12 March 2007

Bicentennial of the Slave Trade Act

Perhaps fortunately for some of us, there are no British records of merchant seaman involved in the slave trade from Africa to America, officially ended when the UK Parliament passing the Slave Trade Act on 25 March 1807.

The Act didn't end slavery but prohibited trading in slaves from Africa. Colonies of the then British North America were bound by the legislation. It came into effect on 1 May, and a similar provision followed in the USA the next year. Nelson's victory at Trafalgar made enforcement practicable. Information on records for commissioned naval officers for the period may be found at TNA.

William Wilberforce, the best known advocate for abolition is the subject of a new film, Amazing Grace. See the trailer here. He lived just long enough to see a bill to abolish slavery in Britain pass through the British Parliament in 1833.

Wilberforce's great-great-grandson, a 48-year-old accountant, is commemorating the event by walking from the Wilberforce home in Hull, Yorkshire, to London and using the occasion to publicize present day sex and other slavery, said to subjugate more people today than the total number transported from Africa to America. There are numerous other commemorative and awareness raising events in Britain this year.

In Canada the Ontario government is "investing up to $1 million to support commemorative projects that tell the history of slavery, commemorate the struggle of African-Canadians, and honour the spirit of those who fought for freedom, justice and equality." The Governor General has mentioned the Slave Trade Act in a speech, but Stephen Harper's "new" government is silent.

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