ENOUGH DONE BE ENOUGH – WOMEN, ENSLAVEMENT AND EMANCIPATION
The following is an excerpt from the Memorial Lecture that was delivered by Professor Verene Shepherd at the Liverpool Town Hall on August 22, 2013 as part of the annual Slavery Remembrance activities organised by National Museums Liverpool.
I ask myself: how did Liverpool become so mixed up in this crime against humanity? Prof Kenneth Morgan gives us a partial answer, writing that after Parliament ended the London-based Royal African Company’s official monopoly in England in 1698, private merchants in London, Bristol and Liverpool entered the transatlantic trade in Africans.
By the 1740s Liverpool overtook Bristol and London to become the leading British trading port for African captives, whether measured by the number of ships dispatched to Africa or the number of enslaved people they carried across the Atlantic Ocean. Indeed, Liverpool increased its share of slaving voyages emanating from British ports over those next six decades. In the period 1741-50 Liverpool sent out 43 per cent of the ships engaged in the British transatlantic trade in Africans. By 1801-7 Liverpool’s share had increased to 79 per cent.
Liverpool had invested more than £1 million in the transatlantic trade in Africans by 1800; and throughout the entire period of the British transatlantic trade in Africans, Liverpool’s ships delivered over 1.1 million enslaved people to the New World. Liverpool’s dominant position was maintained without any diminution until 1808 with the landing of the George at Kingston Harbour in Jamaica on 17th February 1808. But we all know that clandestine trading went on way into the 19th century.
I think about the ships other than the Thomas that left Merseyside to journey to Africa to transport my ancestors to the Americas: those thrown overboard the infamous Zong; those on the brig Ranger and those on the Bee, Fortune, George and so many more. I think about the men who owned those ships and participated in those slaving voyages. It would be so easy to hate them: men like David Tuohy who spent fourteen years in the African trade, captained four slaving voyages between 1765 and 1769 and had part-ownership of ten Liverpool ships involved in the transatlantic trade in black captives from 1772 to 1786. After his experience as a captain of slave vessels, he settled down as a merchant on Merseyside at 48 Old Hall Street. So I suppose I could go there and call down fire and brimstone on him!
Another Liverpool merchant firm with a branch house in Kingston, Jamaica, was Thomas Case, who owned a number of ships (including Fortune and Bee), became a member of the African Company of Liverpool, and held shares in eighteen slaving vessels. Then there was Thomas Leyland (c.1752-1827), a merchant, banker, millionaire and three times Mayor of Liverpool, who had an interest in sixty-nine slaving voyages from Liverpool. His banking business later became part of the Midland (now HSBC) Bank.
But what good would hating and cursing them do me? Far better to spend my energy seeking redress for those who trespassed against my ancestors, and who lived well off the proceeds of slavery but to this day refuse to admit wrong and discuss compensation.
I am aware, of course, that apologies have been made, regrets expressed and attempts to recall Liverpool’s participation in slavery made through this annual event, the slavery remembrance walk, and the exhibitions at the Museum. Still, what Edward T. Linenthal refers to as the “indigestible fishbone of slavery” still sticks in our throats. How indigestible a fishbone was revealed this year in the result of the research into the compensation claims by the University College London research team, which showed the contrast between black and white women caught up in the tragedy of slavery.
We now know from the research done by Professor Catherine Hall, Nick Draper and Keith McClelland (and which they have kindly shared with me), that 50% of the £20M compensation money paid by Britain to the enslavers in 1834, went to about 3000 absentee owners living in Britain and that women were among the beneficiaries – some from Liverpool – among them Caroline Cachard (nee Devenish) (£3277.65.4 for 60 enslaved in Trinidad & Tobago); Hannah Hammill (£6942.68.1 for 164 enslaved people in St Lucia) and Susannah Lynch-Harper nee Heath who once lived at 14 Moss St, Liverpool (£124.4.1 on 7 in Jamaica). Interestingly enough Hannah Hammill died in 1842 aged 78 and was buried like a respectable person in the Holy Trinity Church in Liverpool.
So while there were women like Catherine Phillips, Mary Peisley, Lady Margaret Middleton of Teston in Kent, Hannah More, Catherine Fox, wife of George Fox, Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the educational anthology, The Female Reader, Mary Birkett, Anne Knight, Lucy Townsend and Mary Prince who were busy advocating for abolition, others were busy defeating the cause out of self-interest. Admittedly, the first resisters were enslaved Black women brought to Britain from the 16th century onwards as personal domestics who joined in black resistance through running away from their owners who had taken them from the Caribbean; but the contributions of other women cannot be overlooked.
Those women who benefited from slavery and emancipation were in contrast to the women in Jamaica; for in 1834, those on whom they claimed compensation got no material settlement: no land, no fair wages, no respectable terms of labour, no financial compensation for unjust enrichment, pain and suffering, and torture; no repatriation to the land from which they were forcefully taken – nothing but freedom in Eric Foner’s terms, important as freedom was.At the same time, I am uplifted by the knowledge that my ancestors did not accept uncomplaining their bondage and treatment by British enslavers. I am uplifted by the knowledge that they resisted at every step of the way on the road to emancipation: from the moment of capture, march to the coast, imprisonment in stinking baracoons that Europeans had the nerve to call “castles”; journey on the Middle Passage, march to the plantations and enslavement on the plantations. As we sit here today, many of us as descendants of enslaved people, let us remember that the freedoms we enjoy today owe much to them.
I invite you then to join me in singing praise songs to the women who were a fundamental part of the anti-slavery movement I have mentioned; women who were united with their men in anger and united in the war to end slavery and European brutality. The women who said, like Marlon James’ Night Women in the book of the same name, said: “Enough Done Be Enough”.
Not many of us know the names of these rebel women. Why not? One reason is that the anti-slavery activists we typically single out for honour each year at Emancipation Day celebrations, during the anniversary of major wars and during Black History Month are usually male: Boukman Dutty, Toussaint and Dessalines of Haiti; Kofi, Atta, Jack Gladstone and Telemachus of the Berbice and Demerara wars; Bussa of Barbados;,Tacky, Sam Sharpe, Cudjoe, Quao, Johnny and Accompong of Jamaica; General Buddhoe and Martin King of the Danish Caribbean, and countless other male heroes. We even name emancipation wars after them, despite women’s involvement in them: Sam Sharpe Rebellion; Bussa’s War, etc.
But how widely known are Nanny of the Jamaican Maroons, mythologised for her supernatural powers? About Susanna of the 1823 Demerara war? About Phati, Annemary, Comba, Nellie, Marilee who endured slavery on Fort Zeelandia in Guyana; and Diana, Lucretia, Jacoba, Suzanna, Lisabeth, Lucia, Lena, Cicilia, Christina, Amba on plantation Duynenburg, also in Guyana? How many have heard of Nanny Grigg of Barbados; Cecile Fatima of Haiti; Alida of Suriname; Harriet Tubman, Harriet Jacobs and Sojourner Truth of the USA; Betto Douglas of St. Kitts/Nevis; Philda, Queen and Aba of Antigua – all recognised as quintessential rebel women who embodied the spirit of Black women’s resistance to systems of domination?
What is important is that the struggles of these women demonstrate the historical role of mass political organization in the decolonization process; and we too must be animated by these historical processes. We too must recall that Caribbean societies were created by the activism of enslaved ancestors, who confronted their subjugation, said they would not collaborate with it, and laid the psychological foundations for the self-determinist posture of modern Caribbean societies, whose nationalist luminaries later attacked the imperialist assumptions and impositions.
Clearly then, no story of anti-slavery in the Caribbean can be told without the inclusion of women; and women’s independent economic power and their contribution to the development of European industry, must not be under-estimated nor trivialized. Enslaved women, like men, appropriated and acted on the idea that as forced colonial subjects, they had a stake in the Enlightenment project of human progress. The slave system made them ‘rebel women’ and ‘natural rebels’ and produced among them only one kind of organised radicalism that is recognisable within modern political thought – anti-slavery struggle.
Finally, it is for the women carried by Liverpool slavers into a life of brutal slavery as well as for the freedom-fighting women who insisted that such destabilization was vital to recover Black pride and dignity that I call on all of us here this evening to become engaged in the reparation discussion, especially now that CARICOM is aiming to present a collective voice in the struggle for compensation for Caribbean slavery and native genocide. We need not become involved in confrontation; we just want a just and peaceful world.
As my colleague Prof. Hilary Beckles pointed out in a recent lecture on reparation, “an injustice without a remedy is abhorrent to the spirit of justice.” The late Jamaican reggae artiste Peter Tosh, has warned though, that there will be no peace without equal rights and justice; and Bob Marley, using the philosophy of His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie the 1st long cautioned (and I paraphrase):
“Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; everywhere is war. Until there no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation; until the colour of a person’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his/her eyes; until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all, without regard to race – Dis a war. That until that day, the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship and rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained.