Britain's legacy of slavery

History is usually written by the winners not by the losers and the way in which the history of slavery has been represented for the most part is as abolition the triumph

of abolition so we're trying to think again about that way of writing the history and put the whole slavery business and the wealth it produced and the people who

were involved in it back into british history if you read what we call against the grain of some of these histories you can find the mediated voices of lee

enslaved so an interesting example of this would be the way in which a very famous narrative of a black enslaved woman marry prince was produced by the abolitionists

as a form of propaganda in 1831 this woman was living for some of this time in the area absolutely round bloomsbury where her owner john adams would had a house

although it's apparently in her voice telling her history she tells it to a woman who transcribes it and it's then edited by the secretary of the anti-slavery society so

it's made appropriate for an abolitionist audience it's telling a particular it's a particular way of telling the narrative which can give us some access to the experience

of the enslaved woman but only some we can't take it as simply authentic that this is what mary prince said or thought trying to read between the lines is a very

important way of trying to get access to black people's experience but this is work that it's very very important to do and particularly important for women since you

know that even less recorded in 1833 when slavery was abolished in the british caribbean and in mauritius and the cape 20 million pounds was paid in

compensation to the slave owners because they were seen as having lost what was called their property the enslaved men and women who they had bought or who had

been born in captivity on their estates and have that 20 million pounds which was paid out of taxpayers money nearly 10 million stayed in britain so there were a very

substantial number of slave owners in britain who made substantial claims on that money and therefore had a large cash influx at that time the poet elizabeth

barrett who became elizabeth barrett browning was the daughter of a very significant jamaican slave owner and she had very very complicated feelings about

slavery and slave ownership and she was not sympathetic to slavery but she was very well aware that the family money came from slavery and indeed she inherited money on

that basis and she wrote a poem in the 1840s which she wrote in fact for the american abolitionists called the runaway slave at pilgrims point and in that poem she

tries to imagine being black so there are many powerful lines right in the poem in the voice of an enslaved woman I am black I am black and this is a woman who is

raped by her white master bears a child cannot bear the fact that her child is the product of rape kills the child and calls on the enslaved to rebel so it's a

very very dramatic poem yet this woman elizabeth barrett browning you know who imagines all this her own life is made comfortable financially by her family

wealth and she was not opposed at all to the principle of compensation she thought that it was right that the slaver were compensated because property

was property and if you lose property it should be compensated so that just gives us one of those complicated limp sees into what it meant to be totally

implicated in the slavery business and yet to have very ambivalent feelings about it it's been hard for britain's to think about the extent to which slavery has shaped our

history and there are many physical remnants of that the country houses that were built on slaving wealth the art collections that were accumulated by slave owners

the ways in which sugar became an absolutely central part of the diet of the entire british population from the 18th century onwards the ways in which british

financial and commercial institutions have actually been built on atlantic slave trade and slavery and of course that's a long time ago but those are the roots and

then there's the political legacies and the kinds of hierarchies of racism the ways in which contemporary racial thought has many inflections from this long

long history it's those legacies that we're pursuing through the 19th century through our work on the compensation records and where we want people to think

about that because of the present because of the present and the ways in which these formations have been part of what it is to be a modern britain

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