- This source
describes a slave auction - the main method of selling slaves when they
first arrived in the Americas. When a slave ship was due to arrive,
posters advertising the auction would be put up around the town and
notices would be put in the local newspaper alerting potential buyers.
When the ship docked the slaves would be taken ashore and put in barns,
pens or any other suitable building. Some traders made an attempt to
clean them and make them look healthy before the auction started.
bidding started, potential buyers could inspect the slaves. The way
in which they did this is mentioned in the source. It was very humiliating
for the slaves to be treated in this way and many anti-slavery campaigners
commented on the way that they were treated.
- Most slave
auctions operated on a traditional basis where slaves were sold individually
to the highest bidder. Young adult slaves were the most expensive with
very young children and the elderly costing less. It has been estimated
that the average cost of a slave was £20 in 1709, rising to £50
in 1750 and to £100 in 1800.
buyers only made a bid for the slaves that they wanted, it inevitably
meant that families were split up with no hope of ever seeing each other
was another type of auction called the 'Grab and Go' auction or 'refuse'
auctions. In this type of auction, a buyer would pay a fixed price for
a slave. When all the buyers were ready, the doors to the auction yard
or to the slave pens would be opened and the buyers would just grab
any slave they liked the look of. This was equally, if not more, distressing
to the slaves and also resulted in families being split up.
- This extract
appears in a pamphlet written by William Wilberforce. William
Wilberforce (1759-1833) was one of the leaders of the anti-slave trade
movement and led the campaign in the House of Commons. He had become
an MP (first for Kingston-upon Hull and later for Yorkshire) at the
age of 21. However, it was not until his conversion to evangelical Christianity
in 1785 that he started to take a real interest in social reform.
was persuaded to take an interest in the slave-trade question by his
old university friend, William Pitt. He agreed to read evidence collected
by Thomas Clarkson on the matter and was so shocked by what he read
that he threw his support behind the abolitionists cause. Wilberforce
worked closely with Clarkson to present evidence to the Committee considering
the slave trade in 1788 and presented an anti-slave trade Bill to Parliament
the following year. Although public opinion favoured a ban on the slave
trade, the Bill was subjected to so many delays and amendments that
when it was finally passed in 1792, it was meaningless.
remained committed to the anti-slave trade cause and re-introduced a
Bill almost every year throughout the 1790s. However, public and parliamentary
support had waned and little interest was taken.
- In 1804
support for the abolition of the slave trade started to pick up again
and Wilberforce reintroduced his Bill into Parliament. It failed in
1804 and 1805 but when he brought it before the Commons in early 1807
it passed with a large majority. Under the terms of the Act, the trade
in slaves was made illegal and any British ship captain caught carrying
slaves would be fined £100 for every slave found on board ship.
continued to promote the anti-slavery cause even after the Act had been
passed. In 1823 he joined the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual
Abolition of Slavery and published a pamphlet attacking slavery. Poor
health forced him to retire from Parliament in 1825 but he still took
an interest in the cause.
died on 29 July 1833, three days after the Abolition of Slavery Act