Slavery; key historical events

Page last modified 10/9/2020


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See also Racial Equality


Click here for Abolitionist Map of the USA, 1888  - Soirce, New Scientist, 1//8/2020, p.14 – Note the Christian symbolism here, too.


See below for specific named States  and their history of slavery.




Abolition/prohibition of slavery.

Slave rebellions.

Authorisation / practice of slavery.


2017, The International Labour Organisation estimated that 40 million people worldwide were currently subjected to modern slavery. Of these, 25 million were subject to forced labour and 15 million were trapped in forced marriages.

2007, Mauritania banned slavery (for the third time). At this time there were an estimated 600,000 slaves in the country. However the first prosecution for slavery in Mauritania was not brought until April 2011; all five defendants were acquitted. In 2018 an estimated 4% of the country’s population remained enslaved.

1981, Mauritania banned slavery. However see 2007.

1962, Slavery was officially abolished in Saudi Arabia.

1/1/1928, Nearly 250,000 domestic slaves in the British Protectorate of Sierra Leone were freed by decree of 1927.

31/1/1910. China abolished slavery. In 1906 Chou Fu, Viceroy at Nanking, called on the Emperor of China to abolish slavery. At that time all Chinese citizens had tio belong to one of four clsasses. These were 1) the Bannermen (ruling class, 2) Free Chinese subjects, 3) Outcasts, 4) Slaves; there were severe penalties for not fulfilling the duties of their class. Fu’s recommendations were finally accepted in 1910, despite opposition from Manchu nobles. However the former slaves were still compelled to live in their ,master’s households for the rtest of their lives, although as ‘free labourers’.

1907, The Sultan of Zanzibar abolished slavery altogether (see 5/6/1879), under pressure from the British.

2/7/1890. In Brussels, an International Convention for Suppression of the African Slave Trade was signed.

1888, Charles Martial Allemand Lavigerie (1825-92), Archbishop of Algiers from 1884, founded the Anti Slavery Society.

13/5/1888. Slavery was abolished in Brazil despite heavy opposition from the landowners. Brazil had agreed to abolish the slave trade, under pressure from Britain, in 1831, but this trade did not cease completely in Brazil until 1853. In the 1860s there was pressure to abolish all slavery in Brazil, and in 1871 the Brazilian parliament passed a law that all children of slave mothers were free. In 1884 Cearas and Amazonas freed their slaves, and in 1885 all Brazilian slaves aged over 65 were freed. Complete emancipation without compensation to landowners was decreed on 13/5/1888 and about 700,000 slaves valued at £40 million (i.e ca.£57 each, or  about £3,800 in 2000 prices) were freed.

7/10/1886, Spain abolished slavery in Cuba.

5/6/1879, The slave markets in Zanzibar were closed by Sultan Bargash Sayyid, under pressure from the British. See 1907.

1874, Slavery was abolished in Ghana

22/3/1873, Slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico.

1/7/1863, Slavery ceased in the Dutch West Indies.

1/1852, Colombia abolished slavery.

1842, Portugal outlawed the slave trade in Mozambique.

9/4/1839, The liberation of slaves in Jamaica was posing severe problems for the landowners, many of whom had treated their slaves brutally.

1838, In Jamaica, Jamaican Governor Sir Lionel Smith read out the proclamation ending slavery on the island.

1/1/1832, Order was restored in Jamaica after the ‘Baptist War’ (‘Black Family War’). Trouble broke out on 27/12/1831 after Black slaves there believed their order for freedom had arrived from Britain but was being withheld by the landowners on Jamaica. 50,000 slaves rebelled, doing extensive damage to property and killing 15 White people. Harsh punishment was inflicted with some 1,000 Black slaves flogged and 100 shot or hung.

15/9/1829, Slavery was abolished in Mexico.

24/4/1824, The United Provinces of Central America abolished slavery.

18/8/1823, A slave rebellion in Guyana. European militia put down the rebellion by 20/8/1763.

20/5/1802. The French restored slavery to their colonies.

4/2/1794. France issued a decree abolishing slavery in its colonies. However Mauritius ignored this decree.

1792, Denmark abolished the slave trade.

12/8/1791, African slaves in Santo Domingo, in the east of the island of Hispaniola, rebelled against plantation owners.

8/3/1790, The Revolutionary French Government, despite its motto of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, voted to keep slavery in its colonies.

1789, Jamaica had 211,000 slaves, up from 40,000 in 1689,

1/7/1775, The price of a male slave on the Caribbean sugar plantations was 40 shillings, up from 30 shillings in 1740.

1770, The King of Dahomey (now Benin) was earning £250,000 a year from selling other Africans as alaves to European traders.

23/2/1763, Start of the Berbice Slave uprising in Guyana. At this time there were 3,833 Black slaves in the Berbice River area and only 346 White people, many of them women and children. The rebellion spread and it took the arrival of European gunboats on 13/5/1763 to quell the revolt. The Europeans suffered from dysentery but the Africans were disunited.

1761, Slavery was abolished in the European territory of Portugal.

1739, Slave revolt in Jamaica. Also the Stono rebellion, slave revolt, in South Carolina.

29/5/1733, Canadians given the right to have Indians as slaves, and buy and sell them.

1713, Britain began supplying slaves to Spanish colonies after Spain signed the Asiento Agreement.

1690, There were now 40,000 slaves in Jamaica.

1684, Barbados had 46,000 slaves, up from 6,000 in 1645. Black people now outnumbered Europeans in Barbados by 2 to 1.

1661, Barbados drew up a code formally legalising the practise of slavery. Slaves were guaranteed one set of new clothes per year, but were not protected from bring killed or mutilated by their masters.

1658, Slave imports to South Africa began, as the White settlers needed more labour than could be supplied by the indigenous inhabitants.

1612, Portuguese imports of slaves from Angola to Brazil were running at around 10,000 a year.

1608, Spain legalised the slavery of Chilean Indians.

1630, The Repiublic of Palmares was founded in N E Brazil by escaped slaves. It was about the size of modern-day Portugal. See Brazil, 1988.

1600, A slave cost 40 Guilders, which is about US$ 4,000 in 2000 prices.

1592, Britain began a regular trade in slaves.

1573, Slavery was legalised in Brazil.

2/6/1537, A Papal Bull issued by Pope Paul III prohibited enslavement of American Indians, contrary to King Charles V’s policies. Paul excommunicated Catholic slave traders.

1526, The ruler of the Congo, Mbemba Nzinga, a convert to Christianity, complained to the monarch of Portugal that the Portuguese were effectively kidnapping large numbers of his subjects, to become slaves on the Brazilian sugar plantations. However the economic of sugar won out, and the number of sugar plantations manned by African slaves rose from 5 in 1550 to 350 in 1623.

1517, Spain began a regular trade in slaves.

27/12/1512. Spain enacted the Laws of Burgos, giving New World natives legal protection against abuse but authorising the slavery of Black people.

4/12/1511, Antonio de Montesinos, a  Spanish Dominican friar, denounced the cruelty of settlers enslaving indigenous peoples.

1508,The Spanish began enslaving the indigenous people of Hispaniola.

1502, The first slaves from Africa were taken to South America, to work the plantations.

7/6/1494, The Treaty of Tordesillas was signed. In 1493, Pope Alexander VI had set a line at 100 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands from north to south Pole; Spain had the rights to colonise west of this line, Portugal to the east. The 1494 Treaty moved this line a further 270 leagues to the west. This resulted in Portugal having possession of both Brazil and Africa; in turn this greatly facilitated the expansion of the slave trade, providing cheap labour for the sugar plantations.

457 BCE, Athens possessed some 75,000 to 150,000 slaves (25% to 35% of the total population). 20,000 of these slaves worked the silver mines at Laureion.


UK slavery

26/9/1846, Thomas Clarkson, British anti-slavery campaigner, died (born 28/3/1760).

1/8/1834, Slavery was abolished in all British colonies. £20 million was paid as compensation to former slave owners.  This was a victory for the Anti-Slavery League, formed in 1823, and their Parliamentary leader, Thomas Fowell Buxton. It also completed the work of William Wilberforce; his anti-slavery Bill, to abolish the slave trade, incepted in 1789, was passed in 1807. This move gave impetus to the anti-slavery campaign in the USA.

In South Africa, 35,000 slaves were freed as slavery ended throughout the British Empire. In Barbados the slaves continued to work for their former masters but now as hired servants.

In Jamaica, slave owners were compensated at £19 per slave. However the market rate for a slave then was £35 (£2,000 at 2000 prices). Most of this money in fact went to the plantation creditors, as the plantations were in debt, heavily mortgaged, and in places declining in fertility through overwork. Additionally the UK Government now moved from a Protectionist to a Free Trade stance,eliminiating heavy duties against non-UK-colonial sugar,and sugar prices fell by half.

23/8/1833. London abolished slavery throughout the British Empire. The trade in slaves in Britain had been illegal since 1807. Other European countries slowly followed suit; France continued with the trade till 1819. Spain abolished it in 1820, getting £400,000 compensation from Britain. Portugal abolished the slave trade in 1830, and was paid £300,000 by Britain. Boer farmers in South Africa, facing a loss of this free labour, moved northwards to land outside British control. The Boers were aggrieved that whilst British slave owners in the West Indies received full compensation for the loss of their slaves, Dutch Boer farmers received only one fifth compensation.  Every slave in the British Empire was now nominally free, although to offset the sudden shortage of labour, field slaves were ‘apprenticed’ to their masters till 1840, and domestic slaves till 1838.

3/8/1833, State funeral of William Wilberforce in Westminster Abbey.

29/7/1833, William Wilberforce, who had played a large role in abolishing the slave trade in 1807 and of abolishing slavery in the British Empire in 1833, died.

11/6/1825, William Wilberforce made his last speech in the House of Commons.

25/3/1807. The UK Parliament passed the Bill for the abolition of the Slave Trade. This was the culmination of a 20-year campaign by William Wilberforce, the 47 year old MP for Yorkshire who took up the anti-slavery cause in 1787. Wilberforce moved the first anti-slavery Bill in May 1789, but was then defeated by the interests of landed gentry and the sugar cane industry.

13/9/1806, English statesman Charles James Fox was taken ill and died at his London home, just as he was about to introduce a Bill to abolish slavery.

25/10/1800, Lord Macaulay, English Liberal MP, member of the Supreme Council of India 1834-38 and campaigner for the abolition of slavery, was born.

12/5/1789, William Wilberforce made his first speech with the House of Commons.

22/8/1788, The British settlement of Sierra Leone was founded, for the purpose of providing a home for freed slaves and homeless Africans from England.

30/10/1787, William Wilberforce first met with the London Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

22/5/1787, The London Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was founded by Thomas Clarkson.

29/11/1781, The slave ship Zong sighted land in the West Indies (see 6/9/1781). Collingwood, the ship’s Master, told his officers there was insufficient water for them and all the slaves on board. Dysentery had also plagued the ship on its voyage from Liverpool, killing 60 slaves and 7 crew. Collingwood said if the slaves died of thirst the ship’s owners would bear the loss but if they were thrown overboard the loss would be covered  under insurance as a legal jettison. The weakest 132 slaves were picked out; 54 were thrown overboard that day, 42 the next day, and a further 26 were handcuffed and thrown overboard a few days later. A further ten jumped overboard before they were thrown. On 22/12/1781 the Zong docked at Kingston, Jamaica; the remaining slaves were sold and Collingwood returned to England, and claimed £30 each (£2,200 in 2000 prices) for the 132 ‘jettisoned’ slaves. The insurers refused to pay, and the first trial ruled in favour of Collingwood, saying ‘it was the same as if horses had been thrown overboard’. The insurers appealed to the Court of Exchequer and Lord Mansfield, judge, ruled otherwise. He said that although the law supported Collingwood, a higher principle applied; distinguishing between ‘law’ and justice’ he ruled in this ‘shocking case’ against Collingwood. Mansfield’s ruling was the first in an English Court that a slave was not simply merchandise.

6/9/1781, The slave ship Zong left Liverpool, with Luke Collingwood as its Master, with 400 slaves and 17 crew, see 29/11/1781.

28/3/1760, Thomas Clarkson, British anti-slavery campaigner, was born (died 26/9/1846).

24/8/1759. William Wilberforce, anti-slavery campaigner, was born in Hull, the son of a merchant. He was the third of four children.

1727, In England, the Quakers demanded the abolition of slavery.

27/9/1672, In Britain, The Royal African Company was granted a monopoly of the African slave trade. A healthy slave could be bought in America for under £20 (approximately £2,000 in 2000 prices), but the trade was still very profitable.


USA slavery

10/3/1913, Harriet Tubman, who led many US slaves to freedom in the 1850s, died in Auburn, New York.

22/2/1901, Laura Matilda Towne, US educator and abolitionist who founded the first freedmen's schools for the education of newly freed slaves, died aged 75.

24/5/1879, William Lloyd Harrison, American campaigner for abolition of slavery and for women’s suffrage, died in New York.

18/12/1865. Slavery was officially abolished in the USA with the ratification of the 13th Amendment, signed on 1/2/1865. See 16/6/1858. The slave trade to the United States had been prohibited in 1807 but slavery continued in the southern States as the cotton trade grew. The publication of Harriet Beecher’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852 convinced many of the evils of slavery but Northerners were still reluctant to back a full abolitionist policy. But they did not wish to se slavery spread from the South either and this led to the American Civil War of 1861-65 after the election of Abraham Lincoln as President. Slaves were freed in areas joining the Northern side and in all areas after the 13th Amendment was passed.

3/3/1865. The USA established the Bureau of Freed Slaves, offering them education, medical care, and financial assistance.

27/5/1864, Joshua Giddings, prominent US anti-slavery campaigner, died (born 6/10/1795).

See USA for American Civil War 1861-65

11/2/1861, The USA unanimously passed a resolution guaranteeing non-interference with slavery in any State

2/12/1859, John Brown, American anti-slavery campaigner, was hanged for treason at Charlestown, West Virginia. In 1856 Brown and his sons murdered five pro-slavery settlers in a raid on Kansas. He wanted to found a republic in the Appalachians for runaway slaves and abolitionists. On 16/10/1859 Brown and 21 armed men attacked Harpers Ferry, seized the federal arsenal and occupied the town. Federal troops under General Lee recaptured the town; wounding Brown and killing 10 of his men. In the north of the USA Brown was hailed as a martyr but the south saw him as a traitor.

16/10/1859, John Brown, American slavery abolitionist, with 21 followers, seized the US armoury at Harper’s Ferry.  He was later hanged for this, see 2/12/1859.

25/11/1857, Anti-slavery campaigner James Birney died in Perth Amboy, New Jersey (born in Danville, Kentucky 4/2/1792).

6/3/1857, The United States Supreme Court, in the Dredd Scott Decision, decreed seven to two that 1) it was unconstitutional for Congress to outlaw slavery in the United States, and 2) that no slave could claim US citizenship. Dredd Scott was a slave ‘owned’ by Elizabeth Blow of Missouri (a slave State), who was subsequently sold to John Emerson, an army surgeon who took Scott to the free State of Illinois, and later to Wisconsin Territory, where slavery was outlawed by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1838 Emerson took Scott back to Missouri. Scott was in fact set free by his Abolitionist ‘owners’. The Dredd Scott Decision only served to inflame the slave/Abolitionist dispute further and probably hastened on the US Civil War.

9/3/1841. The rebel slaves who seized their Spanish ship, the Amistad, on route between 2 Cuban ports in 1840, killed the captain and most of the 52-strong crew, and sailed it to Connecticut were freed by the US Supreme Court this day. The Spanish authorities had demanded the slaves be extradited to Spain. The slaves then planned to raise money to return to Africa.

7/11/1837, Prominent anti-slavery campaigner and newspaper owner of The Observer, EP Lovejoy, was killed by  a mob in Alton, Illinois, USA.

1832, The New England Anti-Slavery Society was founded in Boston, USA.

11/11/1831, Nat Turner, rebel slave, was hanged in Jerusalem, Virginia. Turner, 31-year-old and a convincing orator, became convinced that God had chosen him to lead slaves out of bondage. With 5 others he rose up, killed his master Joseph Turner and family on 21/8/1831, and led a growing band of rebel slaves who marched on Jerusalem, and by 23/8/1931 had slaughtered 57 White people. A local militia then hunted down Nat Turner,  crushing the revolt in the next 24 hours. Nat Turner was captured in October 1831, and 16 others were hanged with him.

21/8/1831. The radical Black preacher Nat Turner led a band of slaves from some large plantations, killing 57 Whites. Nat Turner was caught, and hanged on 11/11/1831.Extra security was imposed, with some slaves manacled at night.

1/1/1831, The first issue of the anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator was published. It had been started by William Lloyd Garrison, from Massachusetts.

1820, The USA declared the slave trade to be piracy, punishable by death. Slavery still existed in the Southern States, but its continuation depended on the ‘breeding’ of existing slaves.

6/2/1820. The ship Mayflower of Liberia left New York for Liberia with 86 free Black people aboard.

1818, The USA forbade the import of slaves.

7/4/1817. Some 200 slaves in Maryland rioted, attacking Whites.

28/12/1816. The Presbyterian clergyman Robert Finley established the American Colonisation Society, whose aim was to recolonise American Black slaves in Africa.

10/1/1811. A Black uprising in New Orleans was brutally put down. 66 Black people were either killed in the fighting or executed afterwards, and their heads strung up along the road to the plantation where the uprising began.

2/3/1807, US Congress banned the import of slaves to America but this was widely ignored.

10/12/1805, William Garrison, US anti-slavery campaigner, was born (died 24/5/1879).

1804, Slavery was now abolished in the US States of Connecticut, Massachuisetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

1800, The US forbade slave trading by any foreigner in its territory.

6/10/1795, Joshua Giddings, prominent US anti-slavery campaigner, was born (died 27/5/1864).

1793, The US enacted the first of the Fugitive Slave Laws, authorising judges, without a jury trial, to decide the status of a fugitive slave and return him to his ‘owner’. These laws were in fact so harsh they helped the Abolitionist’s cause.

4/2/1792, Anti-slavery campaigner James Birney was born in Danville, Kentucky (died in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, 25/11/1857).

8/7/1777, Vermont became the first US State to adopt a constitution banning slavery.

1775, The Pennsylvania Society for promoting the Abolition of Slavery was formed. Benjamin Franklin was one of the founding members.

14/4/1775. Benjamin Franklin and Dr Benjamin Rush formed the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held In Bondage – the first colonial anti-slavery group.

13/6/1774, Rhode Island became the first US State to ban the importation of slaves, and to free those already in the State.

1712, Pennsylvania prohibited the import of slaves.

1688, The first recorded slavery abolitionist meeting took place in Germantown, Pennsylvania, where the Quakers declared that enslavement was a sin.


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