Cantab Abolitionists and the Low Countries

This guest post by Dr Jaap Harskamp (formerly Curator of Dutch & Flemish collections at the British Library) shows how the efforts of two men with links to Cambridgeshire (Thomas Clarkson, born in Wisbech, and Olaudah Equiano who lived in Soham) had an impact on the slave debate in the Low Countries.

The Atlantic slave trade began in the mid-1400s and lasted into the 19th century. Initially, Portuguese traders purchased small numbers of slaves on the western coast of Africa and transported them for sale in the Iberian Peninsula. The trade expanded when European nations began colonizing the Americas. By the 1600s the Dutch were contesting the English and French for control of the trade, but England emerged as the dominant slave-dealing nation. As the Empire expanded, slaves were sent across the seas to work on plantations in the Caribbean or the Americas. Others, in much smaller numbers, were ferried into the ports of London, Liverpool and Bristol on ships carrying lucrative commodities. To engage an African servant became a status symbol: Samuel Pepys employed a ‘blackmore’ cook, Dr Johnson left his Jamaican-born manservant Francis Barber a £70 annuity, and Royal Academy sculptor Joseph Nollekens hired a female servant nicknamed ‘Miss Bronze’. Continue reading