The kings of slavery, and the queens (2)

Last time I promised you a quiz. Well, it’s not the kind of quiz they would broadcast on television, but let’s give it a go.
In 1710, if you ever saw an African slave who belonged to the Royal African Company, how could you tell?

Easy…he would have the letters ‘RAC’ burned into his chest with a branding iron like the ones they use in cowboy films with cattle. I couldn’t find a photograph of that, but I did manage to find one with some branding irons on. These are actual branding irons for slaves, not cattle:

Here is the second question which is a little bit more difficult.
If you ever saw an African slave with the letters ‘DY’ branded on his chest, what did it mean?

If you’ve been paying attention, though, it’s not that difficult. It meant ‘Duke of York’. It meant he was owned by the Duke of York, who later succeeded to the throne and became King James II.

An extra special bonus question. When the Duke of York became King James II, what did he have the slaves’ chests branded with?  Was it ‘J2’?

No, it wasn’t, he continued with ‘DY’. And I couldn’t trace it, but I would presume that his eventual successor, Queen Anne didn’t have ‘QA’ on her slaves but stuck to ‘RAC’.  And the money rolled in:

And more to come. Lots more:

It’s just that branding people on the chest with a red hot piece of metal reminds me rather uncomfortably of one other way of marking your racial inferiors:

Forty years later, the British were awarded the monopoly on selling slaves to the Spanish for the next three decades. This monopoly was sold on to the famous “South Sea Company”. They dealt in turn almost exclusively with the Royal African Company. Here is their coat of arms. Look at the happy slaves, all set for a spot of weekend hunting, don’t you know?

Only a year after the Spanish deal was set up, Queen Anne owned 22½% of the shares in the Royal African Company. That means she owned more than a fifth of the British slave trade, the largest slave trade in the world at the time. She was quite possibly the biggest slave dealer on the planet.
When she died, King George I became king. He wasn’t happy owning a fifth of the British slave trade.

It wasn’t enough, so he increased his shareholding and made himself Governor of the whole sorry business. A business which transported around 64,000 slaves to the Americas in 15 or so years. George III carried on with the family business, accused by a slightly hypocritical Thomas Jefferson of waging “cruel war against human nature itself”.
There was some opposition to the Royal African Company though. Across the country, small businesses spoke out against the Company’s activities in the slave trade and especially, against their monopoly. In their campaign, they used the motto, “We want the freedom to traffic slaves too”. Smaller businesses, smaller boats, but there’s still money to be made:

But let’s not kick our lovely royal family too much. Instead. let’s look at the case of Christopher Codrington.  Christopher Codrington was the owner of a slave plantation in Barbados in the early 1700s. He died, presumably without children, in 1710. Being a pious man, who did he bequeath it to?

Correctamundo! The Church of England. I bet they shrieked in disgust. Threw their hands in the air and shouted “Free the Slaves! Free the Slaves!” Well, not exactly. They kept the slave plantation. They kept the slaves, and indeed, they kept the money. And there was lots of it:

It was used to finance the Society for the Propagation of the Christian Religion in Foreign Parts.

Now for the scary quiz question. If you worked for the said organisation, and you owned lots of slaves who might run away, clearly you needed to brand them on the chest, so they could be reclaimed after they had been recaptured. What did you use? Surely not the whole name? Of course not. What about “SPCRFP”? No, not at all. The Christian slave owners just branded “Society” across their slaves’ chests. Actually, SPCRFP would have been one letter shorter.

Actually, they probably used these as well:

The Christian slaves were, actually, slaves who didn’t last too long. Despite their obvious value to the company SPCRFP, by 1740, the death rate among the slaves newly purchased by the Church was up to 40%. Four out of every ten were dead within three years of purchase.
And it wasn’t just the SPCRFP who were trying to cash in. Other members of the church fancied a bit of the cash. All you had to do was get your Bible, cross out the bit about “Ye cannot serve God and mammon”, buy a few shares in your local slavery business and away you go.

This is Woodville K Marshall who is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of the West Indies:

He stated clearly and unequivocally:

“”It was not so much the SPG that the Church should be apologising for, as the activities of the individual parsons who kept plantations and slaves for sheer profit.”

Except that nobody apologises nowadays for slavery, because they risk being sued. Despite all their wealth, wealth dripping from them as they walk along, the descendants of the slavers will never say sorry. And let me make the point again, the same point I made in a previous post:

“The tragedy, of course, is that those individuals today have little, if anything, in common with their slave owning ancestors from so many years ago. On the other hand, they have inherited their wealth. What have they done to make amends for their slave owning ancestors? Built a school in the Windward Islands? Built a hospital in Barbados? Sponsored cataract operations in Jamaica?”

This Accident and Emergency Unit in Jamaica was built by the Scotia Bank Foundation, Canada’s third largest bank.  But why not by the individual rich men and women who are the present day descendants of those slave traders?



Filed under Criminology, History, Politics

34 responses to “The kings of slavery, and the queens (2)

  1. Chris Waller

    A harrowing tale of appalling hypocrisy. Someone, whose name escapes me, once said, “Show me a moralist and I’ll show you a hypocrite.” He could have been speaking of the Church of England. It is also interesting to note that we were not above trading with the old enemy Spain. Strange how old enmities melt away when there is money to be made. I live not far from Dodington House, former home of the Codringtons. The late Sir Simon Codrington squandered the last of the family’s fortune and the estate is now owned by Sir James Dyson of vacuum-cleaner fame.

    • It certainly is. The last few years have shown us an amazing list of crimes carried out by the various churches. To me, your own private beliefs are fine, but organised religion is rapidly outwearing its welcome as we find out the various things they have got up to and the ways in which they have taken advantage of the innocent trust of their followers.

  2. Excellent article John. And Horrible.

  3. Horrific, but important information, John

    • Yes it is, Derrick, and let’s hope we don’t ever return to those days but I fear one day we may. Convictions for the so-called ‘modern slavery’ are becoming increasingly common.

  4. It is so easy to say, “It was not me.” It is a lot harder to say, “I benefited from my father’s sin so I will use my fortune to repay.” A great set of posts. And if I may be so bold; a brave piece of blogging..

    • Thank you, Paol. Here in England I feel we are too willing to ignore the unacceptable history of many of our so called ‘betters’, who do absolutely nothing to atone for the very real sins of their fathers. I would just like to see them doing something concrete with some of the wealth they have accrued. It isn’t enough just to go to the West Indies for a month’s luxury holiday but then to ignore the poverty and disease that are so prevalent there.

  5. Good Lord John. That really is horrific. Sometimes I am ashamed to be human. We can be such a soulless, barbaric species. Thank you for bringing this shameful chapter of human history to light.

    • My pleasure, if that’s the word. But I don’t think you personally would ever have had ancestors who kept slaves. Mine didn’t either, as far as I know. I think it should be the ones who did benefit from slavery, and still do, who start sharing their vast inherited fortunes with the descendants of the people they exploited.

  6. I am descended from poor agricultural peasants on all sides of my family. It is a far nobler inheritance to me than any fame through the acquisition of wealth. Such ideas are foreign to my being.
    Slavery (both historic and modern), is the most debased expression of any people.

    My husband and I live simply. Any wealth we have at the end of our lives has been willed to charities to help others.
    Giving back is a moral responsibility to anyone who has earned a living and made more money than he or she requires to fund the needs of life.

  7. A good post John but rather optimistic in its conclusion. Maybe we are all slaves? A National Insurance number isn’t burnt into our flesh but it is a sign of state ownership. It isn’t physically cruel but it still burdens us with taxes to fill the deep troughs of government and takes away our freedom!

    • I don’t think I’ve ever been a slave, because if I’d wanted to go and live elsewhere, for example, I could have voted with my feet and left. I was getting a decent wage though. With today’s youngsters, I think you are a lot closer to the mark. Pathetic wages and zero-hours contracts, in fact the whole concept of short term contracts, are creating an entire generation who cannot afford to buy a house and in many cases, cannot even afford to rent one. Meanwhile the rich get richer. That is a recipe for disaster.

  8. John, thanks for raising this painful period of humanity’s history that connects our lives.

    Good question. Years back, when I was living in Brazil, my mother told me that the British descendants bearing the family name of my paternal grandmother had visited Guyana looking for Guyanese descendants of their ancestors who were sugar plantation owners in what was then a British colony. I never heard further news of any reparations.

    • I’m not surprised. The people who made money from the misery of slavery have never shown any sign of remorse as far as I am aware, although some of them are very quick to make sure the news doesn’t ever get out.

  9. This made my stomach queasy and my heart just clench. I HATE reading about what is done to men and women because of superior whites. The thought of being branded across my chest makes me ill, positively ill. Atrocity after atrocity is committed in this world and I for one am so fed up with it all. I had an odd interaction the other day which was very uncomfortable. While walking through a local park a large group of black men, women and children were gathered. Walking by some and even trying to strike up a conversation, I was ignored, was on the receiving end of rudeness, and not one would look at me. OMG! That really shook me up! 😓

    • The study of African history reveals a lot of tribal slavery a long time before the ‘whites’ arrived and joined in/took over. There was slavery in the Indian sub-continent during the Islamic period, long before the British Empire. More recently the Nazis didn’t mind enslaving fellow Europeans and branding them as well! A good post from John – stimulating conversation!

      • I couldn’t agree with you more about this post. I’ve learned more from John then I did when in school ages ago. I just detest how man treats man in so may respects. These posts are not easy for me to read.

      • From what I’ve read, the Africans initially had most to fear from Moslem slave traders who took slaves to the Middle East via the traditional routes across the Sahara. Then the whites joined in. Slavery has always been fuelled by the idea of superiority, whether of religion, the colour of your skin and, most tragically perhaps, the theory of evolution which says that some animals are superior to others so they survive and the others die off. When applied to human beings, we all know where that ends

    • I think the truth is that racism one way will soon breed racism the other way. It’s not very far from that famous saying by Gandhi although not exactly the same…”An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”.

  10. My local museum has a good deal to show of the slave trade. Being strongly linked with Thomas Clarkson, who was one of those who helped abolish slave trading, it is frightening what we did and even more so is who did it. The church have not had their whiter than white past, and much of the money they have comes from immoral earnings! But will they admit it – of course not! An interesting series of posts John.

    • I think you might enjoy the book that set me off on this topic. It’s by David Olusoga and it’s called “Black and British: A Forgotten History”. A 624 page hardback for £6.99, that’s my kind of value for money. Seriously though, it’s a real eye opener, and reveals some appalling aspects of history that we whites have been only too happy to erase.

  11. Pierre Lagacé

    Late in reading John. Most interesting about the little known history of slavery.

  12. Again, to look at it through contemporary eyes – branding was a judicial punishment used in the UK and US in the seventeenth century. In military circles it was used during the American Civil War and was only formally abolished in UK army in 1879 (though it had become a tattoo by then).

    Not making excuses for inhumane practices, but adulterers, blasphemers, deserters and cowards were all branded too.

    • I understand what you’re saying but I feel that if a society loudly proclaims itself as Christian then they should follow Christian principles or just admit that they are no better than the Mongols. Perhaps no ruler, no person with any power at all, has any kind of principles. That would be a very sad end for humanity.

  13. Pingback: Why no statue ? (1) | John Knifton

  14. Odd that no DY branding irons have survived? In museums?

    Do not doubt the information for a minute. But what are thesources, nice to be able to reference it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.