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Bristol slave trade

Bristol is a city in the South West of England, on the River Avon which flows into the Severn Estuary. Because of Bristol’s position on the River Avon, it has been an important location for marine trade for centuries.[1] The city's involvement with the slave trade peaked between 1730 and 1745, when it became the leading slaving port.[2]

Bristol used its position on the Avon to trade all types of goods. Bristol's port was the second largest in England after London. Countries that Bristol traded with included France, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, and North Africa’s Barbary Coast. Bristol’s main export was woollen cloth. Other exports included coal, lead, and animal hides. Imports into Bristol included wine, grain, slate, timber, and olive oil. Trading with the various colonies in the Caribbean and North America began to flourish during the Interregnum of Oliver Cromwell (1649–1660).

The Royal African Company, a London-based trading company, had control over all trade between countries in Britain and Africa before the year 1698[3] At this time, only ships owned by the Royal African Company could trade for anything, including slaves. Slaves were increasingly an important commodity at the time, since the British colonization in the Caribbean and the Americas in the 17th century. The Society of Merchant Venturers, an organization of elite merchants in Bristol, wanted to commence participation in the African slave trade, and after much pressure from them and other interested parties in and around Britain, the Royal African Company’s control over the slave trade was broken in 1698.

As soon as the monopoly was broken, what is thought to have been the first "legitimate" Bristol slave ship, the Beginning, owned by Stephen Barker, purchased a cargo of enslaved Africans and delivered them to the Caribbean. Some average slave prices were £20, £50, or £100. In her will of 1693, Jane Bridges, Widow of Leigh Upon Mendip bequeathes her interest of £130 in this very ship to her grandson Thomas Bridges and indicates that the vessel was owned by the City of Bristol. Business boomed; however, due to the over-crowding and harsh conditions on the ships, it is estimated that approximately half of each cargo of slaves did not survive the trip across the Atlantic.[4]

The triangular trade was a route taken by slave merchants during the years 1697 and 1807. The areas covered by the triangular trade was England, North West Africa and finally The Caribbean. Profits of 5-20% were made during the 18th century. Estimates vary about how many slaves were sold and transported by companies registered in Bristol. Over 3.4 million slaves were brought into slavery by these ships, representing one-fifth of the British slave trade during this time.[5][6] However, estimates of over 500,000 slaves were brought into slavery by these ships.[7][8] Also there is a pub called the Seven Stars where there was a big meeting for the abolition of slavery in the UK.

In popular cultureEdit

The folk duo Show of Hands have written and performed a song entitled "The Bristol Slaver" covering the subject.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ E. M. Carus-Wilson, 'The overseas trade of Bristol' in E. Power & M.M. Postan, Studies in English Trade in the Fifteenth Century (London, 1933)
  2. ^ BBC - Legacies - Immigration and Emigration - England - Bristol - Legacies of the Slave Trade - Article Page 2
  3. ^ John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea. New York: Modern Library, 2003. ISBN 0-679-64249-8.
  4. ^ S.I. Martin. Britain and the Slave Trade: Channel 4 Books, 1999.
  5. ^ "Bristol prepares to mark Black History Month". Bristol Post. 22 September 2015. Archived from the original on 2015-12-22. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  6. ^ "Legacies of the Slave Trade". BBC. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  7. ^ "Bristol prepares to mark Black History Month". Bristol Post. 22 September 2015. Archived from the original on 2015-12-22. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  8. ^ "Legacies of the Slave Trade". BBC. Retrieved 15 December 2015.

Further readingEdit

  • O'Malley, Gregory E. (2014). Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619–1807. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.