Slave Trade Books Published

23 March 2007

To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, the Bodleian Library publishes two new titles which offer fascinating accounts of the circumstances surrounding the event. Both books feature material never published before from the Library’s outstanding collection.

185124316X_100_dpiTHE SLAVE TRADE DEBATE:Contemporary Writings For and Against. At the height of the debate about the slave trade and its abolition in the 1780s and ’90s, each side issued pamphlets in support of its position. This publication reproduces a selection of representative pamphlets encompassing the arguments put forward by each side. The pamphlets discuss many of the issues including humanitarianism and the Rights of Man, the economic well-being of Britain’s colonial territories in the aftermath of the loss of the American colonies, the state of the British merchant marine and the Royal Navy, the condition of the poor in England, and, not least, the economic and moral condition of the slaves themselves, not only in the West Indies but also in Africa. Both sides drew freely on scriptural sources to support their case, thus providing a fascinating sidelight on theological debate of the time.

The book includes pamphlets written by the Duke of Clarence, later King William IV, and by Sir John Gladstone (father of the Prime Minister) in support of the trade, and sets these against the leading abolitionists such as Wilberforce. It also includes a transcript of part of the unpublished journal of James Ramsay, a well-known abolitionist, in which he provides model answers for abolitionists asked to testify before a committee of enquiry.

The introduction explains the background to each pamphlet and sets them in their collective historical and social context.

Illustrated by the well-known engraving of the slaver Brookes, and by plans of Cape Coast slave castles, this book is a culturally fascinating read and will become a valuable source-book for students and scholars alike.

1851243216_100_dpiTHE MEMOIRS OF CAPTAIN HUGH CROW:The Life and Times of a Slave Trade Captain. Hugh Crow was the captain of a slave-trading vessel which made one of the last legal journeys across the Atlantic with its ‘human cargo’. Thisa highly engaging, rare, first-hand account written by a staunch defender of the slave trade. Crow depicts himself as an enlightened practitioner of the trade, paying close attention to the welfare of his ‘negroes’, which he equates with financial success in his business.

Crow’s memoirs bring to life the everyday aspects of the slave trade and describe the harsh practicalities of life at sea, where on average a fifth of the crew did not survive the crossing. The narrative is peppered with social comment on the propriety of the slave trade and conditions in West Africa and the Caribbean. At the same time, Crow expresses a warm attachment towards individual slaves which was sometimes reciprocated, most remarkably in a song composed by the slaves about him which is reproduced in this book.

The introduction chronicles Hugh Crow’s life, his entry into the slave trade and his rise as one of the foremost slave captains of his day. Quoting extensively from original sources, it sets him in the context of the eighteenth-century mercantile community which fought hard to defend itself against the humanitarian campaign to abolish the slave trade. He emerges as a colourful if flawed figure from this highly practical, personal, and eye-opening look at the slave trade.

Both books have the introduction written by John Pinfold.

See all the Bodleian Library’s titles at 

Back to top