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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Bristol

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Immigration and Emigration
Legacies of the Slave Trade

Commemorative plaque, Quakers Friars
Many Quakers were involved in the anti-slavery movement.
© Dean Smart
In the local press Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal and Bonner and Middleton’s Bristol Journal carried lurid stories of the conditions on board ship for both crew and slaves during the Middle Passage, and local petitions were made and circulated. The two Bristol MPs throughout the abolition debates claimed that conditions on board ships needed reform, but sided with the slavers. However, a number of Bristol families supported runaway black servants who had been abused or threatened with forced removal back to the colonies and a loss of freedom.

There was also a strong element of involvement from the Black community in the battle to achieve abolition. Testimony was taken from Black people who had been enslaved and they bore witness to the horrors of the trade. Olaudah Equiano, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in childhood, later wrote that “tortures, murder, and every other imaginable barbarity and iniquity are practised upon the poor slaves with impunity. I hope the slave-trade will be abolished. I pray it may be an event at hand.”

A changing community

We know from some artwork and written sources in the 17th and 18th Centuries that the existing Black community in Bristol grew slightly as a small number of Africans, or second generation plantation slaves from the Americas and West Indies came to Bristol.

This included a few Africans brought to the City as “privilege negroes” by Ship’s Captains.
Bristol City Museum
Bristol City Museum
© Dean Smart
This was the special permission given to a Captain to load a few Africans onto their employer’s ship which he could sell for his own profit, or take as his own servants. Relatively few Africans arrived by this route as most Captains sold their “privilege” cargo after completing “the Middle Passage” from Africa to the West Indies or the Americas.

A few people of African origin were brought to Bristol as domestic servants, or to sell on to the landed gentry and nobility as servants and curiosities. In the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery there is work by the cartoonist Hogarth depicting black domestic servants and children in exotic costumes at the side of the gentry and nobility.

Words: Dean Smart

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