The George Beattie Project - A Poet Lost in Time



A Timeline
of the
Transatlantic Slave Trade and its Abolition

16th Century
1562 Sir John Hawkins, backed by Gonson and other London merchants, leaves Plymouth with three ships, making him the first English slave trader. He takes 300 Africans and trades them with the Spanish and Portuguese for sugar, hides, spices and pearls.
1564-65 Backed by Queen Elizabeth I, Hawkins makes his second slavery voyage trading 500 Africans for precious metals, pearls and jewels.
1567 Hawkins makes his third and final slavery voyage, again with the Queen’s investment, involving six ships, including one captained by his cousin Sir Francis Drake. After trading 500 Africans in the Caribbean, Hawkins sought refuge from storms in the Mexican port of San Juan de Ullua, where he is ambushed by the Spanish. Many of Hawkins’ crew is captured; some face the Inquisition, others forced into slavery and some taken back to Spain to be hung. Only three ships return to Plymouth, carrying seventy out of the original four hundred men.

17th Century
1607 Colony of Virginia is founded and is the first permanent English settlement in North America; soon becoming one of the main areas for the arrival of enslaved Africans.
1618 King James I establishes The Company of Adventurers of London Trading into the ports of Africa, more commonly known as The Guinea Company; the first private company to colonise Africa for profit.
1619 Beginning of trade in enslaved Africans in Virginia to grow tobacco. 
1623 The first English settlement on St Kitts is established by Thomas Warner.
1625 Barbados becomes an English Caribbean colony.
1626 First ship of enslaved Africans arrive on St. Kitts.
1649 Slave rebellion takes place in Barbados.
1655 England takes control of Jamaica from Spain.
1655 Escaped slaves in Jamaica create ‘Maroon’ settlements in the mountains.
1656 Slave rebellion in Guadeloupe led by Angolans.
1657 Juan de Bolas, a Jamaican leader of escaped slaves ('Maroons') surrenders to the British but on terms of pardon and freedom. Other Maroons continue to fight British rule.
1660s Demand for African labour for the Barbados sugar plantations intensifies.
1672 The Royal African Company is re-formed after its collapse in 1667 to regulate the English slave trade.
By the 1680s it is transporting approximately 5000 slaves per year.
1675 35 slaves are executed for plotting to rebel in Jamaica.
1668 ‘Lobby's rebellion’ in Jamaica; 200 slaves escape to the mountains.
1683 Slave conspiracy in Jamaica uncovered 1685-86 Slave rebellion in Jamaica suppressed.
1690 Major slave revolt in Jamaica.
1692 Slave conspiracy to slaughter whites discovered in Barbados.
1698 Royal African Company monopoly ends.
The slave trade is officially opened to private traders causing a dramatic increase in Africans being transported on English ships.
1699 80% of Caribbean inhabitants are enslaved Africans.

18th Century
1702-13 War of the Spanish Succession.
In 1713 Britain gains all of St. Kitts, and the right (asiento) to import enslaved people to Spanish America is granted to the South Sea Company.
1727 Quakers in Britain officially express their disapproval of the slave trade in their London Yearly Meeting Book.
1729 Slave rebellion in Cuba 1730 Britain becomes the largest slave trading country.
1730-39 First Maroon War in Jamaica. British agree a treaty with the Maroon leader Cudjoe in 1739 giving the Maroons 1,500 acres of land in return for helping to capture other escaped slaves.
1735-36 ‘Tackey’s rebellion’ in Antigua.
1745 Olaudah Equiano (author of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African) is born 1746 Slave rebellion in Jamaica.
1752 Slave rebellion in Martinique.
1756-63 Seven Years War. Britain gains Dominica, Grenada, St Vincent and Tobago.
1759 William Wilberforce, the abolitionist, is born in Hull.
1760 Slave revolts in Jamaica last for several months, up to 400 rebels are executed.
1760 Thomas Clarkson, the abolitionist, is born 1765 Granville Sharp begins legal challenges to the British slave trade with the case of Jonathan Strong.
1770s The abolitionist campaigner Granville Sharpe collects evidence showing that slavery is incompatible with English Law.
1772 John Woolman, an American Quaker and early anti-slavery campaigner comes to England to gather support from English Quakers.
1772 The Somerset case in London. Chief Justice Lord Mansfield rules that enslaved people in England cannot be forced to return to the West Indies. This ruling does not entitle slaves in England their freedom.
1772-73 John Stedman joins a military expedition to suppress a slave rebellion in Surinam, South America and is appalled by the inhumanity shown to Africans. In 1796 he publishes ‘The Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam’, a full account of his experiences that becomes a classic of abolitionist literature.
1774 John Wesley, an early leader of the Methodist movement, publishes anti-slavery tract Thoughts Upon Slavery.
1775 Royal Commission is set up to take evidence on the slave trade.
1775-83 American War of Independence. France seizes Grenada, Tobago and St Kitts from Britain but retains only Tobago after the Peace of Versailles.
1778 The Knight vs Wedderburn legal case in Edinburgh rules that enslavement is incompatible with Scots law.
1781 The Zong case causes outrage and strengthens the abolition campaign: 470 Africans are forced onto the slave ship Zong. The cramped conditions are so appalling that seven crew members and sixty Africans died from sickness; the remaining 133 sick Africans are thrown overboard and left to drown. The case is heard as an insurance dispute not a murder trial.
1783 London Yearly Meeting present to Parliament the first petition against the slave trade signed by 273 Quakers.
1786 Thomas Clarkson’s 'An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species’ is published and makes an immediate impact.
1787 The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade is founded.
1788 Due to the growing concern about conditions in the 'Middle Passage' the Dolben Act limits the number of enslaved people a ship is permitted to carry. Even with these restrictions, conditions remain appalling.
1788 First public abolitionists meeting held in Plymouth Guildhall - Plymouth Committee of Abolitionists leaflet is produced.
1789 Olaudah Equiano’s ‘The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African’ is published.
1790 William Wilberforce presents the first abolition bill to the House of Commons, although it does not pass.
1790 Thomas Clarkson pays another visit to Plymouth.
1791-1804 A slave rebellion in St Domingue in 1791 sparks off the Haitian Revolution, led by Toussaint L’Ouverture with an army of ex-slaves. The revolution eventually leads to St Domingue becoming independent Haiti in 1804.
1792 House of Commons votes in favour of the abolition of the slave trade but the bill is rejected by the House of Lords.
1793-1802 French Revolutionary War between Britain and France delays the abolition campaign.
1794 France abolishes slavery and frees all enslaved people in her colonies. Legislation is passed by US Congress to prevent US vessels being used in the slave trade.
1795-96 Second Maroon War in Jamaica, ending in defeat for the Maroons.
1795 Fédon’s Rebellion in Grenada causes enormous damage to plantations. Enslaved people seize control of large parts of the island before being defeated by British troops in 1796.
1795 Rebellion in St Vincent results in expulsion of Black Caribs from the island in 1796.
1796 Napoleon seizes power in France and soon restores slavery in the French colonies.

19th Century
1802 First West India dock opens, initially dealing solely with the produce from the West Indies.
1803-15 Napoleonic Wars between Britain and France. Vienna Settlement confirms British control of St. Lucia, Tobago and the Guiana colonies.
1804 On January 1, St Domingue is declared the republic of Haiti, the first independent black state outside Africa.
1807 The Transatlantic Slave Trade is abolished by the British Parliament. US also ban the slave trade, to take effect the following year. Britain declares Sierra Leone (in West Africa) a crown colony.
1808 The British West Africa Squadron is established at Sierra Leone to suppress any illegal slave trading by British citizens.
Between 1810-65, nearly 150,000 people are freed by anti-slavery squadrons.
1810 Britain negotiates with Portugal for the abolition of the South Atlantic slave trade.
1816 ‘Bussa’s rebellion’ in Barbados, inspired by the Haitian revolution, causes huge damage in the harvest season before being brutally crushed.
1817 Spain signs a treaty with England agreeing to end the Spanish slave trade north of the equator immediately, and south of the equator in 1820.
1817 Slave Registration Act forces all slave owners to provide a list of all the enslaved people they own every two years.
1820 US law makes slave trading a crime equal to piracy, punishable by death.
1823 Slave rising in Demerara is brutally suppressed by British forces: 250 enslaved people die, and Rev John Smith of the London Missionary Society is sentenced to death for his part, causing outrage in Britain.
1823 Anti-Slavery Committee formed in London to campaign for total abolition of slavery.
1831 Major slave revolt called 'The Baptists’ War’ breaks out in Jamaica, led by Baptist preacher Sam Sharpe, and is brutally suppressed.
1831 Nat Turner leads a slave rebellion in the Virginia, United States.
1831 The History of Mary Prince , the first narrative of a black woman, is published in London and becomes an important part of the anti-slavery literature.
1832 The Great Reform Act introduces new Members of Parliament from groups who are more likely to oppose slavery.
1833 Abolition of Slavery Act 1833 – Britain abolishes slavery and provides for the emancipation of enslaved people in the British West Indies, to take effect in August 1834. The Act declares that the former enslaved people must serve a period of 6 years apprenticeship before receiving full emancipation. Originally this period was set at six years, but it was later reduced to four.
1833 Uprising on St. Kitts in opposition to the new apprenticeship system.
1833 William Wilberforce dies on 29 July, three days after the bill to emancipate enslaved people is passed. 1838 The apprentice system is abolished following peaceful protests in Trinidad, so guaranteeing the complete emancipation of all former slaves in the colonies.
1839 A group of 49 enslaved Africans on board the slave ship Amistad revolt off the coast of Cuba. The ship lands at New London, USA, where the Africans are taken into custody. American abolitionists take up their cause and in March 1841 the Supreme Court upholds their freedom.
1840 The Royal Academy in London exhibits J.W.M. Turner’s controversial painting 'The Slave Ship’ (also called 'Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhoon coming on’). The same exhibition also includes Auguste Biard’s painting 'Scene on the Coast of Africa'.
1865 The Thirteenth Amendment marks the abolition of slavery in the USA following the American Civil War.
1865 The biggest and most famous revolt by black Jamaicans. 17 Europeans are killed and 32 injured after a riot in Morant Bay which sees the crowd attack the police station and the local militia. Over a few days a number of plantations are also attacked. The authorities react violently and declare martial law.
The ringleaders are executed and around 400 blacks are killed.
1886 Abolition of slavery in Cuba.
1888 Abolition of slavery in Brazil.



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