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Garstang Fairtrade Town

Garstang The World's First Fairtrade Town

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The Slave Trade and the Abolition Campaign

The Atlantic slave trade started sometime in the mid 16th century when African labour began to replace Indian labour on the Spanish sugar plantations of Brazil. From this time to the 1860s slave traders transported some ten and a half million Africans into the Americas; another two million did not survive the sea crossing. This was the greatest enforced movement of people in the history of mankind.

Slave ships followed a triangular trading pattern. On the first leg of their voyage, vessels left their European home port laden with a widely assorted cargo of manufactured goods which was to be bartered for slaves and other African produce on the ship's arrival on the African coast. The slaves were then transported across the Atlantic to the Caribbean islands or North American colonies, on what became known as the notorious 'Middle Passage'. On arrival they were auctioned like cattle, the majority becoming field hands on the large plantations. As payment the slaver captains generally took on board produce such as cotton, sugar, coffee or tea before embarking on the final stage of their voyage home.

To begin with the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch were the main slave traders but by the 1730s the British Atlantic slave trade was in full swing. For the rest of that century (and until abolition in 1807) the British became the world's leading slave traders. Between 1700 and 1810 they transported about 3.4 million Africans. Even today, after the horrors of the 20th century these remain astonishing figures. Slave trading in Britain started in London and Bristol but between 1750 and 1780 almost three-quarters of the British slave trade was financed by Liverpool merchants. During this period Liverpool was the biggest slave trading port in the world. Lancaster was the greatest of the smaller slave trading ports in Britain making it the fourth biggest after the big three; Liverpool, London and Bristol.

The campaign to abolish the slave trade lasted twenty years from 1787 to 1807. This was the first, and one of the most successful, public campaigns in history. The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) set up a committee to seek the abolition of the slave trade in 1783, but the national campaign was not launched until after the Nonsectarian committee met, for the first time, on 22 May 1787. The twelve founder members were Granville Sharp, 'father of the cause in England'; nine Quakers: William Dillwyn, Samuel Hoare, Jr, George Harrison, John Lloyd, Joseph Woods, John Barton, Joseph Hooper, James Phillips and Richard Phillips, and two other Anglicans in addition to Sharp: Philip Sansom and Thomas Clarkson. The latter enlisted, the better known William Wilberforce to wage the abolitionist's campaign in Parliament. Our project will focus on Thomas Clarkson as the architect of the campaign and founding father of the anti-slavery movement.

The campaign to abolish the slave trade succeeded in changing the attitudes of the British public. Previous to the campaign the slave trade was not only accepted, but considered to be essential to maintain the power and prosperity of the British empire. In an attempt to justify this evil trade to a Christian society the African slaves were dehumanised and referred to as "Black Cattle". This was to such an extent that merchants involved in the trade did not realise, or wish to realise, their wrongdoing. Even some Quaker merchantmen took part. The abolitionists revealed the true horror of the trade and enlightened the British public to the fact that slaves were indeed human and equal before God. They distributed leaflets showing how atrociously slaves were crammed on board the ships, and when the potter Josiah Wedgwood, joined the abolition committee, he produced a cameo depicting a kneeling African slave in chains framed with the words "Am I Not a Man and a Brother?" The cameo was inlaid in gold on snuff-boxes and set into bracelets and hairpins. Petitions were also used extensively. When Thomas Clarkson visited Manchester, at the start of the campaign in 1787, a petition was signed by nearly 11,000 persons, more than one fifth of the city's total population. Later in 1792 Manchester's petition carried 20,000 signatures. The people of Manchester wove the cotton produced from the slave-labour plantations, but their support was in stark contrast to the neighbouring slave trading port of Liverpool. On a visit to the latter, also in 1787, Clarkson was threatened with his life. These methods used by the abolitionists paved the way for future campaigns right up to the present day.

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Slave Ship

This plan above of a slave ship developed by Clarkson and his co-workers shocked the public when it appeared in 1789. It shows how 482 slaves could be packed on board the Brookes of Liverpool for the 6 to 8 week voyage to the West Indies. The Brookes actually carried 609 slaves on one voyage.

The fair trade / slave trade project, run by the Garstang Oxfam Group and the Garstang Youth and Community Centre, brings together the two very different trading systems. In 1787 the new settlement called the Province of Freedom at Sierra Leone was established. It not only provided a haven for blacks stranded in Britain who wished to return home but became a centre for a legitimate Afro-British commerce that would attempt to undermine the slave trade on economic grounds. It made more financial sense to trade directly with Africans growing produce in Africa than to take them across the sea to grow the same produce in the Americas. In 1790 the Sierra Leone Company received its charter from Parliament. This could be considered by some to be the first fair trading system.

Another tactic employed by the abolitionist campaign was the boycott of West Indian slave-grown sugar. The message was simple. The slave trade was morally evil and the people had the remedy in their own hands. Britain consumed more sugar than the rest of Europe together. If a family using five pounds a week would abstain for 21 months the murder or slavery of one fellow creature would be prevented. Abstention by 38,000 families would stop the trade altogether. Parliament might see fit to 'license inhumanity' but the people did not have to be accomplices. This has remarkable relevance to the fair trade campaign today, only people are not asked to carry out a negative boycott but to show positive support for fair trade products. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) might see fit to legislate against bananas from the Windward Islands but the people can avoid being accomplices by buying fair trade bananas.

There is one final poignant link. Under the slave trade system people suffered to provide luxuries like sugar, chocolate, coffee and tea for our table at an affordable price. This was morally wrong but most people were not aware of their wrongdoing until the abolitionist campaign exposed it for what it was. Today the people who put those very same items on our table are suffering because they do not get a fair price for their produce. Again this is so we can buy these relative luxuries at an affordable price, again it is morally wrong and again people are not aware of it. Who today is going to point it out for them, and how?

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