My New Article in Slavery & Abolition

My New Article in Slavery & Abolition

Hello 2017! It’s great to be back and to be blogging again. It’s been a busy few weeks, as I’m sure it’s been for all of you, too! Probably the most exciting professional development for me is that my new article has been published in Slavery & Abolition!

You might remember that last spring I wrote about the Wellesley Index and how great this resource is for finding out about authorship of anonymously written articles in popular 19th century periodicals. Continue reading

Why Study Slavery from a Comparative Viewpoint

In September I’ll begin teaching the first of two new courses at the University of Glasgow‘s Centre for Open Studies on the histories of slavery and abolition. ‘Slavery in the Americas‘ will run for 10 weeks from September 28 until December 7 (no class on October 12). With a little over one month to go, I’m beginning to put together some of the resources that I will be sharing with my class. One of the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) for Slavery in the Americas is to ‘Compare the size and state of the slave populations of the various colonies’. I think it’s a really intriguing topic that deserves a bit of exploration here, too.

Atlantic_Ocean image

Why should we study slavery within a wider context? For example, you may have come across studies that look at slavery in two different states in the USA, or the South versus the North, or the United States versus the British Empire and so on. The short answer is that studying slavery using a comparative perspective can tell us more. It can reveal things that we might not have seen otherwise. It gives us context and can reveal significant differences and unique events as well as similarities and trends across space and time.

Here are a few examples of areas to consider when thinking about placing your study within a wider context:

  1. Demographics. While it’s hard to know exact numbers, there are a number of ways to attempt to assess the size of the enslaved population of one or more regions. For example, we can use the Transatlantic Slave Trade database, Voyages, to get an idea of the numbers that were imported to specific regions from Africa. (Check out my guide to using Voyages here.) We can look at registers from the Caribbean and census records from the USA. British compensation records give numbers from the period of abolition in the 1830s. Some plantation record books are still in existence, allowing for comparisons between individual plantations. There are also advertisements in newspapers that provide information on slaves for sale which gives an indication of the interest in and scale of slavery in an area.
  2. Local crops. Coffee, sugar, tobacco, etc. were all grown using slave labour in the Americas. The kinds of crops being grown have been shown to affect the size of the enslaved population. This is due to a number of factors, including: physical intensity and exertion required to grow and harvest the crop; the degree of mechanisation; and the risk of accidental physical harm due to the machinery and tools involved in the growing, harvesting, and processing of the crop. Sugar, for example, was a dangerous, exhausting crop to grow, harvest, and process, yet demand for it was skyrocketing in the later eighteenth century. Planters in the Caribbean, then, struggled to maintain the size of the slave population in their sugar plantations, whereas their counterparts in the southern USA, with more land devoted to growing cotton and tobacco, witnessed a self-sustaining enslaved population.
  3. Mortality. Mortality rates were high for enslaved Africans and those of African descent. Corporal punishment, accidents, racially-based hate crimes, restricted legal rights in the justice system, malnutrition, and infanticide all affected mortality rates (probably many other factors did, too)*, as well as old age and disease. By the late seventeenth century, planters and abolitionists alike were becoming obsessed with understanding and justifying the rate of natural increase (or decrease) in slave versus free populations. Abolitionists argued that a slave population that could not sustain itself was proof that the system of slavery was inhumane. Planters and merchants, meanwhile, blamed decreasing numbers on an unequal sex ratio, the climate, natural ageing, and manumission (the process by which a slave could become free). They used the declining numbers to justify their continuing support for the slave trade.
  4. The timing and nature of abolition. Abolition (here referring to the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade) and emancipation (the freeing of enslaved persons) took place at different times in different areas and also comprised of different things. For example, while both the USA and Britain officially ended their participation in the transatlantic slave trade in 1808, Britons could still invest and take part in the foreign trade for several more years. Britain’s Caribbean colonies faced a growing labour shortage France, meanwhile, abolished slavery in her colonies in 1794, only to reinstate it eight years later. Brazil didn’t abolish slavery until 1888. As such, an estimated four million enslaved Africans were imported to Brazil from Africa over the centuries.

I hope that this has been a helpful overview of some of the ways in which we can look at the history of slavery and abolition from a comparative perspective in order to contextualise and, really, just better understand the numbers and experiences that we will inevitably come across.

*The history of slavery in the New World contains stories of unimaginable death, terror, and tragedy. I know that I don’t discuss these elements very often in the context of this blog, but you can’t understand the demographics, the events, and the arguments for and against abolition without acknowledging this reality. We are looking at people’s lives and it was an awful life to live, but there were also enslaved and freed people who kept hope, who made their own ways out, and who helped others get out, too, on the ground, in community centres, and in government chambers and assemblies both there and abroad.

Suggested readings:

Blackburn, Robin.  The Making of New World Slavery (Verso, 1997)

Blackburn, Robin.  The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery (Verso, 1988)

Eltis, David. ‘Was Abolition of the U.S. and British Slave Trade Significant in the Broader Atlantic Context?’ The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser. 66 (2009): 715-36.

Littlefield, Daniel C. ‘Plantations, Paternalism, and Profitability: Factors Affecting African Demography in the Old British Empire.’ Journal of Southern History, 47 (1981): 167-82.

Mason, Matthew. ‘Keeping Up Appearances: The International Politics of Slave Trade Abolition in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World’. The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser. 66 (2009): 809-32.

Morgan, Kenneth. ‘Slave Women and Reproduction in Jamaica, ca. 1776-1834’. In Women and Slavery: The Modern Atlantic, ed. Gwyn Cambell et. al. (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2008): 27-53.

Sheridan, Richard B. ‘Slave Demography in the British West Indies and the Abolition of the Slave Trade.’ In The Abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade, ed. David Eltis and James Walvin (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981): 259-86.

Slavery & Abolition, 26 no. 2 (August 2005). [special thematic issue on women and slavery]

British Abolition: Summer Reading List Edition

British Abolition: Summer Reading List Edition

The summer holidays are almost upon us (mine start Wednesday!)! Hopefully that will mean lots of us will have a chance to get some leisure reading done on a sunny beach somewhere, or on the deck of a boat in the high seas, or maybe in the backyard on a day when it isn’t raining. So what better time to try to pull together a summer reading list of books on British abolition?!

The study of British abolition has benefitted from detailed studies, competing perspectives, computer-aided research, published collections of primary sources, and historians from many countries working on the topic. But once in a while a study comes along that has such strength that future studies find that they have to react to it. It’s these types of studies that I’ve listed here.

A quick note to my fellow historians: This list is intended as an introduction to the major historiographical debates on the topic, rather than provide a complete picture of the historiographical debates over the decades.

Suggested readings:

Thomas Clarkson’s The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament (London: Paternoster-Row, 1808).

In this (very!) early published history of abolition, prominent abolitionist Thomas Clarkson placed the actions of abolitionists at the centre of both the popular movement and subsequent parliamentary action to end Britain’s participation in the slave trade. He depicted abolition as a great humanitarian achievement of which Britain could always be proud. This interpretation influenced generations of historians of British abolition.

Eric Williams’ Capitalism and Slavery (London: Lowe and Brydon Ltd., 1964).

In his influential (and controversial) 1944 study, Capitalism and Slavery, Eric Williams argued that economics was the major factor in determining if and when abolition in the British West Indies would occur. He believed that slavery would have continued as long as it remained profitable. This theory became known as the ‘decline thesis’. According to Williams’ decline thesis, economics rather than humanitarianism was the determining factor in ending the institution of slavery.

David Brion Davis’ The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution 1770-1823 (London: Cornell University Press, 1975).

Davis’ ‘problem of slavery’ is that a master’s identity depends on owning slaves, leaving him beholden to the slave to maintain his status. Here Davis discusses why some groups in Britain and America were receptive to new ideas of liberty, equality, and economics. The philosophical framework of the American and French Revolutions combined with a drop in sugar prices and plantation land values to allow abolitionists to gain popular and political support.

Seymour Drescher’s Econocide: British Slavery in the Era of Abolition (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1977).

In Econocide, Seymour Drescher argued that, contrary to Williams’ assertions, the slave trade was growing in the era of abolition and thus decline could not sufficiently explain abolition. Market forces, he argued, would have caused the trade to increase had it not been for a change in popular and political beliefs. It was the pressure of abolitionists in the period 1788-1792 which caused Britons to view and, most importantly, assess West Indian slavery differently.

Christopher Leslie Brown’s Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006).

In Moral Capital, Brown described abolitionism as a way to validate the moral authority of Britain’s elites at home and in the colonies. Brown examined public opinion and evidence of slave resistance, but did not accept that either could explain British abolitionism. Tensions and fighting between Britain and her American colonies, in contrast, were critical to the development. He concluded that abolition had required a specific set of circumstances and people to be achieved when it was.

For a slightly more traditional summer read, why not check out Adam Hochschild’s Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005). Well-written with biographical details that draw the reader into the story of British abolition, it makes for an easier read and gives a good overview of some of the most influential individuals and goings-on in the era of abolition.

Plus there’s always my new book, Proslavery Britain, available here from Palgrave Macmillan.

IMG_20160516_103223

Got a great suggestion? Add it in the comments. We’d love to hear it!

Postcard from the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool

Postcard from the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool

The Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool – Photo credit: Paula Dumas

The International Slavery Museum is located inside the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool. The Museum has static and changing displays, artefacts, and interactive elements. It addresses Britain’s role in transatlantic slavery and in abolition, modern day slavery, anti-slavery activism, slavery and racism, and Liverpool’s historic connections to the enslavement of Africans.

Displays in the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool – Photo credit: Paula Dumas

You can also follow the International Slavery Museum on Twitter @SlaveryMuseum.

Researching International History Workshop

Researching International History Workshop

On Friday I gave a paper at the Researching International History Workshop that was held at The University of Edinburgh on May 6 & 7. The workshop brought together doctoral candidates, early career researchers, and internationally renowned historians who work in the broad (and growing) fields of international and transnational history.

It was the call for papers that made me want to participate and write a paper for the workshop. In the CFP, one of the suggested topics for potential speakers was to write about how the study of international or transnational history can relate to modern politics and law. I was already interested in looking into the funding and uses of recent slavery research for one or more future blog posts, so this was an ideal reason to get started on the research and a great opportunity to get feedback on a draft copy of the work.

I spoke about contemporary research into slavery history being conducted at British universities and how their findings have the potential to be used to support calls for reparations. I examined the origins of these research projects’ funding and the irony of how government funding could be being used to find information that challenges the David Cameron and his government’s position on reparations. My paper was well received and I got some good feedback.

I was the second to speak on a panel of three speakers and the only presenter on slavery history (and the only female presenter) on the day. In the Q&A session I got asked a great question that I hadn’t yet thought to address in my study:

Why did I think that the Caricom Committee was asking for reparations now?

Caricom, which stands for Caribbean Community, has 15 member states and 5 associate states from the Caribbean region. In March 2014, the Caricom Reparations Committee released a Ten Point Plan for Reparatory Justice as a means of achieving their goals, ‘to prepare the case for reparatory justice for the Region’s indigenous and African descendant communities who are victims of Crimes against Humanity (CAH) in the forms of genocide, slavery, slave trading and racial apartheid’.

My thoughts are that the wave of commemorations in 2007 addressing the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire didn’t start the calls for reparations by any means, but they did bring a lot of publicity and greater awareness of Britain’s past slaveholding and trading activities. Many new academic studies were published, memorials were held, and even commemorative coins were minted (which I plan to write more on at a later date). The public commemorations highlighted the role of British abolitionists, frequently leaving black agency out of the narrative and strategically overlooking Britain’s prior role as a leader in the transatlantic slave trade.

IMG_20160508_202029_1

In this short time, in my view, increased public interest and an increase in relevant digitised resources plus funding bodies interested in providing money into slavery-related research has led to a greater understanding of Britain’s role in slavery and not just abolition, and this could then be used to support the case for reparations.

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.

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.