Module 1, Lesson 1
In Progress

Lesson 2: Slavery in Christendom and The Abolition Movement

July 31, 2021

Venice and The Slave Trade

  • Demand from Muslim world dominated slave trade in Medieval Europe.
  • Muslim Spain imported enormous numbers of slaves and was a staging point for Muslim and Jewish merchants
  • Reign of Abd ar Rahman III (912-961) -13 750 Slavic slaves in Cordoba
  • Buying and selling Christian slaves to Muslims banned in 840. So Venetians sold Slavs and Eastern European non- Christians to Muslims in N Africa, Middle East and Muslim Spain
  • 12th Century Venetian slave trade surpassed that in most cities; buying from Italy amongst others and selling to Muslims. Genoa too dominated slave trade selling Baltic, Slavic, Armenian, Circassian and Caucasians to Muslims
  • Eunuchs  especially valuable -Castration houses arose in Venice- outsourcing the crime
  • Most Venetian families, artisans, convents (domestic labour) and galleys had slaves.
  • Slaves-freed in wills of masters and mistresses
  • Between 1414-1423, 10 000 slaves were sold in Venice.
  • Famous paintings of black  gondoliers -were all slaves
  • Marco Polo manumitted his slave before he died in 1324

Venice and The Slave Trade

  • Early years of Christianity, slavery continued as a Roman practice: embedded in Roman culture, legal and economic practice.
  • Estimated 1million slaves owned by the richest 5% of Roman citizens
  • Old Testament-passages related to buying slaves and treating them well.
  • Book of Genesis-Noah condemns Canaan (son of Ham) to perpetual servitude. Slaves to be treated like family.
  • Christianity forbade rape of slaves (normal in preceding times), recognized freeing slaves to be charity and recognized slaves as persons not property (they could marry)

Paul’s letter to Philemon-New Testament

  • Paul’s letter to Philemon, delivered by his fugitive slave, Onesimus back to his owner. Paul entreats Philemon-treat him as a beloved brother in Christ. Conversely, Paul advises “each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.” Implication was to look beyond earthly handcuffs and acknowledge we are all slaves of God. Be a good slave. Evidence for Abolition and pro-slavery
  • Some Christian theologians argued against slavery and there were many Abolition movements in the 5th C.
  • Conflicting perspectives:
  • Looking down on runaway slaves
  • 340-Synod of Gangra condemned the Manicheans who were anti-slavery
  • Saint Patrick 415-493 a former slave, argued for abolition as did Gregory of Nyssa (335-394)
  • Saint Eligius (588-650) used vast wealth to buy and free slaves.
  • Thomas Aquinus- slavery is against natural law but can be a consequence of actions
  • 2 early Popes were former slaves: Pope Callixtus I and Piius I

Slavery In Great Britain 5th– 13th Centuries

  • Slavery existed in GB before Roman occupation.
  • Under Romans, slavery expanded
  • Angles and Saxons continued slave system e.g. selling Britons to Irish.
  • Fair haired boys from York were seen in Rome
  • Slavery took a downturn with William The Conqueror banning export of slaves from England. In 1102, Church issued decree decrying slavery, but it was not a legal edict.
  • By 1200 slavery in the British Isles was virtually nonexistent. Had it morphed into Serfdom? Contentious

Slaves and Serfs- What was the difference?

  • 6th Century, fall of Roman Empire, Serfs emerged as class of servile peasants.
  • Tied through labour of land, received protection from ravaging tribes.
  • Serfs provided own food and clothing from land and own effort. Serfs gave substantial amount of grain harvested to  landlord and were compelled to work lord’s land which was not owned by any serf.
  • Differences: Slaves owned no property, were owned themselves, often imported from other countries, physical punishment if did not work
  • Serfs held plots of land as payments for  labour, worked part time for themselves and part time for masters, could accumulate personal wealth
  • Serfs worked in family units, movements were limited, could not marry, change occupation or dispose of property without landlord’s permission. Often treated harshly -little redress legally against landlords.
  • The Black Death (mid 1300s) led to peasant revolts, more favorable conditions.

Slavery and Christianity

  • Medieval Period-Church’s policy was to end enslavement of free Christians.
  • Enslavements of non-Christians remained permissible.
  • Selling of Christians to non- Christians forbidden
  • Norman conquest led to a sharp decline in slavery
  • The 15th C saw an upsurge of slavery:
  • Iberian Peninsula with Reconquista- enslaved Muslims and Jews
    • -Portugal in West Africa
      • -Spain in America

Slavery and Christianity

  • Papal Bulls allowing colonization, Christianization and enslavement.
  • There were many clergy horrified by the methods of colonisers eg Bartolome de las Casas. However, priests, nuns and brotherhoods had large numbers of slaves.
  • Requerimiento- a Spanish legal proclamation to accept Christianity or be enslaved -read to populations in New World
  • 1710-Church mission activity supported by slavery. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts had slaves in plantations and ‘SOCIETY’ was branded on their chests to identify them as SPG property


  • Abolitionists believed in ‘fatherhood’ of God and ‘brotherhood’ of man.
  • The campaign logo (devised by Josiah Wedgwood) was a manacled slave on his knees beseeching, “Am I not a man and a brother?”
  •  22nd May 1787, 12 devout men influenced by Enlightenment ideas and Christian faith, assembled in a printing shop in London. Most were Quakers and nonconformists. They included Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson and Yorkshire MP, William Wilberforce who became the parliamentary spokesperson

Thomas Clarkson

  • Thomas Clarkson-travelled 35,000 miles, boarded hundreds of ships, interviewed sailors, surgeons and merchants to amass evidence on how slaves fared. He acquired plans of slave ships and the mass  over-crowding. There were attempts on his life.
  • Horrified by slavery, Clarkson collected beautiful cloths, ivory, spices and intricate carvings in a large box to showcase the advanced culture of the enslaved. This would influence public opinion in his anti-slavery lectures.
  • In 1791 and 1792- Parliament did not vote in favour of abolition
  • He visited France to campaign against their slave trade. He spoke at Congress of Verona to convince European states to abolish slavery.
  • 1833 Slavery Abolition Act passed but slaves had to work as apprentices for 6 years with no pay.
  • 1838- Apprentice system abolished.
  • 1840-British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society set its sights on abolishing slavery throughout the world-Clarkson was voted President.
  • A lifelong campaigner, he died in 1846

William Wilberforce

  • William Wilberforce- an English politician became the voice of the abolition movement in Parliament
  • A convert to Evangelical Christianity, he read Clarkson’s Essay on Slavery and they collaborated for over 50 years. 
  • Spoke in Parliament against the slave trade
  • 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act- abolished slave trade in British colonies- this was a ban on trading slaves not abolishing slavery. Wilberforce kept petitioning
  • 26th July 1833- Parliament abolished slavery in British dominions. Just 3 days later, William Wilberforce died.
  • 1838- slaves were emancipated. Land owners in British West Indies were losing unpaid labour so compensated £20m (£1220 million today). The Royal Navy set up the West Africa Squadron to patrol the seas and suppress the Atlantic Slave Trade

Granville Sharp- Civil Servant & Political Reformer

  • Granville Sharp-slavery was morally evil as opposed to wrong due to cruel conditions.
  • 1767- Jonathon Strong (brought to England from Barbados by his plantation owner) beaten up. Taken to St Bart’s Hospital. He was sold again to a Jamaican planter. Sharp helped free him by taking case to Mayor.
  • Fought cases to prevent masters forcing slaves to return to foreign countries.
  • Prevented many being sent back to slavery in West Indies at his own expense.
  • 1772- Case of James Somerset -slave brought from Boston to England-ran away and was imprisoned on a prison ship to be returned to slavery in Jamaica-involvement of Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Mansfield. Case caught public attention.
  • Lord Mansfield ruled-A slave cannot be forcibly sent to another country. The ruling did not end slavery, slaves continued to be held in Britain but it did galvanize public opinion. Dido
  • Died 1813-unable to witness abolition.

The Zong Massacre

  • The British slave ship (based in Liverpool) Zong departed Africa on 6th September 1781.
  • 470 slaves on board.
  • Overloading of ships was normal-to maximise profit
  • Crew threw 132 sick and dying slaves overboard. 10 threw themselves
  • Ship’s owner filed for an insurance claim claiming ran out of fresh water for crew and slaves
  • Disputed by insurance company- inventory stated 420 gallons of water was present on board
  • Olaudah Equiano enlisted Granville Sharp’s help who unsuccessfully tried to prosecute crew for murder. Lord Mansfield was involved, Great Uncle to Dido Elizabeth Belle.
  • This case provoked a rise in anti-slavery sentiment in GB.
  • 1791 Parliament prohibited insurance companies claiming for murdered slaves

The Sons of Africa

Ignatius Sancho

  • Composer, actor and writer.
  • Ignatius Sancho-Born on a slave ship, spent first 2 years as a slave in Grenada. Then brought to England, worked as a servant and spoke out against the slave trade.
  • Set up a grocer’s shop in Westminster with his wife.
  • 1st black person to vote in parliamentary elections in Britain.
  • His letters describing slavery were published in a book after his death in 1780 and used in the anti-slavery movement- ‘..the Christians abominable traffic for slaves and the horrid cruelty and treachery of the African Kings- encouraged by their Christian customers who carry them guns to furnish them with the hellish means of killing and kidnapping.’

The Sons of Africa

  • Olaudah Equiano- enslaved as a child and taken to Virginia. Brought to England aged 12. He bought his own freedom and worked as a seaman.
  • He wrote an best-selling autobiography and spoke against slavery. He worked with Granville Sharp and Thomas Clarkson and went on lecture tours campaigning against slavery. Died 1797.
  • Quobna Cugoano- enslaved from Ghana. With Granville Sharp, he rescued Henry Demane, a kidnapped African who was being shipped out to West Indies. He wrote an autobiography and with Equiano, they travelled the country speaking out against slavery.

Women’s Groups

  • Women’s Groups – women had no voting power. However, they campaigned, organised powerful sugar boycotts, wrote and petitioned.
  • Anne Knight- a Quaker, she formed the Chelmsford Anti-Slavery Society and lectured on the immorality of slavery.

Hannah More- Poet and Writer

  • Social reformer
  • Wrote on abolition
  • Friend of William Wilberforce
  • Hannah helped give the abolition movement a voice through her writings and poetry.
  • She wrote the poem ‘Slavery’ about a mistreated, enslaved female separated from her children.

France and Abolition

  • The Friends of Blacks- Les Amis des Noirs established in late 1700s and lobbied against slave trade and to grant free black and biracial people in colonies equal rights
  • Haiti (French Saint Domingue) Most slaves were transported here by France. Produced 40% sugar and 60% coffee imported to Europe. One of the harshest of slave systems.
  • Ideals of French Revolution as well as brutality led to revolutions. Only instance of slaves and free people of colour winning freedom and creating independent state by revolting from 1791-1804. Toussaint Louverture, a former slave, led the rebellion.
  • The Haitian revolution impacted The National Assembly to outlaw slavery in 1794
  • 1802-Napoleon Bonaparte restored slavery
  • 1817- France banned trade in slaves
  • 1848- Slavery abolished.

Arguments against Slavery

  • Christianity promoted equal rights and liberty
  • The foundational significance of the Exodus from bondage in Israel’s history
  • Love Thy Neighbour/benevolence
  • The trajectory was to abolish slavery despite it being the norm at the time of Jesus- “If Paul had absolutely declared the iniquity of slavery….he would have occasioned more tumult than reformation.” Equiano.
  • The rise in anti-slavery was tied with ‘winning souls’ and evangelical work.


1787     Society for Abolition of Slavery established- Granville Sharp and   Clarkson

1792     Denmark bans import of slaves to its colonies

1807     Britain-Abolition of Slave Trade Act- outlawing trading in slaves NOT slavery

1811     Spain abolishes slavery

1833     Britain passes Abolition of Slavery Act- gradual abolition of slavery in all British   colonies. Compensation to plantation owners

1848     France abolishes slavery

1858     Portugal abolishes slavery but institutes 20 year apprenticeship


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