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The Transatlantic Slave Trade

Another little known fact is that by the early nineteenth century the slave trade had become primarily a trade in children. By that time, traders had discovered that children survived the rigours of both the inland and sea voyages better than adults and they could pack more of them in the holds. In addition, there was no fear of children rising up against the crew.

The history of the slave trade is full of ironies and glaring inconsistencies for those who call themselves Christians. The trade involved people of all the major denominations. In France, Huguenots were proportionately more involved than Catholics in ports like La Rochelle, Bourdeaux, Nantes and Le Havre. In 1642, the Protestant Synod in Rouen censured “over scrupulous persons who thought it unlawful for Protestant merchants to deal in slaves” 14 In New England, before the Quakers became prominent in the cause of abolition, they both kept slaves and financed voyages to obtain slaves. So we have the contradiction of ships like the Reformation sailing for slaves from Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love!15  The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel kept slaves on the Codrington estate in Barbados and branded them with the name “SOCIETY.”  When slavery was finally abolished in 1833, churchmen were still benefiting. The Bishop of Exeter, the Right Rev Henry Philpotts and his three patrners received £12,729 5sh 2d in compensation for the 665 slaves they owned in the parishes of Vere and Clarendon in County Middlesex, Jamaica.16  No money was paid to the slaves who had contributed so much to his wealth.

The names of slave ships often bore testimony to the distorted theologies prevalent at the time. One of the first slave ships from Liverpool was the Blessing and the blessing of God was sought in many a slave trading voyage. Foster Cunliffe, a successful slave trader and three times mayor of Liverpool, was described on the plaque to his memory in St Peter’s Church as “a Christian devout and exemplary in the exercise of every private and public duty, friend to mercy, patron to distress, an enemy only to vice and sloth.”17  A director of the Royal Africa Company, Richard Craddocke, was said, “ live with his prayer book in his left hand and a company prospectus in his right, without letting either know what the other held.”18

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