National Trust, English Heritage and the truth about their profits from slavery

Many of Britain’s wealthiest families received billions in compensation for their loss of income when the slave trade was outlawed, writes David Barnett

Thursday 18 June 2020 18:17
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The statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston is thrown into the harbour
The statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston is thrown into the harbour

Britain is waking up to a part of its history that has been standing in plain sight for all to see, and yet not often thought about by many people. But the country’s involvement in the slave trade has been brought into sharp relief with the pulling down of the statue in Bristol of Edward Colston and its dumping into the harbour.

Colston, though viewed as a benefactor of his city, was heavily involved with the slave trade in the Caribbean in the 17th and 18th centuries, and riding a wave on the back of the Black Lives Matter protests that began in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in America, attention was turned on the public monuments that honour those who made their reputations and fortunes on the back of the traffic in black people. The disquiet at Colston is nothing new, of course. There has been a long-running campaign to either get the statue removed or have some kind of qualifying plaque placed upon it to qualify his supposed philanthropy with the darker deeds on which it was built.

And it isn’t just about statues. Although it’s not something we often learn about at school, colonial slavery helped to build the country we live in today. And for more than a decade the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership (LBS) project at University College London has been minutely detailing all the business done by British individuals and companies in the trade of human beings 200 years ago.

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