court, there weren't any police tasked with enforcing laws.

As soon as slavery and the slave trade started in the colonies it was opposed, particularly by Quakers and other non-conformists.

People didn't suddenly discover that slavery was wrong in the latter part of the 18th Century.
The classic view of the economics, up until around the 1960s, was basically that slavery financed the initial stages of Britain's Industrial Revolution, but then the maturing capitalist economy of Britain ended slavery. In particular, Spain got screwed because accidents of history meant it controlled gold and silver deposits, which trashed its own money supply, while Britain accidentally ended up with the Caribbean and North American colonies, winning the lucrative sugar industry and the supply of cotton. Sugar alone provided huge profits to the 1%, some of which was redirected to urban industrial enterprises - the Liverpool bankers notably came up with the full vertical enterprise from financing the slave trade to financing cotton plantations to financing the cotton mills. Under this theory, slavery in the New World caused capitalism in Britain.

Later theories reversed this, into capitalism caused slavery. The Industrial Revolution is now repositioned as a shift from rural industrialisation to urban industrialisation, running at far greater efficiency and capable of delivering export led growth. Cheap products could be shipped to the African coast to start the first leg of the triangle. Modern theories also concentrate more on the American colonies than the West Indies sugar trade - the American colonies led to far more complex economic trade (e.g. the colonies providing the West Indies plantations with goods). New England for example was born as a trading nation, leapfrogging straight to complex economics, while old England was still transitioning from old institutions to new global trade. Ship building and hence international trade became a massive north American industry, creating more long term prosperity than the tobacco and cotton plantations in the southern states.

As I said, I'm not sure what the latest "consensus" is. Slavery was inherently violent and needed a lot resources to be directed into the military (loosely defined), to control the African coast, defend the slave routes from European rivals, defend the Caribbean islands, prevent slave insurrection and enforce the various monopolies and tariffs. The New England colonies faced lower military overheads and prospered without a vast slave trade. It's no coincidence that when military resources were needed to eliminate "the merciless savages" the New Englanders objected to taxes imposed on their international trade to fund it all. Meanwhile, the powerful sugar lobby in England enacted protectionism to maintain their West Indies monopoly - leading to British consumers paying a far higher price for sugar than European neighbours. It's not clear whether the huge profits from sugar were due to the slavery system or due to good old rigging of the market to charge monopoly prices to consumers, while manipulating the government to fund the military protection - the privatise the profits, socialise the losses approach we now know so well. Those Jane Austen heroes with £10,000 a year might well have got the wealth from the exploitation of the British public rather than from the economics of the slave trade.

It's not uncommon in the economic history literature to see people concluding that Britain would have had higher GDP growth if it had lost its West Indies possessions in some war or other. And it's also often argued that cotton from the slave states was economically bad overall. There's some pretty good statistics on how labour supply reacted to the end of slavery in the American South - ex slaves immediately chose to work fewer hours per day, prioritising their leisure time over hourly pay. There was an immediate drop in labour supply by something in the region of 25% or 33% - making raw cotton more expensive. But it wasn't a crippling change. Raw materials are only part of the cost of the finished suit of clothes being bought in British shops after the cotton has been through the cotton mills. Slave labour was never free, and part of the reason why the plantation owner was so rich was because costs had been pushed to elsewhere in the economic system. An imaginary counterfactual where slaves didn't exist and wages were used to entice labour could well come out as favourable for combined UK-US GDP.

The other data point is that Britain and the USA soared economically after the end of slavery. If the slave system had been generating big economic growth it might be expected that its end would cause a road bump. There's no evidence of that, although of course it could be swamped by other factors like technological change. Slaves didn't disappear - they were still people doing labour - and there are plenty of other ways to exploit humans and get their labour for bargain-basement prices, as seen with the wage-earning but powerless workers of the 19th C in Britain's factories.

The economic impact of the slave trade are far more messy and complicated that the stuff we learned at school. Not only is it over simplified to see a National Trust house as being built with blood money - the actual profit might have been from ripping off fellow Brits with high prices - but the systematic exploitation of the poor through the Industrial Revolution might be a side effect. The counterfactual where the Atlantic slave trade never happened could well have seen a more prosperous Britain developing faster with bigger country houses for the 1% and better economic security for the urban poor.
What ever happened to that Trump guy, you know, the one who was president for a bit?

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