In the 18th century, while more people in Britain than ever before were enjoying luxuries such as sugar, cotton and rum, the majority of these goods were produced by slave labour in the plantations of the Americas and the Caribbean. During the 1700s around 11 million enslaved people were transported by European merchants from Africa to these colonies.
A British political group known as the Abolitionists objected to the slave trade on humanitarian grounds. In 1787, the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the African Slave Trade was established. The minutes of that very first meeting on 22 May 1787 are shown here, recording the 12 original members, including the MP William Wilberforce. The minutes began:
At a Meeting held for the Purpose of taking the Slave Trade into consideration, it was resolved that the said Trade was both impolitick and unjust.
In 1807, the British government passed an Act of Parliament abolishing the slave trade throughout the British Empire. However, this only served to stop the transportation of Africans across the Atlantic; it did not put a stop to slavery itself. Only much later, in July 1833, was the Slavery Abolition Bill passed, but even then, only slaves under six years old were freed immediately. Others had to work for four years as unpaid labourers under the Apprenticeship System – slavery by another name. Finally, on 1 August 1838, 800,000 enslaved people were freed.
More than 200 years after the 1807 Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, slavery and human trafficking still exist in some parts of the world.
May. 22. 1787.
At a Meeting held for the Purpose of taking the Slave Trade
into Consideration, it was resolved that the said Trade
was both impolitick and unjust.
Resolved, that Granville Sharp, Joseph Woods, Sam-
-uel Hoare junior, William Dillwyn, George Harrison,
James Phillips, Richard Phillips, Thomas Clarkson,
Philip Sansom, John Lloyd, Joseph Hooper and John
Barton to be a Committee for procuring such Information
and Evidence, and for distributing Clarkson's Essay and
such other Publications, as may tend to the Abolition of
the Slave-Trade, and for directing the Application of
such monies, as are already, or may hereafter be col-
-lected, for the above Purposes.
Resolved, that three Members be a Quorum.
Resolved, that Samuel Hoare junior be appointed
Treasurer to the Society.
Resolved, that the Treasurer pay no Money on Account
of this Society, but by Order of the Committee.
Resolved, that one hundred Copies of these Resolutions
be printed, with this Addition, viz. The Subscripti-
-ons of such, as are disposed to contribute towards car-
-rying on the Design of this Institution, will be received
by the Treasurer, or any Member of the Committee.
Adjourned to Thursday Evening May the 24th at six
- Full title:
- FAIR Minute Books of the Committee for the abolition of the Slave-trade; 22 May, 1787–9 July, 1819. In three volumes. Paper. Folio. Presented by H. C. Robinson, Esq. Vol 1.
- 22 May 1787 - 9 Jul 1819
- Usage terms
Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.
- Held by
- British Library
- Add MS 21254-21256
- Article by:
- Abdul Mohamud, Robin Whitburn
- Politics and religion, Travel, colonialism and slavery
With a focus on the 17th and 18th centuries, Abdul Mohamud and Robin Whitburn trace the history of Britain’s large-scale involvement in the enslavement of Africans and the transatlantic slave trade. Alongside this, Mohamud and Whitburn consider examples of resistance by enslaved people and communities, the work of abolitionists and the legacy of slavery.
- Article by:
- Brycchan Carey
- Travel, colonialism and slavery, Politics and religion
From the mid 18th century, Africans and people of African descent – many of them former slaves – began to write down their stories. Brycchan Carey describes these writings and assesses their role in the abolition of slavery.
- Article by:
- S I Martin
- Politics and religion, Travel, colonialism and slavery, Language and ideas
By 1780, there were at least 20,000 black people living in Britain. S I Martin describes how four writers, taken from Africa as children and sold into slavery, grew up to write works that challenged British ideas about race, called for African brotherhood and demanded the abolition of the slave trade.