As History Slave Trade

Slave trade notes, the trade, abolition of slave trade and abolition of slavery.

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Life of a Slave

  • Between 1500-1800 there were 9-12 million Africans enslaved.
  • African slavery existed before the Triangular slave trade, but children weren't born slaves and intermarriage occurred so it was arguably more humane.
  • Middle Passage: 6 weeks to 3 months
  • Terrifying experience- never seen white people before.
  • Female slaves *****
  • punishment harsh - irons and thumbscrews, beating, whipping etc
  • packed into tiny spaces, 3 or 4 buckets for toilets (quaters became swamps)
  • fed pulped beans, yams, rice
  • Many diseases (1600s- 20% mortality, 1700s- 10% mortality)
  • However:
  • ship surgeon = cared for and less deaths
  • Dolben Act restricted numb. slaves per ship
  • Food was planned so they had enough
  • They were given exercise on deck (kept 'healthy')
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Trading: once they'd arrived they were sold

  • washed and skin covered with grease/tar to look healthy
  • branded as slaves with hot iron
  • stood on platform and were inspected (poked, prodded etc). 
  • They were bid on and the highest bidder won
  • or each buyer would pay and then the pen was opened and they'd rush in and grab the slave they wanted
  • slaves had no understanding of the language or what was happening
  • cork stuck in their anus to stop diarrhoea from dysentery.
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Work Life

  • Positives:
  • They were given some rest (rice plantations work was done by midday)
  • Slaves were sorted by age/ability - given work they could handle
  • If they developed skills of a carpenter or cooper they became artisan slaves and were treated better
  • conclusion: their work lives could get better if they were willing to work for it
  • Negatives:
  • Wake at 4am, work by 5 or 6am. in Jamaica- work till 9 then breakfast, 1.5 hrs for lunch, then work until their 12hrs was over.
  • work in fields, factories- sometimes for 36hr shift.
  • Watched closely by masters and given harsh punishment (Thistlewood whipped slaves and them marinated wounds in lime, salt and pepper)
  • females had constant threat of sexual advances from masters and harsh, violent punishment
  • work in rice plantations was especially hard
  • worked 6 days a week, 96 hrs a week, 6 months a year
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Free time

  • Positive:
  • used for dancing, music, folk stories-escape from work life, kept culture alive
  • Got weekends and Christian holidays off, preparing w/ elaborate costumes and food, splitting into local groups and parading town.
  • folk stories- often tales of underdogs overcoming the mighty through shrewdness disguised by humility.
  • Negatives:
  • Used to grow food to supplement meagre diet
  • used to look after one another (treating illnesses like 'dirt eating'- when they'd eat dirt in response to depression or feeling threatened)
  • free time was used to keep them alive not for pleasure
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Family life

  • Positives:
  • slave parents could pass skills to children, so they could be artisan slaves
  • families = culture preserved through folk stories, music etc
  • provided community, meant chore could be shared and when a significant event occurred they could gather and form a unit, raising morale
  • Negatives:
  • More males than females - this balanced out by mid 1700s, families formed
  • constantly threatened by separation by masters
  • lived in '***** houses' near plantation
  • at 10 children moved away or were sold to other plantations
  • mother took baby to the fields during work hours
  • when children grew they would stay at home looking after other children so mother could work
  • families meant extra work and money and didn't protect mother from sexual advances.
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  • gave hope for future and provided an education
  • they could complain to missionaries about their masters- especially women who wanted to avoid master's sexual advances.
  • told them they were equal to white men
  • But: planters didn't like that Christian slaves were equal to them
  • missionaries publicly denounced ****+ sexual violence by plantation owners, who didn't like being told what to do
  • planters feared slave revolts and were stricter w/punishments (some killed Christian slaves)


  • religion from home- use of spirits to harm the living
  • leader (obeah man) could rally slaves into rebellion- had huge power
  • believed that once in the obeah man's group they were invulnerable to the white man. if they died they could be resurrected
  • But: obeah became illegal after Tacky revolt and masters were afraid of it
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Thomas Clarkson

Who? An abolitionist inspired by Benezet's (Quaker) writing. Saw slavery as a blot on God's creation so joined the humanitarian Quakers and Granville Sharp.

What? 1)Formed 'Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade' (3 CofEs, 9 Quakers). 2) Got testimonies from sailors and doctors in ports. Boarded ships to see slave decks, collected evidence (thumbscrews etc). Got death threats from traders. 3)Petitioned. Got 1/5 Manchester to sign (11,000). 100 petitions by 1788. 4) Highlighted negative effect on Britain (mortality sailors), gave alternatives. 5) Visited France, but they still refused seats to black people, so the trip didn't help. 6)Had a breakdown in 1794, which was when the abolition campaign slowed down.

Why an Effect? He reached the whole country and even the middle class. Provided evidence and 1st hand accounts. Involved women too (10% signatures from women). More than moral reasons (gave British deaths and that 1,100 deserted per year). Offered alternatives (pepper, ivory, rice) to defeat economic argument. He convinced Wilberforce to join the cause. Held rum and sugar boycotts.   

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William Wilberforce

Who? MP of Hull, friends with Pitt, converted Evangelical Christian, charismatic and had a gift for public speaking.

What? -1791 He put forward a bill in a 3.5 hour speech which dismissed the idea that the trade made any moral or financial sense. It was rejected. 1792 Another bill, using Denmark as an example. Instead Dundas's gradual change bill was passed but never happened.1794 bill to ban British Merchants from selling slaves. Defeated.1795 inspired motion for 96 abolition, but public opinion against quick change. 1796 Another bill defeated. 1799 Another bill defeated after John Petrie argues abolition would be bad for Africa. Fails 74-82. 1804 bill passes in commons but is blocked in the Lords. 1806 Bill fails, but PM Grenville supports so bill forbidding slaves to be sold to foreign countries is passed. Act passed that after 1807 no new ships in the trade. 1807 bill for abolition passed.

Why an Effect? He was a gifted public speaker, worked tirelessly and could disprove counter arguments. Supported by Clapham Sect, John Newton, Clarkson. Had moral drive. Only link to Parliament.

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Who? A group of people with similar religious views- commitment to conversion, enthusiasm for the bible.


  • Clapham Sect- A support group for their campaigning members. They formed the Sierra Leone plan.
  • Wilberforce- representative in Parliament. See pg 8.
  • Clarkson- toured Britain, gathered evidence, petitioned. See pg 7.
  • John Newton- ex-slaver, wrote pamphlets, addressed people in secular, rational and religious ways so appealed to everyone.
  • Henry Thornton- financial brain, supported the campaigns financially.
  • Granville Sharp- lawyer who fought for Africans in England.

Why an Effect? They were the brunt of the abolition campaign. Targeted general public, parliament and religious communities. Main function was the Clapham Sect providing a support group for abolitionists to encourage each other.

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Who? A religious group believing in the equality of all people in Christ, seeing slavery as Anti-humanitarian as all men were equal in God's eyes.


  • Anti slavery since 1600s, with George Fox writing letters explaining why slavery is wrong. 
  • They funded a lot of propaganda e.g. in 1783 made 12,000 copies of a pamphlet and sent it to parliament and the royal family.
  • Made up most of the Society for Abolition, organising boycotts and pamphlets e.g. funded Wedgewood's "Am I not a man and a brother", famous diagram of "The Brookes" slaver, convinced 40,000 people to boycott sugar by 1792- didn't have an effect on the sugar trade, but did on public opinion.

Why an Effect? First abolitionists, funding massive amounts of propaganda that is now iconic of the abolitionist fight. Without their funding could Clarkson have gotten so much support? Benezet's writings inspired many people and caused Clarkson to convert to the cause. They weren't allowed in parliament, but had an effect on public opinion.

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Granville Sharp

Who? British lawyer who became an early abolitionist in strange conditions and continued fighting for slaves in england.

What? He came across Johnathon Strong, a slave who had been pistol whipped, and found him a job whilst helping him financially. Strong got 'reclaimed' by his owner and sold in the Caribbean. When Sharp found out he petitioned the Lord Mayor who freed Strong (who died at 25 from trauma and stress). Sharp then devoted his life to helping slaves like James Somerset, who had run away but was recaptured. His master tried to take him to Jamaica, but Sharp took he case to the Chief of Justice and proved it was against english law to transport runaway slaves overseas against their will. Many slaves came to him for help.

Why and Effect? People believed Sharp had ended slavery in Britain. Although this was not true, he had an effect in that he was a loud, publicised and high ranking voice speaking in favour of abolition. He gave slaves a place to turn for help and showed that being an abolitionist was rational.

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Black People

Who? Ex-slaves who became abolitionist voices in England. Gave 1st hand accounts of what they had experienced.

What? Odulah Equiano was a slave from 11, learnt to read and write in England and was taken to France for the war, but not paid for his naval service. He was taken to Monserrat as an administrator then sold to a Quaker who he bought his freedom from. He worked as a hairdresser and assistant scientist in London. He was upset by his and Granville Sharp's failure to rescue one of the slaves Sharp fought for, so formed the 'Sons of Africa' with ex-slave Cugoano. They had letter writing campaigns, lobbying and spoke publicly. He petitioned the Queen, speaking of the 'rights of man'. He published 2 volumes of his life and spent 2 years promoting it all around the country. It was available in Dutch, German English and Russian and was full of criticisms of slavery.

Why an Effect? 1st hand account of slave conditions. He also challenged the view that Africans were stupid, incapable of intelligence and little better than animals. He was well spoken, well read and he changed many people's views of the ability and 'rank' of black people.

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This is really helpful with looaadddss of deatail! Thankyou!!!



Very detailed and clear notes on Britain and the triangular slave trade. They include evaluation of conditions and notes on the key abolitionists.



thanks helped alot.

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