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13 November 2014

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You are in: Bradford and West Yorkshire > Abolition > Profiting from slavery...

Profiting from slavery...

Landlocked West Yorkshire may seem a million miles away from the Transatlantic Slave Trade but 200 years ago there were certainly people in the West Riding who made big profits from it. We've been finding out more...

Diagram of loaded slave ship, the Brookes

Diagram of a Liverpool slave ship, the Brookes

Professor David Richardson is Director of WISE (the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation) which is situated appropriately right next to the home of William Wilberforce, the Yorkshire MP who led the parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade in the British colonies.

David has spent many years studying the shipping registers not only of British ports such as Liverpool which engaged in the slave trade, but also of similar cities across the world, to create a substantial database logging voyages by slave traders. He says: "We can find there are people resident in Yorkshire who are investing in slavery voyages. This is an interesting insight because on the whole we tend to think of the investment in slaving activities as coming from west of the Pennines, and there's a certain feeling of purity amongst Yorkshire people that they are not involved in this, and it's all the fault of those red rose people. The Liverpool slave trade was drawing people in from the northern part of Lancashire reaching up even to the southern edge of the Lake District, almost spilling over into North Yorkshire but what's not been appreciated is that there may be some people from the West Riding who were also being drawn into this vortex of activity that was developing in Liverpool. It's not just a question of goods going through Liverpool from these different parts but also flows of capital investment into voyages."

With the help of Dr Nicholas Evans (who works alongside David at WISE as a Lecturer in Slavery Studies) David has identified some big investors in slave ships sailing out of Liverpool who appear to have had strong West Yorkshire connections. He points out that it has not always been possible to identify the exact relationship between the people involved: "It appears there are two generations of William Ingram. One Wiliam Ingram had 21 voyages and the other had a single voyage around 1800, and I guess it's this Ingram who was then resident in Halifax. Where the earlier Ingram was resident we are not quite sure."

Albert Dock, Liverpool

Ingram's ships sailed from Liverpool

We can identify the Halifax William Ingram because it's recorded that his son Francis George was born in Halifax in July, 1799 and he is also described in the Liverpool shipping registers as residing in Halifax. It may well be that he is closely related to a William Ingram who crops up in the same shipping registers in the 1750s and 1760s. David explains: "If we look at a data set of voyages we find, in fact, that William Ingram was an investor in 21 slaving ships out of Liverpool According to our evidence these 21 ships embarked just over 6,900 slaves and delivered about 6,100 of them to the Americas. If you do a breakdown most of his voyages are going to West Central Africa which in the British case is the area north of the Congo river between the Congo river and modern day Gabon. Most of them are going there, but he's also down the Gold Coast, he's into Sierra Leone, he's into the Windward coast, the Bight of Biafra and so on. Almost two thirds of the slaves are disembarked in Jamaica."

We asked David what goods these ships might have carried after dropping off their slaves in the Caribbean: "If they brought very much back they would be bringing back sugar, various types of spices, local dye stuffs, that sort of thing. Sometimes they'd bring back coffee. You have the slave trade financially being underpinned by a flow of goods produced by the slaves themselves."

It's possible that the Francis Ingram, listed in the Liverpool shipping registers as being resident in Wakefield at the end of the 18th century, was the brother of the William Ingram whose son was christened in Halifax in 1799. Nick Evans points out that this information tallied with references in court registers showing that Francis Ingram was involved in litigation regarding his commercial activity.  Other records show that at some point this Francis Ingram had also lived in Liverpool.

The information in the WISE database suggests that Francis Ingram must have been an important player in the slave trade: "His peak years are from around 1772 to 1775 and then again, as the American War of Independence ends, he's in it in a big way in 1784 and remains more or less like that until 1788. According to these figures he was involved in 105 voyages which took away close to 34,000 slaves from Africa and the estimate is that they delivered to the Americas just over 29,000. The tonnage of the ships is 188 and that's large. Children on those ships constituted about 9% of all those going so there were about 3,000 children amongst those taken away.

"If we look where they went to, Francis Ingram has a very unusual pattern for a British trader – he's going into the what they call the Bight of Benin, the so-called Slave Coast, and the British were not big traders in the Slave Coast at this time, and then he's into the Gold Coast. Roughly 65% of Ingram's voyages are to the Bight and the Gold Coast which are adjacent areas whereas most of Liverpool's trade was actually further east in the Bight of Biafra so there are some unusual qualities about Ingram's trade. Over half the slaves delivered end up in Jamaica, but that's roughly what you would expect because Jamaica was by far the largest of the British islands receiving slaves."

Nick points out that ship ownership at the time was much more complicated than many people today realise - the ownership of a ship was divided into 64ths and people could own any breakdown of 64ths or even the whole ship.

David compares Wakefield's Francis Ingram with some of the big Liverpool investors: "William Davenport did very little else but the slave trade and he is shown as being involved in 150 voyages and John Dawson had 128 voyages. Everyone thinks of Davenport and Dawson as being big but Ingram's just below these really big guys."

From what we know about the Ingrams it would appear that they did move around. Nick says: "The Ingram journey is important not only in terms of economics but of their own mobility. That's something most of the people they coerced to move from Africa could not do...I think that's what's fascinating in this story - the victor has mobility because of the economics of the trade, the victim does not and often one in five slaves don't even make it as far as the area where they are to be exploited. It's a very evocative thing."

The activities of people like the Ingrams in West Yorkshire can be seen as important part of British trade at this time. David explains: "The Americanisation of British trade is the most dynamic element of British trade in the 18th century. The growth of British trade in nearby Europe was much slower than it was with the Americas. The East Indian trade is also a growth area. When you look closely at it the things which triggered that growth they are sugar, tobacco and rice. In the 18th century much of British trade revolves around Empire. Look at the rich parts of the Empire in the 18th century: the West Indies, South Carolina and Virginia...These were the pockets of wealth in the Americas and they revolved around slavery. It's not surprising then if anyone wants to get into overseas trading [they would be attracted by] the Atlantic trade. The money moves in and then moves out again, and this is what I think is happening with the Ingrams. It looks as though the Ingrams acquired wealth and then reinvested it into the same system which had given them their initial windfall."

sugar into cup

Slaves died producing sugar for cups of tea

But can we say it was only a few rich individuals in the West Riding who benefited from the slave trade? David believes that goods made here in West Yorkshire were almost certainly exported to the Caribbean: "Although it seems odd to think about woollen textiles in sub-tropical climates it's clear some woollen textiles went out to the African coast, and some of those may have come in from the West Riding of Yorkshire which was the rising area for wool production in the 18th century...It's less well-noted there than Manchester with its cotton textiles, in Birmingham with its metal wares, London itself and indeed Bristol – the major suppliers of trade goods to what we would call the port-to-slavery system but that's not to say you don't get materials going out from producers in the West Riding..."

There is one way though in which most people in West Yorkshire, and indeed the country, can be said to have profited directly from the slave trade It's been said that sugar played much the same role in the world in the 18th century as oil does today. Certainly consumption was massive at this time: "We are talking about sugar consumption annually running into several pounds of the population but I think we are looking at six or more pounds per head and there aren't just a few aristocrats consuming all of that sugar. The cheapness of sugar is due in part to the fact you had slaves cultivating it, and indeed dying. The slaves didn't reproduce in the sugar plantations so you had this constant infusion of new slaves to produce something which in the end isn't essential for human survival. It's a similar story in Glasgow with tobacco. These are what we might call the non-necessities of life, nevertheless they are the things which create this huge slavery regime. Sugar and tea – sweetened tea – define Englishness, it's all part of our Empire and it is all underpinned by slaves."

Nick adds: "You've got to remember that Britain was this economic power house and people in Yorkshire - as in the rest of the country - were engaged in opportunities to make money…Slavery, like any other trade, was an opportunity and it was a way in which people rose to prominence. How they rose to that prominence may be something they are not so keen to promote."

David Richardson and his colleagues at the Wilberforce Institute certainly do not believe that the study of slavery and slave trading should be confined to events 200 years ago. David says: "It seems to me that it is very important in this bicentenary year that we remember there is a lot of unfinished business. For all the outstanding work of abolitionists like Wilberforce – black and white – which continues today, slavery is a very robust institution and that's probably what you would expect. After all it's been around for most of human existence so it won't be easy to eradicate but we'd better keep trying."

Thanks to Professor David Richardson and Dr Nicholas Evans at the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation without whose help this feature would not have been possible.

If you've been taking a look at the history of your family or your locality and you've come across any references to William or Francis Ingram then we would very much like to hear from you. Email us at

"The Ingram family to whom you refer have the same forenames as those who were bankers in Halifax in the early 19th century...I am now certain they are the slave-trader family, and it is all most interesting. I think I can now identify both your William Ingrams separately. As I see it, one was Francis's eldest brother who died unmarried, the other was his second son.  The younger William was born and baptised at Liverpool, but all or most of the family were buried in Wakefield Cathedral, as proved by an old rare book of the Memorial and tombstone inscription records, and
also by the Registers.   Most of the said stones are now covered or lost, but there is one memorial still. I am looking into the origins of the Ingrams.  I seem now to have a connected pedigree back before 1700 and right up to 1899 there was in Ingram living in Halifax.  Two of the family were painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, no less.  All fascinating!"

last updated: 13/08/2009 at 10:08
created: 01/03/2007

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