Stroud and Abolition after 1834
(Derived from a reading of Slave Empire
How Slavery Built Modern Britain
Padraic X. Scanlon)
I’m sure you know the arch near Archway School in Stroud:
ERECTED TO COMMEMORATE THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY
IN THE BRITISH COLONIES THE FIRST OF AUGUST, A.D. MDCCCXXXIV
Four year later, as the author tells us:
‘On 1 August 1838, more than 800,000 people were finally free.
But their freedom was circumscribed’.
Apprenticeship not Freedom
Traineeship Training Period Studentship Novitiate Initiate
Probationary Period Trial Period Indentureship
Direction Discipline Guidance Lesson Preparation
Teaching Training Coaching Drilling Tutelage
Apprenticeship not Freedom
So perhaps I should say,
On 1 August 1838, more than 800,000 people were finally ‘free’.
British hypocrisy does not stop there, of course;
I’m not talking about cups of tea
Constantly sweetened with sugar from
Slaveholding Brazil, Cuba, and Louisiana,
Although we could;
But something more fundamental
In the growth of British economic power:
The global dominance of ‘King Cotton’,
The nineteenth century dominance
Of Manchester and Lancashire –
That could not have happened, of course, without
Slavery in the cotton growing southern states of the USA.
And talking of British hypocrisy:
‘Freedom – free elections, free labour and free trade – were the watchwords of the Victorian British Empire. This free empire, however, was sustained by the exploitation of wage-earning colonial workers – given the lustre of morality by anti-slavery – and by continuing demands on the labour of enslaved people outside the colonies.
Modern Britain has inherited this legacy. Capitalism and liberalism emphasises ‘freedom’ – for individuals and for markets – but were and are built on human bondage.’
It seems as though we are talking paradox and oxymoron
‘Free trade was built on slave labour, Britain’s Pax Britannica of the nineteenth century was an illusion. Relative peace in Europe was made possible by vicious colonial wars, where European empires settled scores and casualties were written off as the price of civilisation.’
And in a graphic illustration
Of the Keynsian multiplier-effect,
Scanlan quotes W.E.B. Du Bois
From The World and Africa:
‘frightful paradox … that a blameless, cultured, beautiful young woman in a London suburb may be the foundation on which is built the poverty and degradation of the world.’
The suburb as metonymy? As synecdoche?
And the impact of imperial expansion upon Stroud?
The Seven Years War, 1756-63:
‘In total, Britain mobilised more than 167,000 soldiers and sailors, and spent more than £18 million on the war effort. In 2020, a war costing the same proportion of gross domestic product … would require a loan of nearly £39.5 billion. Crucially, 45,000 more soldiers were deployed to North America, a force five times as large as the army mustered by France and its allies.’
That’s a lot of redcoats
(This force included General Wolfe, of course,
Killed in the storming of the heights of Quebec,
Who a few years before, as Colonel Wolfe,
Had commanded redcoats in action against
The Stroudwater weavers who made the redcoats.)
While in Africa
‘As the slave trade rose, West African manufacturing declined … textiles, ironwork and goldsmithing. The slave trade gutted these industries.’
‘About one out of every five families in Britain in the eighteenth century was directly involved in colonial trade.’
‘Shortly before 1 August 1834, Edward Stanley sent a circular to the colonial governors of the slave empire. Apprenticeship, he explained, “was … a temporary provision for the continued cultivation of the soil, and the good order of society, until all classes should gradually fall into the relations of a state of freedom.”’
Stroud Scarlet after Abolition
‘The military power of the slave empire
was called into action to enforce apprenticeship’;
There were strikes; demands for freedom; for wages;
And in response?
Until the 39th Regiment was called into action,
Two companies under the command of Sir Henry Macleod:
‘The strikers, faced with ranks of armed redcoats, returned to work, and Macleod left behind one of his two companies to maintain order.’
Some 1,000 apprentices
Gathered in a churchyard;
There were demands for wages;
Redcoats were called into action;
‘Faced with the redcoats, the apprentices dispersed.’
Execution and exile followed.
Redcoats were used in Montserrat and Nevis, too:
‘Once it was clear that the Army would break strikes, apprentices retreated to slow-downs, and small-scale resistance, old weapons from the days of slavery.’
So, redcoats broke strikes in Stroud,
And, redcoats broke strikes in the slave empire;
And as King Cotton dominated the world from Lancashire,
And as Britannia sweetened its tea and coffee,
While jolly Jack Tars drank their rum and smoked their pipes,
So, ‘London solidified its position as the financial capital of the nineteenth century, British investors financed infrastructure that carried enslaved people and the things they produced, and bought up the debt of slaveholding states’;
In short, the secessionist South
Had previously been partly funded by Britain.
But, you say, ‘Be balanced and fair’:
What about the abolition of the slave trade
Back in 1807, and Britain’s moral compass,
As the Royal Navy patrolled the west African coast?
The Royal Navy had just fourteen ships on patrol;
They intercepted, on average,
one slave-ship every two weeks;
It was estimated that 150,000 people
Were still being enslaved and transported
Across the Atlantic Ocean, each year,
After the end of apprenticeship:
‘Neither 1807 nor 1833 had actually ended Britain’s entanglement with slavery. British industry and finance remained deeply connected to enslaved labour in the United States, Cuba and elsewhere. The conviction that the new liberal British empire had transcended the ugly history of its birth crabbed and stunted the political and moral imagination of a new generation.’
Britannia waives the rules.