People have been taken into slavery since ancient times. The Hebrew scriptures tell the story of Joseph who was sold into slavery in Egypt. The ancient Greek and Roman civilisations were economically dependent on slave labour. The situation of the medieval serf in England was one of modified slavery.
Although European involvement in the African slave trade dates back to early in the 16 century, it was during the 18 century, with the British Empire rapidly expanding, and the Royal Navy at the height of its powers ( when 'Brittania ruled the waves')that Britain came to dominate the slave trade, and to derive enormous economic benefits from it.
The 'Triangular Trade' as the Atlantic Slave Trade was known, started from the British ports of London, Liverpool, Bristol and Glasgow. Ships would sail to Africa with cargoes of manufactued goods to trade, and would purchase slaves from the 'slave forts' along the coast. The slaves would be shackled and brought aboard for transport to the Americas. The ships sailed back to Britain with raw produce: tea, coffee.
The slaves endured horrific conditions, chained below decks, on the long voyage (the 'Middle Passage'). Suffering from despair, disease and starvation, it was not unusual for as much as 20% to die on the journey.
Although the British slave trade between the African continent and the West Indies was abolished following the Act of 1807, that was far from the end of slavery Find out more slavery in antiquity
Find out about Roman slaves and their daily life
The story of Joseph
A suggestion for a talk to primary school children
A suggestion for a talk to secondary school children
The Butterfly's Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast
Two responsive readings
A prayer:The Truth will Set you Free
A prayer at the grave of Thomas Clarkson
Two Unitarian members of Parliament who campaigned against the slave trade
Joseph Priestley's sermon against slavery
Some notes on William Wilberforce
Slavery in medieval times
Learn about Turner's painting of the slave ship, 'Slavers throwing overboard the dead and dying'
The abolition of slavery itself in the British Caribbean in the 1830s
Return to Hibbert Assembly home page