Notice of slave sale, 1784
Suffolk and the slave trade
By Clive Paine
In the 18th century there were Suffolk landowners who owned or leased plantations in the USA and the West Indies. However, only scanty evidence survives in Suffolk and the following is all that is available.
In 1679, Sir Robert Davers owned 300 acres and 200 'negroes' in Barbados. In 1680 he returned to England and purchased the Rougham Estate near Bury St Edmunds. In his will he leaves named and unnamed slaves along with other property.
His wife was to have ‘…three negroes to waite upon her.’ His daughter ‘.. the negroes he had given her, by name Will, Besse, Jane, Bellameno, Lettice, Phelps, Squire, Dick a Malletto boy … and one horse and one negroe boy fitt to run with her.’ A granddaughter ‘…one negroe woman by name Clarty, with all her increase.’
A plantation in modern day Barbados
In addition he gave the elderly Black Nan and Gillian their freedom with food and housing for life, if they wished to live with their children.
His son, a second Sir Robert Davers, lived in Suffolk first at Rougham and then at nearby Rushbrooke Hall, which he purchased in 1706, partly with the income from the plantation. In his will of 1722 he ordered the Barbados properties to be sold in order to provide legacies for his children.
In 1805 Benjamin Green of Bury went into partnership with William Buck, Thomas Clarksons’ father-in-law, in the brewing trade. In 1823 Benjamin inherited the Blake family sugar plantations at St Kitts and Monserrat. He became an outspoken supporter of the West Indian planters’ interest. He agreed with the abolition of the slave trade, but believed slavery as an institution was necessary for the plantations.
As owner of a Bury newspaper he argued that slavery was ‘…neither productive of misery nor repugnant to the duties of religion’ and that ‘…slaves were better clothed, housed and fed than the English agricultural labourer.’ In 1830 he published a pamphlet attacking the reputations of speakers af the Suffolk Anti-Slave Society.
Following the abolition of slavery in 1833, Benjamin received £3,934 from the government as compensation for his 216 slaves.
Other Suffolk families, such as the Middletons, owned plantations in the USA. Although the US Congress also abolished the slave trade in 1807, slave ownership continued until the Civil War (1861-65). In 1808 the family sold a plantation, called Crowfield in South Carolina, covering 1,400 acres with 183 named slaves. The land was valued at £3.21 per acre and the slaves at £91.53 each.
Suffolk people were active in supporting Abolition Societies at a national and local level. Several Suffolk men joined the London Committee in 1787 and a County Meeting was held at Stowmarket in early 1788.
Inspired and co-ordinated by Thomas Clarkson, towns and villages formed local committees, held public meetings and petitioned Parliament, especially in the revival years of 1823 and 1830. In 1823 at least 16 petitions were sent from Suffolk. Slavery became an issue at General Elections and the subject of sermons and publications.
James Wright, a Haverhill grocer, joined the boycott on sugar and, in 1792 refused to sell sugar because it was ‘…contaminated (and) polluted with Human Blood.’
Clive Paine works at the Bury Records Office which is part of the Suffolk Records Office run by Suffolk County Council.
last updated: 11/04/2008 at 14:11