Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners
Wednesday 15 July
For nearly 200 years, the meticulous records that detail this forgotten story have lain in the archives virtually unexamined - until now. In an exclusive partnership with University College London, historian David Olusoga uncovers Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners. Forensically examining the compensation records, he discovers the surprising range of people who owned slaves and the sheer scale of the slavery business.
What the records reveal is that the slave owners were not just the super-rich. There were widows, clergymen and shopkeepers; ordinary members of the middle-classes who exploited slave-labour in distant lands. Yet many of them never looked a slave in the eye or experienced the brutal realities of plantation life.
In Barbados, David traces how Britain’s slave economy emerged in the 17th century from just a handful of pioneering plantation owners. As David explores the systemic violence of slavery, in Jamaica he is introduced to some of the brutal tools used to terrorise the slaves and reads from the sadistic diaries of a notorious British slave owner. Elsewhere, on a visit to the spectacularly opulent Harewood House in Yorkshire, he glimpses how the slave owners’ wealth seeped into every corner of Britain.
Finally, amongst the vast slave registers that record all 800,000 men, women and children in British hands at the point of abolition, David counts the tragic human cost of this chapter in our nation’s history.
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