The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery: 1776-1848 (Verso World History Series)
In 1770 a handful of European nations ruled the Americas, drawing from them a stream of products, both everyday and exotic. Some two and a half million black slaves, imprisoned in plantation colonies, toiled to produce the sugar, coffee, cotton, ginger and indigo craved by Europeans. By 1848 the major systems of colonial slavery had been swept away either by independence movements, slave revolts, abolitionists or some combination of all three. How did this happen?
Robin Blackburn’s history captures the complexity of a revolutionary age in a compelling narrative. In some cases colonial rule fell while slavery flourished, as happened in the South of the United States and in Brazil; elsewhere slavery ended but colonial rule remained, as in the British West Indies and French Windwards. But in French St. Domingue, the future Haiti, and in Spanish South and Central America both colonialism and slavery were defeated. This story of slave liberation and American independence highlights the pivotal role of the “first emancipation” in the French Antilles in the 1790s, the parallel actions of slave resistance and metropolitan abolitionism, and the contradictory implications of slaveholder patriotism.
The dramatic events of this epoch are examined from an unexpected vantage point, showing how the torch of anti-slavery passed from the medieval communes to dissident Quakers, from African maroons to radical pirates, from Granville Sharp and Ottabah Cuguano to Toussaint L’Ouverture, from the black Jacobins to the Liberators of South America, and from the African Baptists in Jamaica to the Revolutionaries of 1848 in Europe and the Caribbean.
Obliged himself by a contract to perpetual labours for no other compensation than his bare maintenance the contract is plainly unequal and unjust; . . . he has a 48 Origins o f Anti-Slavery perfect right to further compensation, either in some peculium, or little stock for him or his family, or in a humane maintenance for this family. Such a servant whether for life or a term of years, is to retain all the rights of mankind, valid against his master, as well as all others, excepting only that.
Rebel band: We desire you to tell your governor and your court, that in case they want to raise no new gangs of rebels, they ought to take care that the planters keep a more watchful eye over their own property, and not trust them so frequently in the hands of drunken managers and overseers, who wrongfully and severely chastising the negroes, debauching their wives and children, neglecting the sick . . . are the ruin of the colony, and wilfully drive to the woods such numbers of stout active.
— it chills one’s blood. I would not want to say I voted for it for the continent of America.40 Walpole’s private abstention reflected a wider distaste for prevailing social and political trends but led to no further action; the first parliamentary challenge to British participation in the slave trade was not to be made until 1779 when, following reverses in the American war, some Yorkshire MPs favourable to parliamentary reform also unsuccessfully proposed a ban on the slave trade. British and.
Black Bondage in the N orth, p. 166. 13. Zilversmit, The First Emancipation, p. 166. 14. John Jay was one of the slave-owners in the Society; his attitude to his personal slaves is illustrated by the following remark, made in 1798: ‘I purchase slaves, and manumit them at proper ages, and when their faithful services shall have afforded a reasonable retribution.’ Quoted in Zilversmit, The First Emancipation, p. 167n. On artisanal support for Hamilton in the late 1780s see Sean Wilentz, Chants.
If only as the butt of Sydney Smith’s mordant humour. ‘A corporation of informers’, he called it, ‘supported by large contributions’ and bent on suppressing not the vices of the rich but the pleasures of the poor, on reducing their life ‘to its regular standard of decorous gloom’, while ‘the gambling houses of St Jam es remain untouched’. These were well aimed shafts and they hit the Proclamation Society as surely as its successor. It was fortunate, surely, that Wilberforce’s fine enthusiasm was.