Tweeting about Slavery: How the Open University Made Me Re-think Twitter

I recently began taking an online course in Technology-Enhanced Learning from the Open University. I’m four weeks in and finding it fascinating. The course is delivered online to students all around the world. My tutorial group of 12 has students based in the UK, Vietnam, Australia, and Tasmania, and yet we are able to see one another, meet up for informal chats online, and participate in formal, tutor-run, “synchronous” tutorials via OU Live and Blackboard Collaborate.

One of the best parts of the course, in my opinion, is that it constantly asks us as students to evaluate the means by which they are teaching and we are learning (when it’s not busy asking us to define and debate via the online forums what ‘learning’ is). Over the 10-15 hours of study and activities each week, we are provided with information in a variety of formats and are asked to think about not only the content but the means by which the content has been presented. Videos, podcasts, transcripts of conference papers, articles from peer reviewed journals, chapters from academic monographs and essay collections… we’ve already encountered course material from all of these formats.

In the course we aren’t just exposed to a wide range of formats of digitised information, but we are asked to think about the technology we use (both high tech and low tech), why we use it, what we like and dislike about it, and what could work better for us. We’re connecting with one another on Twitter, creating online profiles, blogging, gathering resources together on a group wiki, meeting up virtually face-to-face online, and being challenged to learn about new forms of technology that can contribute to learning, teaching, and course creation.

This has also got me thinking about how I might use familiar technology in new ways to create, develop, and organise content and research. For example, for a number of years I relied almost solely upon irregular notifications of new information posted to the H-Slavery forum sent directly to my email to find out what was happening in the world of slavery history research. But then I began making an effort to become more active on Twitter (BTW You can find me on Twitter @HistoryByPaula ). By following slavery researchers and anti-slavery projects from around the world with only a click of the Follow button, I am finding new leads for resources, the latest relevant news stories, upcoming conferences, and links to Facebook pages, blog posts, and calls for papers and publications. It’s fairly safe to say that I would not be aware of most of this activity without Twitter.

For me, Twitter has gone from a website where people write little notes about themselves to a useful tool that connects me with what is going on in my field of research right now. And I don’t know if I would have recognised it as a tool had it not been for H800.

The World As Gaeilge

I’ve just been at the wedding of a good friend and in her honor as an American speaker of Irish, I thought I’d take a look at the Irish language worldwide.  This ended up being an enormous subject, so I’ll just give a snapshot of what came up while researching.

125 years ago, in 1891, only about 14% of the population of Ireland spoke Irish.  The Gaelic Revival in the late nineteenth century, led by Douglas Hyde, Eoin MacNeill, and others, steered the resurgent interest in the Irish language and connected the language to the strong nationalist politics of the era.  When the Irish state was founded in 1922, the Irish language became compulsory at schools.  Today, Irish is the first official language of Ireland and an official language of the European Union.  The language throughout Ireland has been granted substantial investment by the state including Gaeltacht areas specifically designated by the government as primarily Irish-speaking regions.

Despite high levels of investment by the Irish government and interest in the language by people in Ireland (not necessarily translating to actually speaking the language), use of Irish in the home has declined substantially.  This is the case even in the strongest Gaeltacht areas in Co. Donegal, Co. Galway, and Co. Kerry.  Irish is endangered as a community and family language, even as numbers of people who have Irish as a second language stay steady or expand in other regions.

Out of a population of about 4.6m, about 77,000 people speak Irish on a daily basis outside of the education system (as of 2011).  Does Irish constitute a living language?  Can and should it compete with English in Irish-speaking areas?  How should the Irish government approach the language?  How closely tied are the Irish language and the state of the economy?  The language faces many questions moving forward, especially as it is listed as “definitely endangered” by UNESCO.

In Northern Ireland, Irish is considered extinct as a first language, although as many as 10% speak Irish as a second language.  It is listed under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages for Northern Ireland.

The Irish government and other organizations (such as the Fulbright Commission, Ireland Canada University Foundation, Glór na nGael, and Daltaí na Gaeilge) have substantially invested in Irish language use worldwide.  The government grants funds to university programs supporting Irish language learning mainly in Europe and North America.  In 2015-2016, Ireland is supporting programs in Britain, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden, France, the United States, and Canada.  The grants are not restricted to places where there are significant numbers of Irish-born people.  The Irish language also has a presence in Australia, where it is taught at the University of Sydney, in New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Russia, and China.

While there are fewer than 1,000 native Irish speakers in Canada, a vibrant community of Irish language learners has led to the purchase of land in Ontario in the Tamworth/Erinsville area to create a Permanent North American Gaeltacht.  This was established in 2007, and is the only officially sanctioned Gaeltacht outside of Ireland.  The area is set aside for events and gatherings in which Irish is spoken as a community language and the living culture and traditions of the language are celebrated.  No one lives there permanently.

In the United States, one of the oldest Irish language programs is at Catholic University in Washington, DC.  The program was funded in 1896 with a gift of $50,000 by the Ancient Order of Hibernians.  Irish is most vibrant in the New York City metro area, as exemplified by this fun character study of an Irish-speaking garbage truck driver.  And there are several universities and community colleges in the New York/New Jersey region with Irish language programs.  According to the MLA, about 350 people currently study Irish at the university level in the United States (as of 2013), with the number limited due to programs lasting a maximum of 4 semesters.  There are more people (like my friend) who study Irish in less formal settings, not for university credit, in cities like New York, Washington, DC, and Chicago.  In 2011, there were at least 87 academic and non-academic institutions teaching Irish in the United States.  Even more difficult to track, other Irish learners get a taste of the language through online study.  As of 2009, about 24,000 speakers of Irish lived in the United States, although this was self-reported and does not indicate level of fluency.

UNESCO estimates that about half of the world’s 6,000 languages spoken today will disappear by the end of the 21st century if nothing is done to preserve them.  Will most languages really be extinct within the next hundred years?  We will have to see how people’s interests, parents’ dedication to passing the language on to their children, and government policies make a difference for the path of the Irish language.  After all, its status now is much different than a century ago.

Additional Sources:

Daniel de Vise, “A modest revival for the Irish language,” Washington Post 5 Mar 2012.

Susan Krashinsky, “A tongue-twisting labour of love in Canada’s Gaelic-speaking community,” The Globe and Mail 2 Sep 2011.

Kari Lydersen, “Preserving languages is about more than words,” Washington Post 16 Mar 2009.

David McKittrick, “Bualadh bos… Gaeltacht goes global,” Independent 18 Apr 2007.

Helen Ó Murchú, More Facts about Irish (2008/2014).

RTE Radio 1 Documentary: “More Irish Than the Irish Themselves” 12 Mar 2011.

Postcard from Iona, home to the monastery founded in 563 by St. Columba (Colm Cille) of Ireland

155 View of Iona

View from the ferry, approaching Iona from Mull – photo credit: L. Flewelling

Did you know that there are no cars on Iona?  And there is a nunnery as well as the famous abbey, and plenty of sheep!

165 Cross of St Martin

Cross of St. Martin – photo credit: L. Flewelling

Sources 101: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project

Sources 101: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project

This post is the first in what we plan to be an on-going series on sources for primary source research on the web. I’ve decided to begin with a favourite of mine, and also one of the more difficult to navigate: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project.


Between 1998 and 2001, 43 county atlases were digitised by researchers, librarians, curators, and students at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. They digitised the pages of atlases found in McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections and recorded the names and properties on the atlases in a simple, searchable online database.

What you’ll find:

The database contains scanned copies of the atlases as well as the names of individual land and business owners. It also provides a brief overview of the origins of the atlases and title page information for every atlas included in the project.

How to use it:

I found it somewhat challenging to navigate the website and discover the full extent of the information contained within the database. The Home Page, In Search of Your Canadian Past: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project, gives your four options to choose from: Project Overview (background information on the origins and methodology of the digitisation project); County Atlases (information on the creation of the 19th century atlases); Search; and Project Credits (a list of the people involved in making the database).

Search gives you two main options: People and Maps. It also includes two new options not found on the home page: FAQ and Abbreviations (useful for interpreting the search results). By clicking on People, you can search by one or more of the following terms: Last Name, County, Township, Town, Birthplace, and Occupation, and whether to restrict your results to an exact match for the last name and to only results with an attached image. By clicking on Maps, you are taken to an interactive map of southern and central Ontario. Click on a county to bring up an interactive map of the county, in which you can find more details maps of individual townships, or choose from a drop-down list of counties, townships, and towns.

Research potential:

The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project is an excellent resource for individuals interested in researching their family history. If you had a male land-owning ancestor living in Ontario between 1874 and 1881, it is worth making a quick search of their last name to see if they are on there. Prominent individuals also paid to have biographical information, business information, and portraits of themselves or their homes included in the atlas, and so it could also provide information on prominent individuals in their communities. The descendants of Loyalists (of particular interest to those of conducting research on British and American colonial history!) can also be found throughout the atlases.


The database clearly shows its age, but the information and images contained within make it worth struggling with the minimal options, buttons, and lack of menus. The search function is fairly straightforward and gives you detailed information (where possible) and results that link directly to a close-up image of their property on the relevant page of the atlas, as well as a zoomed-out image in which to situate the search results.

Maud Gonne and World War I

“My dear Willie, You seem to have escaped the obsession of this war – I cannot; night & day I think about it uselessly.  I cannot work, I cannot read, I cannot sleep.  I am torn in two, my love of France on one side, my love of Ireland on the other.”

Maud Gonne, Irish nationalist, women’s rights activist, actress, and eternal muse to William Butler Yeats, wrote these words to Yeats on 26 August 1914, about a month after the outbreak of the Great War in Europe.


Maud Gonne ca. 1900 – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Gonne, born in England and educated in France, came to Ireland in 1882 and emerged in 1888 as the first woman to be publicly associated with the Irish nationalist movement since the demise of the Ladies’ Land League.  Her parents were unionists, but she was determined to devote her life to working for Ireland and Irish nationalism.

She was in Arrens, in the Pyrenees, with her twenty-year-old daughter Iseult, ten-year-old son Seán, and a houseguest, Helena Moloney (also an Irish nationalist/actress), when she wrote to Yeats in August 1914.  In her wartime letters to Yeats and John Quinn (an American supporter of Irish nationalism and cultural revival), Gonne revealed the internal turmoil she went through while in France, dealing with violence and destruction, and attempting to follow along with the momentous turn of events in Ireland.

In her 26 August letter to Yeats, she condemned the decision made by Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond to pledge support for the war effort, leading the majority of Irish Volunteers to back Britain.  She worried for the future of Ireland, wondering if the opportunity for the implementation of Home Rule had been squandered.  She wrote to Quinn in July 1915, “In Ireland things seem to be going very badly.  The English-made Ulster revolt is quite triumphant in the Coalition Government, and Home Rule is again far away.  Once again Ireland has been deceived and cheated.”  It was difficult to receive newspapers and letters from Ireland in wartime, and as she noted to Yeats, “Want of Irish news makes me very restless.”

Meanwhile, she pondered the war itself, unable to understand its purpose.  “This war is an inconceivable madness which has taken hold of Europe,” she wrote to Yeats.  “It is unlike any other war that has ever been.  It has no great idea behind it.”

Though she feared that European civilization might be swept away by the war, she volunteered with the Red Cross as a nurse, along with Iseult and Helena.  She went first to nearby Argelès-Gazost, then after three months traveled to Paris.  Helena returned to Ireland while Gonne continued nursing duties at Paris-Plage.  She and Iseult gained the rank of lieutenant from the French, which enabled them to travel with the army so that they could nurse where they were most needed.

She wrote to Yeats in November 1914, “I am nursing the wounded from 6 in the morning till 8 at night & trying in material work to drown the sorrow & disappointment of it all – & in my heart growing up a wild hatred of the war machine which is grinding the life out of these great natures & reducing their population to helpless slavery & ruin.”  She felt that nursing soldiers to go back again to the front was useless.  “I have no military enthusiasm & can see nothing but misery in this present war – a wind of folly & fatality is driving Germany & France to their ruin,” she wrote in December 1914.

She felt keenly the destruction of the landscape in France, as well as expressing a sense of hopelessness and futility at the loss of life.  Poignantly, she wrote to Yeats in January 1915, “When you hate the war even ambulance work is rather encouraging it, & yet & yet, one cannot remain with hands folded before suffering –”

The war experience left her with hatred for the waste of war itself and for violence.  She declared that all she wanted to do was work for peace, but didn’t know how to go about doing it.

And then, while on holiday with her family in Normandy over Easter in 1916, she received news of the outbreak of the Easter Rising in Dublin.  She wrote to Yeats, “I am ill with sorrow – so many of my best & noblest friends gone – I envy them for this world does not seem a place to live in when such crimes can go unpunished.  The shelling & destruction of an open town like Dublin seem to me one of the greatest crimes of this awful war – It has disgusted every French person I have spoken to, though with the alliance the French press cannot voice this disgust.”

As well as being heartbroken by the loss of life in the Rising (including complicated emotions over the execution of her estranged husband, John MacBride), Gonne blamed the British for the destruction of the landscape itself, the destruction in Dublin.  To Quinn, she described the Irish participants in the rising as completely justified through the betrayal by the British, appalling taxation, looming famine, the government gifting a place of power to Irish unionists, and other provocations.

She was soon determined to get back to Ireland, but was prevented by the British government after she made it over to England in October 1917.  She snuck back into Ireland in 1918.  Gonne’s attitudes toward World War I, her love of France, and her care for soldiers while despising the war itself, all the while supporting Irish nationalist efforts, show how intertwined these transnational events were, and emphasize once again that there is no straightforward way to generalize about Irish nationalist experiences of World War I.

Suggested Reading/Listening:

RTE History Show 10 January 2016 – guest Margaret Ward.

Londraville, Janis, and Richard Londraville, eds.  Too Long a Sacrifice: The Letters of Maud Gonne and John Quinn.  Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 1999.

Ward, Margaret.  Maud Gonne: Ireland’s Joan of Arc.  London: Pandora, 1990.

Ward, Margaret, ed.  In Their Own Voice: Women and Irish Nationalism.  Cork: Attic, 1995.

White, Anna MacBride, and A. Norman Jeffares, eds.  The Gonne-Yeats Letters 1893-1938.  New York: W.W. Norton, 1992.

Proslavery Britain is out now!

Proslavery Britain is out now!

I am very pleased to announce that my first book, Proslavery Britain: Fighting for Slavery in an Era of Abolition, comes out today from Palgrave Macmillan!

Dumas, Proslavery Britain

Proslavery Britain tells the story of how slavery was encouraged, defended, and repeatedly justified in the face of growing opposition in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It seeks to provide a fuller understanding of the story of the abolition and emancipation in the British Empire, a story that up until now has been largely one-sided. We know of the great work of the humanitarian abolitionists in Parliament and on the ground across the country. Proslavery Britain provides us with insight into the sometimes formidable force they were up against, right up to 1833.

A detailed examination of a wide range of sources, including parliamentary records, committee minutes, pamphlets, sermons, art, literature, drama, and poetry, placed within the wider context of national and international unrest, provides us with a greater understanding of the fights for and against abolition. It reveals the struggle to defend slave trading, slave holding, the colonists, and the colonies in the face of widespread opposition.

Here’s what early reviewers have said:

“As scholarly focus on Britain’s era of colonial slavery continues to grow, Paula Dumas has provided a valuable and wide-ranging analysis of pro-slavery advocacy in the age of abolition. This book reminds us that while the slave-owners lost the battle over abolition, they won the war over racial subordination.” -Nicholas Draper, Co-director of Structure and Signification of British Caribbean Slave-ownership 1763-1833 project, University College London, England

“Comprehensive in its range and focus, Proslavery Britain offers a fascinating insight into proslavery arguments and rhetoric during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This painstaking study promises to reshape our understanding of slavery debates in Britain, not least through its attention to things such as proslavery arts and culture. We have long needed a book of this kind and Dumas has risen to the task magnificently.” -John Oldfield, Professor of History, Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation, University of Hull, England

Order Proslavery Britain: Fighting for Slavery in an Era of Abolition from Amazon, Palgrave, or tell your local library or booksellers about Proslavery Britain today!

The Case of the Missing Proslavery, Pt. 2

Earlier I began writing down some of my thoughts on why I think historians haven’t talked much about “proslavery” in British history. If you missed my first post, please click here. I wrote that I believed there were 5 main reasons for British proslavery to be missing from our understanding of British slavery and abolition.

Here’s a quick reminder of my first four points:

  1. The first histories of British abolition were written by abolitionists and tell their story.
  2. There are many more abolitionist primary sources to study.
  3. Abolition took place decades earlier in Britain than in the US.
  4. British colonial planters had less power and influence than their American counterparts by this period.

I had decided to leave the fifth point for another day, because I think its worthy of a discussion all its own. It’s also a bit more complicated than the others to get across.

I believe that British proslavery has been pushed aside, ignored, and downplayed in the traditional story and historiography of British slavery and abolition because people don’t want to remember it.

I think it’s a morality issue. Slavery, and definitely pro-slavery, is an awful thing to remember. The moral and ethical issues surrounding the study of how groups of men could justify, support, and encourage the enslavement of other groups of men are challenging to say the least. People said despicable things about the men, women, and children who were enslaved. They insulted, degraded, and demeaned them using a wide range of means that had long-lasting consequences, not least for colonial life and race relations. And a better understanding or official acknowledgement of the mind-set and historic support of Parliament might very well be used against the British Government to justify the case for reparations.

In the later 18th and early 19th centuries, people used the Bible to explain and justify slavery and the enslavement of people of African descent. They used contemporary beliefs and the latest “scientific” studies about race and “civilization” to justify it. They could draw on past parliamentary decisions and legal rights to explain and support it. These are not things to be proud of to say the least.

If someone wants to look at this era of history from a moral perspective, or with a view of finding something to celebrate or of which to be proud, then it sure isn’t going to be how the West Indian interest and their supporters within Britain continued justifying slavery right up to 1833. It’s going to be the hard work of the abolitionists – the winning side – that gets remembered and celebrated. That’s what the statues will remind us of. That’s what the memorials will be dedicated to. That’s what the ceremonies will commemorate on the anniversaries of beating the proslavery side.

The opinions and efforts of the British West Indian interest have been discussed in some of the major 20th century studies of British abolition, but from the earliest works they were judged and placed on the losing side of a moral, humane battle for liberty and good. Therefore, proslavery people couldn’t be discussed without being placed firmly in the context of the abolitionist fight. Any attention that was paid to them focussed on their decline, their doomed position, and their inability to compete against the moral campaign for abolition.

But we know that Wilberforce and his supporters lost many bills for abolition. They faced growing, substantial opposition and had to fight to earn public support and then fight for that public support to mean something within the halls of Parliament. By downplaying or even casting aside the opposition to abolition in the story of British abolition, then not only can we not fully understand abolition, but we aren’t giving the abolitionists enough credit for what they were able to achieve in spite of a strong, powerful, knowledgeable, legally-supported opposition.

Suggested Reading:

Dumas, Paula E. Proslavery Britain: Fighting for Slavery in an Era of Abolition. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Klingberg, Frank J. The Anti-Slavery Movement in England: A Study in English Humanitarianism. 1926. Reprint, Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1968.

Ragatz, Lowell Joseph. The Fall of the Planter Class in the British Caribbean, 1763-1833: A Study in Social and Economic History. 1928. Reprint, New York: Octagon Books Inc., 1963.

Tise, Larry E. Proslavery: A History of the Defense of Slavery in America, 1701-1840. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1987.

The Case of the Missing Proslavery, Pt. 1

Why don’t we know more about British proslavery?

I have contemplated this question for years. Proslavery argument and rhetoric is a legitimate topic for historical study. We only need to look at the American case to see a fully developed historiography on the subject. When it comes to the absence of understanding of proslavery on the far side of the Atlantic, I don’t think there’s a simple answer, but I have five educated guesses that I’m happy to lay out here.

First, the first historical accounts of British abolition were written by the abolitionists. Thomas Clarkson’s The History, Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament was first published in 1808 and provided a triumphant narrative of British abolitionists overcoming adversity to achieve abolition in 1807. He wrote a history of the abolitionists and portrayed it as though it were a history of abolition. This is a problem. We see the legacy of his work and this emphasis on the abolitionists last into the later decades of the 20th century.

Second, it is far easier to find primary sources created by abolitionists in their quest to end slave trading and slavery in Britain and her colonies than it is to find clear defences of slavery and slave trading. Abolitionists made mobilizing public opinion a goal and were impressive in their ability to reach groups that had not traditionally been involved in the political process, whereas West Indian organizations focussed much of their efforts on legitimising their position and defending the colonies in Parliament. As such, the amount of abolitionist propaganda dwarfs that of the anti-abolitionists.

Third, Britain abolished slavery in her Caribbean colonies in 1833, whereas it continued in parts of America for another 3 decades. From a historian’s perspective, that means an additional 30 years’ worth of sources to draw upon, a wider range of sources, and more modern, reliable sources. For example, a historian of American slavery could draw upon first-hand accounts, personal records, and interviews created in the first few decades of the twentieth century. American slavery was also far more visible to the American people, whereas by the late 1700s British courts had acted to end slavery at home, confining it to the colonies.

Fourth, for a variety of reasons American slave owners had far more political power and influence by the early 1800s than their British counterparts in the Caribbean and back in Britain. It’s not that the British West Indian interest couldn’t pull together a solid defence or that they were doomed (which is what you might think if you read some of the earlier studies on them). They won debates, defeated bills for abolition and emancipation, and earned several significant concessions in the final debates on emancipation, particularly compensation and continued labour via the apprenticeship scheme. But evidence also shows that their fortunes were waning and their positions in Parliament were increasingly under threat from the growing franchise and outpouring of public abolitionist sentiment.

I mentioned above that I have five main theories as to why we don’t know much about British proslavery. I know I’ve only listed four so far, but this post is getting far too long for my liking and my last point is worthy of its own discussion, so stay tuned for Part Two.

Want to know more? Check out my new book, Proslavery Britain: Fighting for Slavery in an Era of Abolition, coming soon from Palgrave Macmillan.

Suggested Reading:

Anstey, Roger. The Atlantic Slave Trade and British Abolition 1760–1810. London: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1975.

Draper, Nicholas. The Price of Emancipation: Slave-ownership, Compensation and British Society at the End of Slavery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Ryden, David Beck. West Indian Slavery and British Abolition, 1783–1807. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Henri Le Caron, the Spy in the Midst of Irish-America

“Le Caron turned to writing his memoirs, while continuing to smoke some sixteen cigars a day and nurturing his carefully waxed dark mustache.” –K.R.M. Short

As well as being the subject of one of the better random quotes ever scrawled in my notebook, Henri Le Caron also crops up as a rather unlikely villain in Darryl Brock’s If I Never Get Back, a baseball time travel novel strange enough that even though I finished reading it several weeks ago, I’m still processing.  (Fun look at the early history of baseball, though.)


Henri Le Caron/Thomas Beach – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Le Caron was the pseudonym for English spy Thomas Beach, who had infiltrated the Clan-na-Gael, the leading Fenian organization in the United States.  He blew his cover to testify against Irish Parliamentary Party leader Charles Stewart Parnell at the Special Commission on Parnellism and Crime held in 1888-1889.

Born in Colchester in 1841, Beach had posed as a Frenchman and enlisted in the Union army during the American Civil War in 1861.  As he settled in Nashville at the end of the war with his wife, Le Caron gained inside information about Irish-American plots against Canada from an army colleague, John O’Neill.  Le Caron wrote of these plots to his father, who put him in touch with the British Home Office.  On a trip to England in 1867, he was recruited as a secret agent reporting to Robert Anderson, who worked as a Home Office advisor on Irish political crime.

Le Caron moved his family to Illinois and joined a Fenian circle there, still posing as a Frenchman with particular hatred of the English.  He quickly rose up in the organizational ranks, both helping to organize and betraying the attempted Fenian invasion of Canada in 1870.  Le Caron became an associate of John Devoy, Patrick Egan, Alexander Sullivan, and other Irish-American leaders, and met with Parnell twice.

As the recipient of the spy’s reports, Anderson used Le Caron’s information to contribute to a series of articles for the Times on “Parnellism and Crime.”  This series, published in March and April 1887, attempted to link Parnell and the parliamentary nationalist movement to rural violence and dynamiters.  It included forged letters purported to have been written by Parnell commending the Phoenix Park murders.

Le Caron had maintained his cover for over twenty years when he shocked nationalists with testimony at the Special Commission hearings.  This led to threats against his own life.  Le Caron wrote in his autobiography that he held “undisguised loathing” for “the blatant loud-voiced agitator, always bellowing forth his patriotic principles, while secretly filling his pockets with the bribe or consequences of his theft,” taking advantage of “the poor deluded Irish in the States.”  He portrayed the Irish Parliamentary Party as swindlers and tricksters.  In the end, however, his evidence did not have a significant impact on the case against Parnell at the Special Commission.

Parnell was cleared of the charges made against him after Richard Pigott admitted to forging the letters that appeared in the Times.  Pigott himself committed suicide.  As for Le Caron, as Short so colorfully describes, he went on to lead a reasonably calm life with his family (and mustache) in South Kensington until his death in 1894.


Suggested Readings:

Le Caron, Henri.  Twenty-Five Years in the Secret Service.  London: William Heinemann, 1892.

Short, K.R.M.  “Henri Le Caron.”  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Anderson, Robert.  Sidelights on the Home Rule Movement.  London: John Murray, 1906.

Cole, J.A.  Prince of Spies: Henri Le Caron.  London: Faber and Faber, 1984.

Lyons, F.S.L.  “‘Parnellism and Crime,’ 1887-90.”  Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th Ser., no. 24 (1974).

Whelehan, Niall.  The Dynamiters: Irish Nationalism and Political Violence in the Wider World, 1867-1900.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Compensation for who?

Why did the British Government, and the British people, pay the planters and not the slaves when slavery was abolished in her Caribbean colonies?

In the emancipation settlement of 1833, British slaveholders were given money to compensate them for the end of slavery. A lot of money. They were granted £20 million outright to be shared amongst those who could prove a claim (resulting in the wealth of information on British slave ownership that has only recently begun to be exploited by researchers and historians).

The slaves received no money. They were instead re-classed as “apprentices” in an attempt to ensure continuing productivity on the colonial plantations up to 1840. (Apprenticeship would in fact end 2 years early, in 1838.)

So why is it that the planters, whose family fortunes had often been made in the colonies through the exploitation of their fellow men, were the ones being granted compensation? Because the planters had a legal right to hold their property, and if the state was going to take away their property, then the property holders were entitled to compensation.

To understand this argument, we have to try to put ourselves in the mind-set that, legally, enslaved human beings were the property of their masters, and that their “owners” had as much legal right to compensation for the removal of this class of property as they did to any other.

This legal argument proved particularly effective in the final years of the slavery debates in Parliament. Outright proslavery arguments had faded from the parliamentary debates soon after the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. Instead, we see a rise in legal and pro-colonial arguments that were put forth to defend the planters’ careers and possessions.

As abolitionists worked to humanise enslaved Africans and those of African descent in the colonies, often employing sentimental rhetoric and emotionally-charged imagery in their work, and framing the issues of abolition and emancipation as humanitarian goals, anti-abolitionists continued to turn to supposedly-rational legal arguments to make their claim to compensation, in case the day were to come that slavery were ended in the colonies. This was a smart road to take, and it was highly effective.

Parliament was made up of landowners. If they had ended slavery without compensation, the British government would have been confiscating millions of pounds of property without giving anything in return. For them, this would have been setting a dangerous precedent! As Robert John Wilmot Horton remarked on March 6, 1828:

“In this country, if a canal were cut, or a street built, the interest of the individuals was made to yield to the public interest; but then it was well known that individuals always received compensation. Now, the West-Indian has property which he could only work by means of slave labour; and was he not, therefore, equally entitled to compensation, if deprived of that labour, as the man in this country was who had his property destroyed, either by the building of a street or the construction of a canal?”(Parliamentary Debates New Series XVIII col. 102)

Note that Wilmot Horton here emphasises land rather than human property, possibly as a means to avoid being drawn into to moral debate over slave ownership. But not everyone felt the need to dance around the matter:

“God forbid that there should be any thing like a forcing of a master to abandon his property in the slave! Once adopt that principle, and there was the end of all property.” – Lord Wynford, 17 April 1832 (Parliamentary Debates 3rd Series XII col. 630)

If some humans were considered property, and that property had been obtained through legal means such as financial investment and inheritance, than the owners, and not the property, would need to be compensated in the case of that property being removed or destroyed. And so we find that the masters, and not the slaves, were granted substantial financial compensation as slavery was abolished in the British Empire.

Suggested Reading:

Draper, Nicholas. The Price of Emancipation: Slave-ownership, Compensation and British Society at the End of Slavery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Drescher, Seymour. The Mighty Experiment: Free Labor versus Slavery in British Emancipation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Dumas, Paula E. Proslavery Britain: Fighting for Slavery in an Era of Abolition. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Green, William A. British Slave Emancipation: The Sugar Colonies and the Great Experiment, 1830-1865. 1976. Reprint, New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.