Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds Hi doctor Richard Anderson from the University of Aberdeen. Thank you so much for coming to talk to us today about liberated Africans and what happens after the slave trade was abolished by the British Parliament. So the first question I wanted to ask you was. What happens when a slave ship was intercepted by the antislavetrade patrol? Well, vessels captured by the Royal Navy were captured along the African coast or at sea, in the Atlantic Indian Ocean, often after quite violent skirmish.
Skip to 0 minutes and 45 seconds British policy was that the vessel and those on board could not be taken to the nearest port on the African mainland, out of fear that those on board might face violence or re enslavement, they were instead taken too often a British colony. Site of a British Vice Admiralty court. Later locations of multilateral courts in places like Havana or Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. What this meant is that those who were on board these vessels, those who were enslaved and held below decks, often faced voyages of weeks or even months from the point of interception until they were able to reach one of these ports. And one of these courts.
Skip to 1 minute and 37 seconds Not least because it wasn’t always obvious in the middle of the Atlantic or the Indian Ocean where the nearest port would be.
Skip to 1 minute and 46 seconds So the vessels were escorted two places like Freetown and a majority of vessels went there more than any other location because of its location on the West African coast. The vessels themselves, then went underwent a process of adjudication. During this process, which could itself last several weeks, enslaved Africans on board were forced to remain on board and below decks because this was considered in the eyes of the law as a property issue.
Skip to 2 minutes and 17 seconds If the vessel was considered to be a good prize in the language of the time goes on board, were allowed to disembark into what was known as liberated African yard are walled compound on the shore of Freetown, and, after a voyage of weeks, if not months, or then pass through a gate which still stands on Freetown’s waterfront, inscribed with the words freed from slavery by British valid in philanthropy. And so after this long and orange juice journey, what would happen to them? What would daily life be like after they pass through that gates and they entered into Freetown and deliberated African settlements? But there’s a lot of factors dictating life look like after liberation.
Skip to 3 minutes and 4 seconds One was the age at which you arrived in the colony. 19 century slave trade was to an unprecedented degree, a trade in children. So a lot of liberated African policy meant dealing with the resettlement of children. So the answer very much was apprentice ship. That is that those who are on board slave ships and deemed to be children were apprentice to Freetown, set their population. So in some ways this was somewhere between apprenticeship in the UK, is a historic institution and forms repented ship. We would later see in the British Caribbean Post Emancipation. It was also shaped by gender. Men were placed into various forms of forced labor for a period before being settled in Freetown or in surrounding villages.
Skip to 3 minutes and 55 seconds Women were often married with little volition on their part immediately after their arrival. And there’s different policies overtime early on. Abolitionist measures take place in the context of Napoleonic Wars, and so enlistment for something that is faced especially by adult males who are then sent to serve in the Caribbean. So age, gender, date of arrival really shape what Liberation is light, but it’s very much constrained form of liberation. Thank you. More about the lives of people liberated from the slave trades. Where are the best places for them to look? Who?
Skip to 4 minutes and 38 seconds Well, in some ways liberated Africans are among the best documented of victims of the slave trade over 4 centuries or a range of colonial and missionary archives located in United Kingdom. the British National Archives archives of the church, missionary society, University of Birmingham, the Methodist Missionary Society at so es. So in some respects, the level of documentation is quite neat for survivors of the middle passage. Of course, these are often mediated sources by formula fischels missionaries. Some of the richest sources we have our first hand accounts narrative’s that were produced especially for missionary societies. Of course, these are documents that have a certain audience in mind, so in some ways are incredibly rich, but also limited.
Skip to 5 minutes and 29 seconds We can also think then about looking beyond archives. For now, 200 years beyond the passage of the Abolition Act, but in places like Sierra Leone, places like Jamaica, Puerto La, Trinidad. Many people who are the descendants of liberated Africans retain a type of diaspore consciousness, so there’s the possibility of looking at non archival sources in terms of the linguistic impact, cultural impact, religious impact, pulmonary impact for example.
Liberating Africans and the abolition of the slave trade - Richard Anderson interview
The legal abolition of slavery in the British Empire was a long, staggered and interrupted process. Because the slave trade and slavery was so integral to the British economy, the idea of abolishing it took a long time to take hold in British politics. As we saw earlier, the Haitian Revolution had a considerable impact on public opinion, and on the abolitionist campaign in Britain. By the 1790s, legislators were split between different factions. Some wholly opposed to abolition, others keen to delay its implementation, while the minority were driving for abolition.
The abolitionist minority chose to make a series of political compromises. The most significant of these was to abolish the slave trade, long before abolishing the practice of slavery in the British Empire. The Bill to Abolish the Slave Trade passed in 1807, and enforcement began in March 1808 with the capture of two ships by a British patrol. Those two ships were the start of almost a century of anti-slave trade activity by the British Navy. The enslaved captives on-board were taken and forcibly resettled close to where the slave traders were tried. Most were sent to the Colony of Sierra Leone in West Africa, but others to St Helena, the Caribbean, Kenya, India and the Seychelles. In these British settlements, vibrant, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual communities developed. However, the people remained largely under the control of the British colonial authorities.
Dr Richard Anderson is a Lecturer in the History of Slavery at Aberdeen University and has done extensive research on the lives of the Liberated Africans in Sierra Leone.
Richard Anderson, Abolition in Sierra Leone: Re-building Lives and Identities in Nineteenth- Century West Africa, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
Richard Anderson and Henry Lovejoy (eds.) Liberated Africans and the Abolition of the Slave Trade, 1807-1896, University of Rochester Press, 2020.
Richard Anderson, ‘The Diaspora of Sierra Leone’s Liberated Africans: Enlistment, Forced Migration and “Liberation” at Freetown, 1808-1863’, African Economic History, 2013.
Want to know more?
In 2019-2020, the Museum of London Docklands hosted an exhibition about the Liberated Africans of Sierra Leone, known as the Krio. Co-curators, Melissa Bennett and Iyamide Thomas discuss the exhibition in this podcast: Displaying Black British History: The Krios of Sierra Leone.
Liberated Africans: This website retraces the lives of over 250,000 people emancipated under global campaigns to abolish slavery, as well as thousands of officials, captains, crews, and guardians of a special class of people known as “Liberated Africans.”
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