Slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1833. Those who had owned slaves were compensated at the time for their financial losses when they lost their slaves. Historians from University College London (UCL) have catalogued the 46,000 British subjects who were compensated by the British government for losing in total 800,000 slaves as a result of abolition. Descendants of the last British slave owners can now find out about their ancestors’ involvement.
These 46,000 slave owners were compensated a total of £20 million (£17 billion today). The research team discovered that it was not only the rich elite that had vested interest in slaves but also clergymen, shop owners and ‘ordinary’ members of the British middle classes. It is estimated that 10 per cent of Britons who died in the 18th century had benefited from slavery and that up to 15 per cent of the British elite were involved. Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha as well as actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Ben Affleck have all been revealed as having ancestors linked to the slave trade.
Legacies of British Slave-ownership is a combination of two projects based at the University College London tracing the impact of slave-ownership on the formation of modern Britain: the ESRC-funded Legacies of British Slave-ownership project, now complete, and the ESRC and AHRC-funded Structure and significance of British Caribbean slave-ownership 1763-1833, running from 2013-2015.
You can learn more about the Legacies of British Slave-ownership and also search the database for your ancestors by starting at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/.