Slavery, Empire, Memory


More than 2.6 million shackled Africans were shipped across the Atlantic after 1810, when the British patrols, constantly sparse in number, began: “The Squadron was more beneficial as a combating force for daunting and damaging West African coastal kingdoms and chieftaincies that happened to defy British needs. Even among the most progressive of English abolitionists, many believed that the best result of this brand-new period of small freedom for previously enslaved Black individuals would be for them to toil indefinitely under the tutelage of wealthy white plantation owners whose products British convenience and success required.The intellectual background of Scanlans book, which he acknowledges early on, is the argument– first made by the former Trinidadian prime minister and scholar Eric Williams and just recently elaborated and refined by many other historians– that an empire in the Caribbean based on slavery was foundational to British industrialism and success. Mainstream British and American historians attacked his works as overwrought and unsupported, and made light of his general argument by taking on two of his claims: that earnings from the slave trade had actually been a vital part of the funding of British industrialization, and that Britain just renounced slavery once it was no longer successful. * And imports of servants to the United States represented less than 5 percent of the total transatlantic trade, with much bigger numbers going to Brazil and the Caribbean.Many of Williamss critics narrowly thought about the market costs of slaves to assault the concept that earnings from the trade might have been a decisive element in British industrialization. Scanlans book signs up with a growing body of historiography, including my Born in Blackness (2021 ), that argues that the English, and subsequently British, states grew in administrative capacity and effectiveness as a direct repercussion of extended military contests with the Dutch, the Spanish, and specifically the French over who would control the servant trade and the plantation economy focused in the West Indies.War with France, Scanlan notes, whether alone or in coalition, lasted for nearly the whole eighteenth century, and much of it clearly involved slavery, although this is seldom stressed in standard accounts of the period.

For those whites who made it through, one may include, passage to “the islands,” and the slave regime being constructed there, also constituted a massive economic opportunity and a historically special social upgrade, in which they ended up being part of a brand-new racial master class.No less important was the method that this new emigration outlet ended up being a locus of self-reinvention and wealth creation for the already rich, thus serving as a crucial driver in the combination of a still-fragile union including what are now the British Isles. Scanlans book joins a growing body of historiography, including my Born in Blackness (2021 ), that argues that the English, and consequently British, states grew in administrative capacity and robustness as a direct consequence of prolonged military contests with the Dutch, the Spanish, and specifically the French over who would control the slave trade and the plantation economy focused in the West Indies.War with France, Scanlan notes, whether alone or in union, lasted for nearly the entire eighteenth century, and much of it clearly involved slavery, although this is rarely stressed in standard accounts of the duration. The previous slaves of what would quickly end up being Haiti, nevertheless, beat the British; more of their soldiers died there in fight and from illness than had passed away in the American Revolutionary War two years previously.

The Illustrated London News
HMS Tourmaline, a flagship of the West Africa Squadron; inscribing by Josiah Robert Wells after a sketch by H.P. Neville, 1876

Even among the most progressive of English abolitionists, numerous believed that the finest outcome of this new period of nominal liberty for previously oppressed Black individuals would be for them to toil indefinitely under the tutelage of rich white plantation owners whose products British convenience and success required.The intellectual background of Scanlans book, which he acknowledges early on, is the argument– first made by the previous Trinidadian prime minister and scholar Eric Williams and just recently elaborated and refined by numerous other historians– that an empire in the Caribbean based on slavery was foundational to British commercialism and prosperity. Mainstream British and American historians assaulted his works as unsupported and overwrought, and made light of his overall argument by taking on 2 of his claims: that earnings from the servant trade had actually been a vital part of the financing of British industrialization, and that Britain only renounced slavery once it was no longer rewarding. * And imports of servants to the United States represented less than 5 percent of the overall transatlantic trade, with much larger numbers going to Brazil and the Caribbean.Many of Williamss critics narrowly considered the market costs of slaves to attack the concept that earnings from the trade could have been a decisive aspect in British industrialization.


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