Slavery, Culture, Economics, Aesthetics and the UCL Slavery Research Project

The acknowledgement of the influence of the slave trade on contemporary Britain is, of course, contentious. For some, that is.
When I was growing up, the rich used to show their supremacy, culturally and economically, by paying in ‘guineas’ rather than pounds. I had to become an adult before I found out the precise provenance of that word. Similarly, I had to wait for maturity and beyond, before anyone wondered if Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley might have made their money from slavery. And don’t get me started on Colston Hall …
Part of the reason for this lies within mainstream school and university twentieth century textbooks – the ‘Whig view of History’ has prevailed in this country, pretty much, throughout my lifetime: incremental, empirical, pragmatic, non-ideological, practical progress. Omniscient and generous rulers, who knew when it was exactly the right moment to bring in exactly the right amount of reform, and so avoid those beastly continental revolutions.
It is this historiographical trope that trots out a so-called line running from Magna Carta, through the ‘Glorious (‘peaceful’, and exaggerated) Revolution’ of 1688, and on through the Reform Acts of the 19th and early 20th centuries. This trope misses out the Commonwealth (‘Interregnum’), of course, but includes the 1807 Act ending the slave trade in the British Empire, and the 1833-4 Abolition of Slavery Act.
Oh, beneficent all-seeing rulers: born to rule, and always knowing best: lucky Britons and lucky Britain.
This is, needless to say, an illusion at best, false consciousness at worst – and dangerously deceptive with regards to slavery. The foregrounding of the 1807 and 1833 Acts has too often got our past off the hook – two centuries worth of slave trafficking sent backstage. And the history books that have contrasted the domestic programme of the ‘Modernizing Whigs’ of the 1830s with the ‘Reactionary Tories’ pre – 1832, have often glossed over some of the detail of the 1833 Abolition of Slavery Act. The textbooks have focused upon Whig/Benthamite reforms for factories, towns, workhouses and so on, rather than the abolition of slavery.
The 1833-4 Act freed slaves within the British Empire (but let the East India Company off), but provided £20 million in compensation for the slave owners. That was not far off half of all governmental expenditure for that year, and is the equivalent of some £17 billion in today’s values. The UCL research project indicates that about half of those slave owners resided in this country and half in the West Indies (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/commercial/). The mapping of these beneficiaries shows how slave owners pop up in the most unlikely of places in the United Kingdom in 1834.
The project also shows what was done with much of this compensation and, unsurprisingly, a huge amount went into investment in the railways.
In a sense, the ‘Railway Mania’ of the 1840s, and the subsequent speculative investment cycles in the British domestic economy, were fuelled by those handouts to slave owners – and when you take into account the Keynsian multiplier effect, it’s hard to imagine almost anyone whose lives weren’t touched by that dirty money.
I researched two areas on the database for slave owners: Stroud and Portland Place in London. Portland Place was absolutely rife with slave owners; Stroud had but one in 1834: Samuel Baker of Lypiatt Park. Think of that, the next time you gaze out on that grand house; think about Baker’s 410 slaves on his two estates in Jamaica and how all his compensation helped fund many of our local railway lines: ‘A Day in the Life of a Penny’.
Appetite whetted, I typed in Painswick and discovered: Rev. Joseph Duncan Ostrehan, Sheepscombe Parsonage, He received compensation of £85 8s 11d for 3 slaves in Barbados, God bless him.
I then typed in Gloucestershire – why was I so astonished to find so much compensation being paid to Bristol in general, and Clifton, in particular? But a few more local parishes popped up. (Stop Press! I have now decided, whilst writing this, to collate all of these so as to put together a walk around the county and around the city – so no more of these entries for now. I’ll post all of that in a couple of weeks’ time.)
As regards the consequences of compensation for culture, the sullied cultural legacy resulting from this dirty money is shown at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/cultural/ and https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/physical/
also shows how compensation paid to the 46,000 owners of about 800,000 slaves helped pay for new grand houses. It also funded many charities; indeed, the Royal Lifeboat Association was floated with slavery compensation. (To name but one.) Your own delving will reveal this hidden history of widely tainted philanthropy.
Another cultural legacy – albeit delayed – was racialist ideology. The campaign led by free traders against mercantilism, monopoly and slavery meant that imperialism and empire were regarded with thrifty suspicion by the Manchester mid 19th century zeitgeist – but the ‘Age of Empire’ would see the resurrection of racialist ideas in the late nineteenth century.
And how.
And, of course, it’s still with us today.
And how.
More of this on a future post – and working backwards, more on the economics, ideology and cultural consequences of slavery in the 18th century on a future post too.
To conclude for now, the link below takes you to the two excellent documentaries on BBC 2 in July 2015. David Olusoga was quite brilliant in these programmes about the UCL project. His presentation was especially poignant when reminding us that the abolitionists were, in the end, only allowed to free fellow human beings, by denying those slaves their humanity. This was, in a sense, a denial of the abolitionists’ fundamental beliefs.
The slave owners were triumphant in defeat: compensation for property, not humanity. That is why there is no equality of payment; instead there is a calibrated proportionality; Jamaican soil was becoming sugar-exhausted, whereas British Guiana was sugar-fertile, and so, Jamaican slaves were worth less … indeed, some were ready reckoned down to the most exact halfpenny.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2015/28/britains-forgotten-slave-owners/

Redemption, the Pink Cabbage, Slavery and Stroud

Redemption

Redemption: a typically Christian conflation of the spiritual, the mundane and the material. Redeeming: an act of atoning for a sin, mistake or fault; salvation from sin through the incarnation and crucifixion of Christ; the state of being redeemed from evil or error; deliverance from sin, salvation; atonement. Repurchase of something sold; paying off a mortgage, debt, bond or note; recovery of something pledged, pawned; conversion of paper currency into bullion or specie; fulfilling an obligation. Archaism: buying one’s freedom from ransom; rescue. Origin: Middle English, Old French, Latin: redemptio/redimere (to buy back).

The immediate successor of the Indian, however, was not the Negro but the poor white.These white servants included a variety of types. Some were indentured servants … Still others, known as “redemptioners”, arranged with the captain of the ship to pay for their passage on arrival or within a specified time thereafter; if they did not, they were sold by the captain to the highest bidder.’
Capitalism and Slavery, Eric Williams

Redemption’s Song: ‘Old pirates, yes they rob I, Sold I to the merchant ships’

Stroud Scarlet, Uley Blue and Berkeley Yellow. Watch those explorers canoeing Canada, Trading Stroud Scarlet with the Iroquois, When fair exchange was no robbery
For the Hudson Bay Company, Or for the East India Company too. See that Stroud Scarlet cloth, Stretched out on tenterhooks in our fields, Eventually shipped down to West Africa; Its folds concealing any human cargo. Admire General Wolfe and his red coats, Up there on the steps of Quebec, A few short years after riding down Stroud Scarlet weavers in the streets and fields: “Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves, Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.”

Sunday July 1st, 1739: “Today I heard George Whitefield preach at Minchinhampton. He has inspired me with his breath of the Great Redeemer and I am resolved to provide the funds for the building of a Tabernacle at Rodborough. I am also resolved to do something about the licentiousness and intemperance of the local population of Stroudwater. I am hopeful of making a start with the notorious Pink Cabbage. Redemption could begin with its conversion from an inn to a coffee house.” Thomas Adams

George Whitefield’s views on slavery:

“Though liberty is a sweet thing to such as are born free, yet to those who never knew the sweets of it, slavery perhaps may not be so irksome. However this be, it is plain to a demonstration, that hot countries cannot be cultivated without negroes. What a flourishing country might Georgia have been, had the use of them been permitted years ago? How many white people have been destroyed for want of them, and how many thousands of pounds spent to no purpose at all? Had Mr Henry been in America, I believe he would have seen the lawfulness and necessity of having negroes there. And though it is true, that they are brought in a wrong way from their own country, and it is a trade not to be approved of, yet as it will be carried on whether we will or not; I should think myself highly favoured if I could purchase a good number of them … It rejoiced my soul, to hear that one of my poor negroes in Carolina was made a brother in Christ. “

Colonel Wolfe, The Pink Cabbage, Stroud, October 1756

” The people are so oppressed, so poor and so wretched, that they will, perhaps, hazard a knock on the pate for bread and clothes. I have charge of six companies of foot soldiers, enough to beat the mob of all England. The Gloucester weavers and I have not yet come to blows nor do I believe we shall, but the poor half-starved weavers beg about the country for food. The masters have beat down their wages too low to live upon, and I believe it is a just complaint. But those who are most oppressed have seized the tools and broke the looms of others who would work if they could. The face of this country is different from anything I have seen in England. Numberless little hills, little rivulets running in all the bottoms; the lower parts of the hills are generally grass, the middle corn, and the upper part wood and innumerable little white houses in all the vales, so that there is a vast variety; and every mile changes the scene, and gives you a new and pleasant prospect. It is melancholy to reflect that in the midst of this beauty, the weavers have little likelihood of their redemption.”

Iam a negro and a free man, but close to death. I was born in Guinea in 1760, I have been told, and was sold to a ship’s captain from Bristol.He bought me with red cloth. I know now that cloth came from Stroud. I was taken to Barbados where I excelled at my studies and so became a servant to ———— ——————-.My artful dissimulation enabled me to play perfectly the role of periwigged, liveried footman. There never was a more attentive peacock. At length, my master decided to return to his estate in England. My master’s estate was in the south of the shire and north of Bristol. After about a year, a coachman ‘of sable hue’ arrived one day with some new materials for my master’s chosen livery: Stroud Scarlet, Uley Blue and Berkeley Yellow. He called me over before the coach departed and whispered in my ear. He told me that my long lost brother was in this country too – and only some 30 miles away – a servant at The Pink Cabbage in Stroud.

The following night I exchanged my livery for fustian brown and disappeared into the darkness of the night. Comforting light for a fleeing slave! 
I concealed my person in the newly planted hedgerows by day and walked by night, keeping the moonlit River Severnon my left and close to sight. My coachman friend had told me that I should go toArlingham, where there was a chance of obtaining a place on a crew of a vessel heading for Gloucester. My good fortune continued and I duly found a place on the Quadrille,bound for Gloucester. Here I met more men of colour, some from America.

One of these mariners told me the whereabouts of The Pink Cabbage and that he had heard that a negro was in habitation there. This news spurred me as much as my hearty dinner – my brother! The mariner advised me to head back to Framilode, so that I might join a crew on a ship heading for Stroud through the Stroudwater Navigation. When I mentioned the Quadrille, that was sufficient testimony to my prowess, and I took my place on the Sabrina.

I alighted at Wallbridge to take the path up the hill to The Cross. It was with a little trepidation but much expectation that I entered that parish on that autumn day. I sought out the clergyman at the church and explained my quest. I showed him my Bible in my bag; my name in the front’s piece seemed to reassure him of my bona fides. He looked at me solemnly and dropped his gaze. He asked me to follow him and this I did, following in his dolorous wake.

He lifted the parish register and leafed through the pages. After some moments of pensive perusal, he showed me this entry:

1st July, 1778, William Jubiter, ye black, buried.

I buried my head in my hands and cried the salt tears of loneliness. At length, I was led from the church and so made my melancholy descent back to Wallbridge.
 I despaired of human company and recoiled from the thought of contact, such was my sadness. I resolved to make a solitary way along the cut and so reach the River Thames; and thence to London. The beauty of the bosky hills and vales; the serenity of the sylvan shade; the laughter of the waters; the wind in the reeds; the white stone cottages like so many pebbles thrown on the hillsides; the pure green fields – all of these conspired to give me endurance, fortitude and make thanks to God. Two days walking led me to Lechladewhere I found a place on the William Butler, bound for Deptford. Here I found friendly mariners and also negroes. They told me that the riversides in London possess a whole reticulation of havens and hidey-holes for escaped slaves and servants. A trudge through a labyrinth of streets, creeks and chimneys led me to my haven, where I presently lie on my bedding.

The death-rattle of my cough echoes the call of the birds of my homeland in Guinea.There is no song of Redemption for me here.

Some entries from Gloucestershire parish records:

Newnham on Severn, Easter 1715: John Price, a black boy lately brought to England, apprenticed to John Trigge, attorney at law.

Nymphsfield June 20th, 1773: Francis London, a servant to the right honourable Lord Ducie, supposed to be 17 years of age- a native of Africa- was baptized.

Stroud February 28th, 1786: Adam John Parker, negro, 32, was buried. Parish Funeral-paupers grave.

Frocester November 4th, 1790: William Frocester, 11 or 12 years of age, born on the island of Barbados, now servant of Edward Bigland Esquire, residing in Jamaica. Baptised.

Stroud May 7th, 1801: William Ellis, son of Qualquay Assedew of Guinea, a negro, aged 12. Baptised.

Bisley July 5th, 1815: Testimonial from Richard Raikes, supporting the application of John Hart, writing master, for the post of master at the Bisley Blue Coats school – unfortunately he is a mulatto, a native of the West Indies.

Henry Wyatt decides to erect an arch on the drive to his Farmhill Estate, Stroud 1834, in an act of symbolic redemption:

ERECTED TO COMMEMORATE THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY IN THE BRITISH COLONIES THE FIRST OF AUGUST A.D. MDCCCXXX1V

But there was also redemption for the owners of slaves: £20 million (about 40% of the British government’s spending that year), nearly £17 billion, using today’s values.

But the tyranny of time can still prevent redemption:

Opposite the Pink Cabbage is the National School where the “Black Boy”, “one of Stroud’s most celebrated symbols”, stands above the clock.  He was fashioned by John Miles of Kendrick Street in 1774. A Stroud Local History Society leaflet goes on to tell us that he first stood outside a watchmaker’s shop in the High Street, before migrating to the Duke of York in Nelson Street.  He ended up at the school in 1844. The leaflet tells us:

“He held a hammer which rang a bell in front of him when the hour struck.”

This is no Song of Redemption for Stroud

These are the words of T h o m a s J u b i T e r , once known around Gloucestershire as ‘the travelling black mariner’

These are the words of T h o m a s J u b i T e r , once known around Gloucestershire as ‘the travelling black mariner’

Iam

a negro and a free man, but close to death. I was born in Guinea in 1760, I have been told, and was sold to a ship’s captain from Bristol. He bought me with red cloth. I know now that cloth came from Stroud.
I was taken to Barbados. I can do no better than to describe that voyage through the words of Olaudah Equiano (I was later taught to read and write by a minister on the plantation. I have carried two books with me always since on my travels: The Bible and The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, the African):
‘This produced copious perspirations, so that the air soon became unfit for respiration, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died, thus falling victims to the improvident avarice, as I may call it, of their purchasers. This wretched situation was again aggravated by the galling of the chains, now become insupportable; and the filth of the necessary tubs, into which the children often fell, and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable.’
I excelled at my studies and so became a servant to ———— ——————-. My artful dissimulation enabled me to play perfectly the role of periwigged, liveried footman. There never was a more attentive peacock. At length, my master decided to return to his estate in England. I was given the ‘privilege’, as he put it, of voyaging to England too. There would be no return to Guinea for me; that was my hoped-for reward, but that was a mere phantom.
My master’s estate was in the south of the shire and north of Bristol. After about a year, a coachman ‘of sable hue’ arrived one day with some new materials for my master’s chosen livery: Stroud Scarlet; Uley Blue and Berkeley Yellow. He called me over before the coach departed and whispered in my ear. He told me that my long lost brother was in this country too – and only some 30 miles away.
I resolved to ask for my freedom, and head north for Rodborough, near Stroud. Alas! My plea was peremptorily refused – how could I be such an ingrate? The following night I exchanged my livery for fustian brown and disappeared into the darkness of the night. Comforting light for a fleeing slave!
I concealed my person in the newly planted hedgerows by day and walked by night, keeping the moonlit River Severn on my left and close to sight. My coachman friend had told me that I should go to Arlingham, where there was a chance of obtaining a place on a crew of a vessel heading for Gloucester. My good fortune continued and I duly found a place on the Quadrille, bound for Gloucester. Here I met more men of colour, some from America.
One of these mariners told me the whereabouts of Rodborough and that he had heard that a negro was in habitation there. This news spurred me as much as my hearty dinner – my brother! The mariner advised me to head back toFramilode, so that I might join a crew on a ship heading for Stroud through the Stroudwater Navigation. When I mentioned the Quadrille, that was sufficient testimony to my prowess, and I took my place on the Sabrina.
I alighted at Wallbridge to take the path up the hill to Rodborough. It was with a little trepidation but much expectation that I entered that parish on that autumn day. I sought out the clergyman at the church and explained my quest. I showed him my Bible in my bag; my name in the front’s piece seemed to reassure him of my bona fides. He looked at me solemnly and dropped his gaze. He asked me to follow him and this I did, following in his dolorous wake.
He lifted the parish register and leafed through the pages. After some moments of pensive perusal, he showed me this entry:
1st July, 1778, William Jubiter, ye black, buried.
I buried my head in my hands and cried the salt tears of loneliness. At length, I was led from the church and so made my melancholy descent back to Wallbridge.
I despaired of human company and recoiled from the thought of contact, such was my sadness. I resolved to make a solitary way along the cut and so reach the River Thames; and thence to London. The beauty of the bosky hills and vales; the serenity of the sylvan shade; the laughter of the waters; the wind in the reeds; the white stone cottages like so many pebbles thrown on the hillsides; the pure green fields – all of these conspired to give me endurance, fortitude and make thanks to God. Two days walking led me to Lechlade where I found a place on the William Butler, bound for Deptford. Here I found friendly mariners and also negroes. They told me that the riversides in London possess a whole reticulation of havens and hidey-holes for escaped slaves and servants. A trudge through a labyrinth of streets, creeks and chimneys led me to my haven, where I presently lie on my bedding.
The death-rattle of my cough echoes the call of the birds of my homeland in Guinea. My birthplace is no phantom now. The call of my mother and father is as insistent as the waves on the shore-line of my village. I know that I shall, at last, be returning to that bourn ere long.
These are the last words that I shall write.
Thomas Jubiter
Story written by Stuart Butler, August 2013, inspired by an entry in a parish register.
“Non-fiction uses facts to help us see the lies. Fiction uses metaphor to help us see the truth.”
See: A book that changed me, Nadine Gordimer helped me see how fiction writing can illuminate reality, by Aminatta Forna, The Guardian, August 20 2013.