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Liberating Africans and the abolition of the slave trade - Richard Anderson interview

When Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807, what happened to the people liberated from slave ships? Dr Richard Anderson explains.

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.

Selected Publications

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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History of Slavery in the British Caribbean

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