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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
slave trade

The transport of slaves from Africa to plantations in the New World followed soon after the voyage of *Columbus in 1492. By 1517 Spain was granting licences for slaves to be taken to its colonies in the *Caribbean. By the late 17C, when sugar plantations in the West Indies had become extremely profitable, the bulk of the slave trade was being carried out by the British; and in the 18C the *triangular trade became fully developed. The coastal area of Nigeria, to which captives were brought from the interior of Africa, became known as the *Slave Coast.

From the late 17C there was a steady groundswell of opinion against slavery, in which the *Quakers were active from the start and of which Aphra Behn's novel Oroonoko (1688) was an early expression. One important milestone was the judgement by Lord Mansfield in 1772 that a slave, James Somersett, held in irons on board a ship in the Thames after escaping and being recaptured, had automatically become free when he set foot in Britain. Another was the formation in 1787 of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, of which *Wilberforce was the most active member. But it took 20 years of pressure before parliament passed an act (1807) making it illegal for British ships to carry slaves or for British colonies to import them.

Meanwhile the world's first decree outlawing slavery itself had been passed, in 1794, by the revolutionary assembly in France; and various South American countries, winning independence from Spain in the early 19C, legislated to free their existing slaves. In 1823 Wilberforce formed the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, and success followed this time in only ten years. The Abolition Act of 1833 provided for slaves in British colonies to be set free and for their owners to be compensated. The moral crusade then shifted to Africa itself, with *Livingstone and others trying to penetrate the interior in the hope of eventually stifling the trade at its source.

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