|For more information:|
James Walvin's book: The Trader, The Owner, The Slave chronicles the striking personal stories of three men closely involved in the slave trade.
John Newton was the captain of a slave ship. He later became a clergyman and is best known for writing the hymn Amazing Grace. Although once involved in the trade, he eventually played an important part in the abolition movement.
Thomas Thistlewood was a plantation manager responsible for many slaves. He kept a diary in which he detailed some of the extraordinary brutality he showed to the slaves in his charge.
Olouda Equiano was a slave who bought his own freedom. A key figure in the abolition movement he travelled the country speaking out against the slave trade.
The Trader, The Owner, The Slave is published by Random House. ISBN: 978-0-224-06144-5
During the 15th & 16th centuries, a great many very rich people owed their wealth to the labour of African slaves working sugar plantations in the Caribbean. It was in their financial interest to keep the slaves subdued and under their control, and this was the job of the planters. Men like Thomas Thistlewood.
James Walvin, author of The Trader, The Owner, The Slave and a professor of history at the University of York, explains how the planters operated, and how the Quakers of York were important to the abolition movement.
"Thomas Thistlewood left a 14,000 page diary. He details the daily life of a slave owner and the quite extraordinary levels of brutality he meters out to his slaves; the sexual brutality to the women, and the physical brutality to all of them.
"He emigrated to Jamaica from Lincolnshire, started off humbly, then became a slave owner - he had a small property of his own and his slaves produced sugar. This was shipped back for the British market, to go with tea and coffee. And some people came out of this extraordinarily well, for example the Harewoods of Harewood house made a vast amount of money from it.
|"Without the Quakers of York, and elsewhere, abolition couldn't have taken off as it did"|
"Thomas Thistlewood was one of the foot soldiers; a planter dealing with the slaves, to tap the wealth of the region, to produce sugar that was shipped back to Liverpool and Bristol. So the sweetness in a British cup of tea was made possible by African slave labour dragooned by levels of extraordinary violence by people like Thistlewood.
Justifying the slave trade
"One of the justifications for slavery put forward by the planters was that you could treat slaves like this because they were not like us: they were sub-human. But against that of course was the fact that all the planters had sex with their slaves, so if they're sub-human what were they doing have sex with them, and having children with them?
"Yet people came to believe this and it left its legacy in a racist view of black people; the idea that they're qualitatively different from white people. It's taken a very long time to get away from that.
"Of course the real reason they used African slaves was economic. It was cheap. They cost virtually nothing, although the cost of transportation was high, it was still cheap labour when they couldn't get labour from anywhere else.
"Thistlewood is an extraordinary case. Here he is in the western tip of Jamaica, producing a great deal of sugar and only able to by the labour of Africans. He's surrounded by Africans, he's outnumbered by about 10 to one. A couple of times he almost comes to a nasty end and yet he manages to maintain some control over them, despite everything he does to them.
"Despite the physical punishments, the sadistic things he did, despite the fact he had sex with any number of the women folk and their daughters, he got away with it. Just what was it about a slave owner that enabled them to get away with it year after year? Why didn't they just kill him?
"Well the slaves knew what would happen if they harmed a white man. Rebel slaves met a terrible fate. Medieval punishments of butchery, of burning them alive, putting them in cages and letting them die - this is the daily story of slavery in the caribbean and no-one exemplified it better than Thomas Thistlewood.
"The Church of England owned plantations, and undoubtedly knew what was going on, but nobody complained too much providing the money was coming in. It wasn't until the last 20 years of the 18th century that the church began to seriously question this.
"But it was the Quakers who were instrumental in changing the public opinion in this country, and in North America. There were Quakers on both sides of the Atlantic in contact with each other and seized with the unethical nature of the slave trade.
"The Quakers were behind the foundation of the Abolition Society. Quakers in York, like those elsewhere, were a voice in the wilderness at first. But by 1790 they have put their good offices to the services of abolition.
"Without the Quakers of York, and elsewhere, abolition couldn't have taken off as it did."