Abolition: The Struggle to Abolish Slavery in the British Colonies
By Richard S Reddie
Lion Hudson (2007)
Reddie devotes most of his book to debunking common myths Europeans perpetuate to justify chattel slavery and the current plight of the African diaspora. First and foremost is the prevailing myth that Africa was a savage and backwards continent prior to the arrival of the first Europeans.
Prior to reading this book, I had never heard of the Nubian, Great Zimbabwe, Ghana, Songhay or Mali civilizations. Archival records suggests that Africa, not the Middle East, was the cradle of civilization. The pioneering Greek scientists Archimedes and Pythagoras both spent their youth studying in Egypt. There’s also fairly strong evidence that East Africans began producing steel before Europeans did.
Of the millions of slaves forcibly transported to the Americas, 40% ended up in Brazil, 40% in the Caribbean, 15% in Spanish territories and 5% in North America. Many Caribbean slaves were subsequently relocated from sugar plantations to North American cotton plantations.
Africans in the New World would outnumber Europeans by five to one until 1820. This population imbalance meant violent slave rebellions were a constant phenomenon.
This is the second myth Reddie debunks: that Europeans were primarily responsible for ending slavery. Citing a wealth of historical sources, he makes an ironclad case that Africans were primarily responsible for liberating themselves.
Even during the horrific Middle Passage, there was a major revolt in approximately one of every ten ships that left Africa. Reddie maintains it was mainly the fear of armed resistance that caused Europeans to terrorize their slaves with beatings, branding and mutilation.
Reddie details the bloody 1791 uprising in St Domingue (now Haiti), in which St Domingue slaves both freed themselves and won independence from France. All the new world colonies experienced frequent slave revolts, with those of Jamaica and Guyana deserving special mention for the number of Europeans killed.
Abolition! also discusses the grassroots organizing led by Quakers, evangelical Methodists and other religious groups leading to the 1807 law banning the British transatlantic slave trade. Although men such as William Wilberforce receive most of the credit, the abolition movement was mostly led by women.
The fight to end slavery altogether in British colonies would take another 27 years. Wilberforce opposed ending slavery itself as he believed slaves needed to be “properly prepared” before being granted their freedom.