Timelines: Timeline of African Slavery in the Former British Empire, 1497 – 1838

Shalom, everyone! August 1st is commemorated as Emancipation Day in the countries which were once part of the former British Empire. The following is a timeline of African slavery in the former British Empire from 1497 to 1838. The territories into which Great Britain transported and enslaved Africans include Great BritainAnguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, The BahamasBarbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, MauritiusMontserratSt. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa (Cape Colony), Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the United States of America (until 1776). Please note that this post is a work-in-progress. As more information becomes available, this timeline will be updated:

Year Historical Event
1497 John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto), an Italian explorer sponsored by King Henry VII of England, makes landfall on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland (modern Canada), serving as the basis of subsequent English claims to North America.
1504 A small group of Africans, most likely slaves captured from a Portuguese vessel, are brought to the court of King James IV of Scotland.
1527 Earliest records of sugar production in Jamaica, later a major sugar producing region of the British Empire. Sugar production is rapidly expanding throughout the Caribbean region at this time – with the mills almost exclusively worked by African slaves.
1532 William Hawkins of Plymouth becomes the first English mariner to visit the coast of West Africa, although he does not take part in slave trading.
1555 Queen Mary of England bans English involvement in Guinea, most likely due to pressure from Spain.
1555 John Lok brings a small group of African slaves from Shama (modern-day Ghana) in an effort to capitalize on the African slave trade.
1562 John Hawkins of Plymouth becomes the first English sailor to obtain African slaves for sale in the Spanish West Indies. About 300 of these poor souls were captured from modern-day Sierra Leone and sold. Hawkins‘ ship, the “Jesus,” departs from Deptford in October 1562.
1577 Sir Francis Drake, a pirate sponsored by the English government, sets sail from Plymouth, England to circumnavigate the globe. Returns to England in September 1580.
1585 Sir Francis Drake successfully attacks Spanish slave-trading interests in the Cape Verde islands. This attack and others following lead to the Anglo-Spanish War, 1585 – 1604.
1586 Sir Francis Drake attacks Spanish colonies in Santo Domingo and Cartegena.
1588 The Spanish Armada destroyed by storms at sea gives a boost to English maritime power and colonial ambitions.
1596 (July 11) Queen Elizabeth I of England writes a letter complaining that “too many “Blackamoors (Africans) are being brought into the realme.” The queen tasks German slave trader Caspar van Senden with the round-up and removal of all Africans from England.
1607 Jamestown, the first permanent British colony in North America, is founded in modern Virginia.
1614 Bermuda colony becomes a Crown colony.
1617 First records of African slaves in Bermuda.
1619 The first African slaves are brought to North America, on a Portuguese slave-trading ship, the San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist), in the British colony of JamestownVirginia. The ship, originating from Luanda and en route to Mexico, was captured by British pirates and redirected to Jamestown.
1624 Thomas Warner founds the first British Colony in St Christopher, now known as St Kitts.
1625 (May 14Captain John Powell lands on Barbados and claims the island for King James I.
1627 (February 17Henry Powell, John Powell’s brother, along with 80 British settlers and 10 African slaves, found a colony on Barbados at Jamestown (modern Holetown).
1632 Montserrat, originally claimed by Christopher Columbus for Spain in 1493, falls under English control.
1632 Antigua and Barbuda, originally claimed by Christopher Columbus for Spain in 1493, falls under English control.
1644 (February 25A group of 11 enslaved Africans New Amsterdam (modern-day New York) successfully petition the government there in what is the first group manumission in a North American colony.
1650 Anguilla colonized by British settlers.
1651 First written mention of slaves being imported into Montserrat.
1655 British forces under the command of Admiral Sir William Penn capture Jamaica from Spain.
1660 The newly restored King Charles II of England charters the “Royal Adventurers into Africa,” the first English state-sponsored slave trading company.
1667 Anguilla ceded to Great Britain by the French under the terms of the Treaty of Breda.
1672 The financially troubled “Royal Adventurers into Africa” is restructured and given a new charter as The Royal African Company. The company remains England’s major slave-trading organization into the 1730s.
1673 The Puritan Richard Baxter publishes antislavery material in “A Christian directory, or, a summ of practical theologie, and cases of conscience.”
1674 Christopher Codrington establishes the largest sugar plantation in Antigua, and leases Barbuda to raise provisions for his plantations.
1676 The Quaker George Fox publishes “Gospel Family-Order, being a short discourse concerning the Ordering of Families, both of Whites, Blacks and Indians,” which urged Quakers in America to treat their slaves humanely.
1676 The Quaker Alice Curwen visits Barbados and, in a letter to the slave-holding Barbadian Friend Martha Tavernor, becomes the first Quaker to unambiguously denounce slavery.
1681 (March 4Pennsylvania Colony, later to become a centre of antislavery thought, was founded by a grant to William Penn by King Charles II.
1688 (February 18The Germantown Protest, sometimes also referred to as The German Mennonite Resolution against Slavery, the first formal protest against slavery to be made in the British American colonies, is delivered in Germantown, Pennsylvania.
1689 John Locke publishes “Two Treatises of Government” an essay offering a justification for aristocracy, slavery and serfdom.
1693 The anonymous “An Exhortation and Caution to Friends Concerning Buying or Keeping of Negroes” becomes the first printed pamphlet explicitly denouncing slavery and the slave trade, and is directed towards Quakers in Philadelphia.
1696 (October 23Philadelphia Quakers rule that “Friends be Careful not to Encourage the bringing in of any more Negroes, & that such that have Negroes be Careful of them, bring them to Meetings, or have Meetings with them in their Families, & Restrain them from Loose, & Lewd Living.” This is probably the first institutional attempt to limit slave trading in America.
1698 Five ships of the Company of Scotland for Trading to Africa set sail from Leith to found a colony in Darien (modern Panama). The venture was a disaster, with the death of most of the colonists.
1712 New York Slave Revolt of 1712.
1713 Britain is granted “asiento” or the sole right to import African slaves into the Spanish colonies.
1728-1740 First Maroon War is fought in Jamaica between the Jamaican Maroons and the colonial British authorities.
1739 Stono Rebellion in South Carolina led by Jemmy/Cato.
1755 Olaudah Equiano is born in present-day Nigeria.
1760 Tacky, an enslaved African of Akan descent, leads a slave rebellion in Jamaica.
1762 (March 4) Grenada was captured by the British during the Seven Years’ War by Commodore Swanton. Grenada was formally ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Paris on 10 February 1763.
1763 St. Vincent ceded to Great Britain by the French under the terms of the Treaty of Paris.
1763 Dominica ceded to Great Britain by the French under the terms of the Treaty of Paris.
1769 – 1773 First Carib War in St. Vincent led by Joseph Chatoyer, a Garifuna chief.
1772 The case of James Somerset, an enslaved African owned by one Charles Stewart, escaped from Stewart’s custody. Somerset was recaptured and due to be sent to work on a plantation in Jamaica, however, he fought against his forced removal from England case in court and won.
1772 Resulting from the James Somerset case, the Lord Chief Justice Mansfield rules that enslaved persons in England cannot be forcibly removed to the West Indies, and that chattel slavery was not supported by English common law.
1776 The United States of America declares its independence from Great Britain. Slavery continues unabated in the newly independent state.
1781 About 3,000 Black Loyalists of the British Government, who fought against the American Revolution, arrive in Nova Scotia.
1781 (November 29 – December 22) The Zong massacre – the mass killing of 133 African slaves by crew of the British slave ship, the Zong while en route from Accra to Jamaica.
1787 Sierra Leone founded in West Africa by Great Britain as a colony for emancipated slaves.
1787 Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade founded in Great Britain by Granville SharpThomas Clarkson among others.
1788 Slave Trade Act of 1788, a/k/a, Sir William Dolben’s Act regulating the conditions of British slave ships goes into effect.
1789 (March 24Publication of “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African.”
1789 (May 12William Wilberforce delivers first major abolition speech before the British House of Commons.
1790 British Parliament rejects Wilberforce’s first abolition bill.
1793 Importation of slaves banned in Upper Canada by the Act Against Slavery.
1795-1796 Second Maroon War is fought in Jamaica between the Jamaican Maroons and the British colonial authorities.
1795-1797 Second Carib War fought in St. Vincent. Garifuna people deported from St. Vincent to the island of Roatán off the coast on Honduras.
1796 A group of about 600 Trelawny Town Maroons deported to Nova Scotia.
1797 Olaudah Equiano dies at his home in Cambridgeshire.
1797 British take control of Trinidad and Tobago from the Spanish. British rule formalized in 1802 by the Treaty of Amiens.
1800 Trelawney Town Maroons initially deported to Nova Scotia are forcibly resettled in Sierra Leone.
1807 British Parliament abolishes the slave trade.
1814 Great Britain gains control of the former Dutch territories of Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice under the terms of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty, and unifies these territories to form the colony of British Guiana, known today as Guyana.
1816 Slave revolt in Barbados led by Bussa, an enslaved African of Igbo descent.
1819 All black residents in Upper Canada declared free by Attorney-General John Robinson.
1823 Demerara Rebellion in the Crown colony of Demerara-Essequibo (modern-day Guyana) involving up to 10,000 slaves instigated by Jack and Quamina Gladstone, enslaved Africans of Akan descent.
1823 Anti-Slavery Society founded in London by William WilberforceThomas Clarkson, Joseph Stunge, Henry Brougham among others.
1831 – 1832 The Baptist War, a/k/a Christmas Rebellion led by black Baptist preacher Samuel Sharpe, involved up to 300,000 enslaved Africans in Jamaica.
1833 (August 28The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 passed by the British Parliament abolishing slavery throughout most of the British Empire but on a gradual basis over the next six years. The Act legally frees 700,000 in the West Indies20,000 in Mauritius, and 40,000 in South Africa, effective August 1, 1834.
1834 (August 1The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 comes into effect, abolishing slavery throughout most of the British Empire but on a gradual basis over the next six years. The exceptions are the territories controlled by the East India Company and Ceylon.
1838 (August 1All slaves in British colonies are freed after a period of forced apprenticeship following the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.



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