Global Abolition: Britain, Africa, and America, 1780s–1840s

AHA Session 256
Saturday, January 6, 2018: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Maryland Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level)
Jeffrey Kerr-Ritchie, Howard University
Dee E. Andrews, California State University, East Bay

Session Abstract


These papers provide a global purview of abolitionism in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Proponents of the slave trade who benefited directly or indirectly from slave labor presented abolitionists in the Atlantic World with opposition. The efforts and strategies of some of these antislavery advocates in Britain, Africa, and America will be discussed in this panel, and puts questions of slavery and race into a transnational perspective.

Katharine Griffin’s paper looks at Beilby Porteus, a high-ranking bishop of the Church of England. In the late eighteenth century, Porteus became active with fellow abolitionists such as Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce. The Church of England, however, did not take a stand against the slave trade and slavery. In fact, the Church ran and profited from Codrington Plantation in Barbados with three hundred slaves. Katharine Griffin will discuss how Porteus reconciled his antislavery sentiments while serving as a bishop in the Church. Once the British Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act, abolishing the Atlantic Slave Trade, Africa continued to participate in the slave trade. Daniel Olisa Iweze’s paper will reveal how European powers still faced obstacles of enforcing the act in West Africa. He examines how African chiefs, slave traders, and middlemen undermined efforts to enforce the abolition of the slave trade, and some of the strategies adopted by British rulers to end Africa’s participation in the slave trade. Religious ministers and leaders in America also faced challenges. Megan Scallan Melvin looks at Samuel Joseph May, a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts. Even though slavery had been abolished in Massachusetts in 1783, she will demonstrate that Massachusetts’ textile industry was so dependent on cotton, that citizens felt threatened by abolitionists’ activities. As a result, churches such as the First Parish of Norwell relieved Samuel Joseph May of his position due to his activism.

 This panel relates to the conference’s theme, “Race, Ethnicity and Nationalism in Global Perspective” by providing a lens into the global challenges for antislavery advocates who challenged a racial system of slavery. The abolitionists discussed in these papers had to contend with opposition from proslavery advocates who argued for economic, national, and racial justifications for the slave trade and slavery. Some of the ways the abolitionists faced these challenges is the focus of the panel. Anyone interested in abolition, the slave trade, slavery, and Africa’s role, will find this panel insightful.

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