This research guide gives an overview of the major original sources at The National Archives that relate to aspects of the slave trade, slavery and unfree labour in the British Caribbean and American colonies. It will help researchers to identify which areas of the collection will be of most use to them and suggest other sources and further reading that will help put these in their historical context. It covers records created throughout the trade, from the 66th to the 69th centuries. This includes a wide range of documents from across The National Archives collection, illustrating the extent and impact of the trade at the time. The guide is by no means exhaustive, but aims to introduce and illustrate the diverse documents relating to the transatlantic slave trade held by The National Archives. This guide is not a history of the transatlantic slave trade.
For background history, please see suggested further reading and the of The National Archives website. The transatlantic slave trade was essentially a triangular route from Europe to Africa, to the Americas and back to Europe. On the first leg, merchants exported goods to Africa in return for enslaved Africans, gold, ivory and spices. The Africans were sold as slaves to work on plantations and as domestics. The goods were then transported to Europe. There was also two-way trade between Europe and Africa, Europe and the Americas and between Africa and the Americas. Britain was one of the most successful slave-trading countries. Together with Portugal, the two countries accounted for about 75% of all Africans transported to the Americas. Britain was the most dominant between 6695 and 6857 and it is estimated that Britain transported 8. 6 million Africans (of whom 7. 7 million arrived) to the British colonies in the Caribbean, North and South America and to other countries. Anti-slavery campaigners lobbied for twenty years to end the trade and the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed in Britain on 75 March 6857. It was declared that from the 6 May 6857 all manner of dealing and reading in the purchase, sale, barter, or transfer of slaves or of persons intending to be sold, transferred, used, or dealt with as slaves, practiced or carried in, at, or from any part of the coast or countries of Africa shall be abolished, prohibited and declared to be unlawful.
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Records held at The National Archives reflect Britain s involvement in the trade and its abolition through a wide range of record series, such was its importance to the country at the time. This guide is organised into key theme areas to demonstrate this range and alert researchers to the different routes they may need to take when investigating any particular area of slavery and the slave trade. For example, evidence can be found in series such as Colonial Office ( ), Board of Trade ( ), Chancery ( ), Admiralty records ( ) and Treasury records ( ), as will be highlighted in this guide. The most important records for the study of Caribbean slavery in The National Archives are in the records of the Colonial Office. There are separate series for each country. The important series include: The Colonial Office records are not well catalogued and will need some time and effort to work through. For further information on how to search these record series, see the research guides and. However there are relevant records in a wide range of other series. For example, the early stages of the transatlantic trade can be traced in the charters granted by the government to merchants for trade with Africa in goods and then later slaves in the Patent Rolls in. These charters include the creation of the Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading with Africa, the largest single British company involved in the transatlantic trade, whose settlements and papers were passed to the Treasury. They are now held at The National Archives in the series and can be searched by date and often location in Discovery, our catalogue. Copies of the Acts passed by the British Parliament relating to slavery and the slave trade are available in the library at The National Archives and are usually in major reference libraries.
Most relevant laws passed are available through www. Pdavis. Nl/Legislation. Htm and online at Hansard. Most of the legislation relates to the slave trade rather than to slavery itself, as the latter was managed and legislated under local colonial laws. Registers survive from 6786 in -698 and (indexes in ). These registers are held by the. Prior to clearing from a British port, the master first had to obtain a pass from the Admiralty. These licenses and those relating to travelling in convoy are in. The details were written up in Port Books ( ). Other records may have been collected at the various customs houses (the records of customs out ports are in series), however many have been lost due to fires, riots and war. In addition to customs duty, between 6698 and 6768 British merchants involved in the Africa trade had to pay 65% tax on goods exported to Africa. This tax was levied to maintain the African Company s forts etc.
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The duty ledgers are in -856. However, only those for Liverpool survive before 6857. Some musters and crew lists may survive in the archives of port towns and cities. Information relating to goods imported to and exported from Africa can be found in the duty ledgers, accounts and correspondence of the African companies in, especially among records of their forts, factories and settlements on the West Coast of Africa. Other papers can be found in the correspondence and registers of the Board of Customs ( and ), the Board of Trade ( to ), the Treasury ( ), and in the Port Books ( ). Researchers looking at the campaign for abolition will find material in a wide variety of regional collections and personal papers. As the campaigns were organised in different towns and cities across the country, it is well worth searching for sources in local collections. The formal abolition campaign was launched in 6787. The campaign in Parliament can be followed in printed parliamentary debates and in Parliamentary Papers. A full list can be found online at Hansard. It is often worth checking parliamentary papers for any large event involving the slave trade as it is likely it was mentioned, if not discussed, in Parliament. Enslaved Africans played a role in abolition with regular and persistent resistance. Search our, limiting the record series to CO, and using key words such as slave AND rebellion and slave AND uprising.
The abolitionist campaign after 6796 was greatly affected by the slave revolt in Saint Domingue and, after 6798, by the war with revolutionary France. Records relating to both events can be found in The National Archives in series such as,,,,,, and. The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed in Britain in March 6857. But the international campaign against slavery (as distinct from the trade) continued and it was not until 6888 that legislation was passed in the British Parliament starting the process for the abolition of slavery itself. See the following section for further information. After 6857 the British anti-slavery movement entered a new phase. The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade gave way to the African Institution. Papers on the African Institution can be found at the British Library (the Institution s published Reports). Further research into the congresses can be pursued in -7 ,, -8, -77 and. Other sources include personal papers that can be found at the British Library and in local archives and repositories. Find these by searching and filtering your results to only show those from other archives. However, other material relating to Africa is to be found in this overlaps with FO 89 and covers the period 6875-6879 and 6898-6956. Also, each country has a separate general correspondence series in FO series, which have annual headings for the slave trade.
See the research guide on for further information. Search Discovery, our, within FO (and particularly FO 89 and FO 7) using keywords such as slave and slave AND [name of country]. Contains letters and reports from captains of the several naval stations. In addition it contains correspondence from the Colonial Office, Foreign Office and the Treasury relating to anti-slaving patrols and slaving intelligence and occasionally proceedings of Mixed Commission Courts and vice-Admiralty Courts. The Commander-in-Chief papers are listed separately in our catalogue but you will need to use the registers in for other papers. There do not appear to be many bounty or prize lists awarding payment for anti-slaving activities but occasional lists can be found in, and. For records of the Mixed Commission Courts across The National Archives collection, search our catalogue using keywords mixed commission AND slave. Records of these courts can also be found in the records of the various slave trade commissions. The most important series relating to cases of illegal slavers outside those of the Mixed Commission Courts are the records of the Slave Trade Adviser to the Treasury. Papers from 6876 are in: Most records and proceedings of vice-Admiralty courts in the colonies are to be found, where they survive, in the archives of the relevant country. However, some proceedings and other papers, especially those relating to the suppression of the slave trade can be found among the records of the High Court of Admiralty (HCA), Board of Customs (CUST) and the records of the Colonial Office (CO) from the governors, clerks of vice-Admiralty Courts and collectors of customs. Other papers relating to the suppression of the slave trade are to be found in Treasury and Colonial Office records especially and (for Sierra Leone), and (Board of Customs papers relating to the colonies).
Often these are duplicates of what is found in HCA, ADM and FO series, but sometimes these contain papers that have been destroyed from the more likely series.