New database exposes British slave-owners
Courtenay Brown Special to the AmNews | 3/12/2013, 11:22 a.m.
It is often disputed how the legacies of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade have impacted modern society. So researchers at the University College London (UCL) took it upon themselves to unearth how slavery has helped shaped Great Britain today.
The slave trade in Britain was abolished in 1807, but owning slaves was not illegal until 1833, more than 20 years later. Despite major slave rebellions occurring across Caribbean islands as well as increased pressure from both white and Black abolitionists, there were still disagreements about the grounds of total emancipation. Implementing a system in which 20 million pounds of tax money was paid to slave owners to compensate for the loss of their so-called "property" served as a negotiation to appease all parties in Britain at the time. The bill was passed, and slave owners received what as at the time "40 percent of all annual government spending," as reported by the Huffington Post.
A team at UCL has spent the last 3 years investigating just how large a role Britain played in the slavery. The result, launched on February 27th, is a free database in which anyone can search by name, birthday, or address to see if their ancestors were slave-owners who received compensation for relinquishing their slaves.
The database, "Legacies of British Slave-ownership," also details previous slave owners' contributions to Britain or British colonies at the time after receiving these compensations. The "legacies," as these contributions are termed by the UCL, vary from commercial, cultural, historical, imperial, physical or political investments.
Catherine Hall, leader of the project's team and professor at UCL, believes that the legacies show just how much slavery is still "embedded" in Britain society.
"Our overall finding is that British colonial slave-ownership was of far greater significance in Britain that has previously been recognized," Hall tells the BBC News.
Throughout the investigation, the team has found that ancestors of notable figures, such as writer George Orwell who is widely known for his novel "1984," were one of the 3,000 compensated slave owners that the database details. Orwell, whose real name was Eric Blair, is the great-grandson of slave owner Charles Blair.
The UCL uncovered that the Blair estate was compensated for the 218 enslaved people he owned in Jamaica.
While the UCL's database provides no information specifically about slaves, there are several databases that do. Earlier this year, Fordham University launched its own database, Burial Database Project of Enslaved African Americans. They continue to collect information to both identify burial grounds of slaves and help preserve those spaces.
Another database, AfriGeneas, is dedicated to providing resources for descendants of slave owners to trace their genealogy. Their "Slave Data Collection" contains wills, bible records, inventories, and slave manifests.
The team at UCL continues to conduct research from now until 2015 to launch a new project, "Structure and significance of British Caribbean slave-ownership 1753-1833."
The "Legacies of British Slave-ownership" database can be viewed here: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/