The suppression of the Atlantic slave trade

British policies, practices and representations of naval coercion

The suppression of the Atlantic slave trade has puzzled nineteenth-century contemporaries and historians. The British Empire turned naval power and moral outrage against a branch of commerce it had done so much to promote. This book deals with the British Royal Navy's suppression of the Atlantic slave trade. It traces the political debates which framed policies for the British state's waning but unbroken commitment to slave-trade suppression. If protectionists failed to stop free trade and anti-coercionists failed to withdraw the cruisers, then they did both succeed in reshaping domestic debates to support labour coercion. The book examines details of the work of the navy's West Africa Squadron which have been passed over in earlier narrative accounts. The liberty afforded to the individuals who entered as apprentices into Sierra Leone cannot be clearly distinguished from the bonded labour awaiting them had their enslavers completed the voyage to the Americas. The experiences of sailors and Africans ashore and on ship often stand in contrast to contemporaneous representations of naval suppression. Comparison of the health of African and European sailors serving on the West Africa Station provides insight into the degree to which naval medicine was racialised. The book discusses the anti-slave trade squadron's wider, cultural significance, and its role in the shaping of geographical knowledge of West Africa. It charts the ways in which slave-trade suppression in the Atlantic Ocean was represented in material culture, and the legacy of this commemoration for historical writing and public memory in the subsequent 200 years.

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