Sunday, June 3, 2012

#Jubilee :Britain, slavery and the trade in enslaved Africans:


Britain, slavery and the trade in enslaved Africans

Marika Sherwood

British slaves
British involvement in slavery is over 2,000 years old, but not in what is now the accepted perspective. Cicero noted in about 54 BC that the 'British' enslaved by Julius Caesar 'were too ignorant to fetch fancy prices in the market'. The enslavement of the people of this outpost of the Roman Empire continued for hundreds of years as we know that Pope Gregory spoke with some British slaves in the slave market in Rome in the seventh century AD. (1) Domestic slavery – usually called 'serfdom' – also existed in Britain: serfs were bought and sold with the estate on which they had to work for a fixed number of days a year without payment; they could only marry with their lord's consent, could not leave the estate and had few legal rights. However, as they could not be easily replaced, they were not as physically abused as enslaved Africans a few centuries later. The institution of serfdom was not abolished in Britain until 1381. (2)

Britons were also enslaved by the Barbary pirates. The cross-Mediterranean trade was subject to piracy and privateering (piracy licensed by ruling monarchs) by many of the coastal seafarers. Some of the British enslaved by the north Africans (the 'Barbary' coast) were used as galley slaves; others fulfilled the usual tasks allotted to slaves; those who converted to Islam had an easier time. The men seized by the British from Barbary vessels were either sold as slaves or executed as pirates. (3)

The enslaved/imprisoned could be ransomed: Queen Elizabeth I, for example, attempted to have the 'Negroes' resident in Britain volunteer to hand themselves over to a trader named Caspar Van Senden. This Lubeck trader had told the Queen that he could sell them as slaves in Spain and Portugal, which would enable her to repay his expenses in ransoming and returning to England some English prisoners held there. It seems that neither free Africans nor the owners of any enslaved Africans in Britain were prepared to obey the Queen's proclamation, as she had to issue it a number of times. (4) more