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Do Americans Think That Britain Had Slavery Like They Did?

Started by Dr Rock, August 06, 2022, 10:23:48 AM

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Dr Rock

Sure, England was heavily involved in the slave trade, and we had an horrid empire and we weren't angels (I say 'we', the common peasant had little or nothing to do with it), but nobody ever owned another person and could sell them like in American slavery. Do most of the Yanks realise this? Probaly never thought about it. Anyway we had serfs, which were pretty close, but there are also big differences. I don't think you could whip them for being uppity for one thing.

If you are an American (or Canadian, maybe), how much do you know about British history apart from what you picked up in Monty Python and The Holy Grail?

In the days before the Truck Acts, there were truck/company store systems, where employees would be paid in currency that could only be spent at shops owned by their employers. The goods were sold at inflated prices, and which often led to them being in debt bondage, working to pay off the debts 'owed to the employers'.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truck_wages

Inspector Norse

Quote from: Dr Rock on August 06, 2022, 10:23:48 AMnobody ever owned another person and could sell them like in American slavery.

Well yeah they did, just not up until 150 years ago like in the States. It happened quite a bit in ye olde medieval times.

shoulders

What we did do is compensate slave owners rather than slaves when it was abolished.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slave_Compensation_Act_1837#:~:text=Slave%20owners%20were%20paid%20approximately,as%20of%201%20August%201834.

QuoteLegacies of British Slave-ownership which aims to list the individuals who received compensation. They estimate that somewhere between 10 and 20% of Britain's wealthy can be identified as having had links to slavery, ranging in their level of connection.[6] University College London has been pursuing the case with The Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership at the university.

Since 2018, numerous Freedom of Information Act requests have been sent to the British government and Bank of England for the names of those who were paid with the bonds, of which all were denied
.


One name we do know, is David Cameron, whose family are directly linked to the slave trade in not even that many generations past.

touchingcloth

Quote from: Dr Rock on August 06, 2022, 10:23:48 AMSure, England was heavily involved in the slave trade, and we had an horrid empire and we weren't angels (I say 'we', the common peasant had little or nothing to do with it), but nobody ever owned another person and could sell them like in American slavery.

Edward Colston would disagree.

American slavery was British slavery. Maybe Brits weren't using enslaved people in their homes and on their land in the same way as slavers in America, but it was overwhelmingly British people who were facilitating and benefitting from the trafficking of slaves. The British colonies were actively using slave labour pretty much from their outset, and there is really only a tiny window of time between the Declaration of Independence, and the abolition of slave trading and keeping in the two countries.

Dr Rock

Yes I said we were heavily involved in the slave trade. My query is does the average American think we had slavery on a mass scale in Britain as they did the the US, for hundreds of years?
QuoteMaybe Brits weren't using enslaved people in their homes and on their land in the same way as slavers in America,

And this exact fact is what I am curious of, as to the American understanding.

touchingcloth

Quote from: Inspector Norse on August 06, 2022, 10:48:11 AMWell yeah they did, just not up until 150 years ago like in the States. It happened quite a bit in ye olde medieval times.

Keeping slaves wasn't outlawed in the UK until 1833. The Emancipation Proclamation wasn't even 30 years later - 1862. The same amount of time as between the end of George HW Bush's presidency and the start of Biden's.

Britain wasn't lily-white during the golden era of slave labour in the Americas. Britain had the ships. Britain had the merchants. Britain just didn't have local untapped resources of land suitable for farming sugar and cotton that was crying out for cheap labour.

touchingcloth

Quote from: Dr Rock on August 06, 2022, 10:56:13 AMYes I said we were heavily involved in the slave trade. My query is does the average American think we had slavery on a mass scale in Britain as they did the the US, for hundreds of years?

And this exact fact is what I am curious of, as to the American understanding.

I think you could just as well ask whether the average Brit thinks we didn't have slavery on a mass scale.

jobotic

The repulsive Richard Drax MP still owns the plantations in Barbados that thousands of slaves died on, working for his family.

dissolute ocelot

Britons were happy to outsource it. The main industries for slavery were cotton, sugar, and tobacco, none of which grow in the UK. By the 18th century Britain had too many agricultural workers, and when the industrial revolution started, jobs were ideal for women and children. Domestic servants were likewise mostly women and girls, kept in unpleasant conditions, worked near-constantly for negligible money. So there was no need for chattel slavery.

When I was at school in Scotland, the industrial revolution and agricultural revolution were mainstays of history classes, so I'd guess a lot of British have some knowledge of that. I'm sure some Americans are familiar with Britain's Victorian workhouses through Dickens, and maybe coal mines or mills from other 19th century sources, but not sure how much else. I wouldn't imagine they think of Britain as covered with slave plantations.

Johnny Yesno

Quote from: Dr Rock on August 06, 2022, 10:56:13 AMYes I said we were heavily involved in the slave trade. My query is does the average American think we had slavery on a mass scale in Britain as they did the the US, for hundreds of years?

Really, your question should be 'Does the average American think we had slavery on a mass scale in the British empire as they did the the US, for hundreds of years?'

Just because we did the crime off the premises of the head office is irrelevant.

And as tc says, it's just as interesting to wonder how many Brits are aware of this.

Buelligan

Part of my family were English slave-owners, they became Barbadian slave-owners and then American slave-owners.  At one point they owned over 850 human beings. 

I'm not lying when I say that every time I polish my employer's floors on my hands and knees, every time I struggle, without a drink, in super-hot laundry rooms for hours or walk in unblinking heat to do my shift or fight not to faint, my hands bandaged, during the vendange.  I think of those 850 and all the others, all the others, hope my tiny drop of suffering in my comparatively marie antoinette life pays back some monstrous screaming debt.  I know it doesn't and nothing ever can.

I think, in some way, by some connection, we are all complicit.  Nationality has little or nothing to do with it.  Our job now is to stand up for justice, equality, truth, humanity, to show solidarity and to never give up.  This is our debt and our duty.

touchingcloth

Quote from: dissolute ocelot on August 06, 2022, 11:21:45 AMBritons were happy to outsource it. The main industries for slavery were cotton, sugar, and tobacco, none of which grow in the UK. By the 18th century Britain had too many agricultural workers, and when the industrial revolution started, jobs were ideal for women and children. Domestic servants were likewise mostly women and girls, kept in unpleasant conditions, worked near-constantly for negligible money. So there was no need for chattel slavery.

When I was at school in Scotland, the industrial revolution and agricultural revolution were mainstays of history classes, so I'd guess a lot of British have some knowledge of that. I'm sure some Americans are familiar with Britain's Victorian workhouses through Dickens, and maybe coal mines or mills from other 19th century sources, but not sure how much else. I wouldn't imagine they think of Britain as covered with slave plantations.

Yeah, all of this. There's not a bright line between chattel and de facto slavery. Like you say, there wasn't the same need to import new sources of labour to Britain itself because there were already enough sources of free or extremely cheap labour to be exploited from Are Great British unfortunates. British people were also quite happy using your classic dark skinned trafficked actual African people as domestic servants when given the chance, or to press them into service fighting the breakaway ingrates in the colonies.

Dex Sawash


Sebastian Cobb

Quote from: Dr Rock on August 06, 2022, 10:23:48 AMI say 'we', the common peasant had little or nothing to do with it

Hmm, common peasants saw massive life improvements during the enlightenment era which was often bankrolled by 'altruistic' business owners whose massive profits were directly linked to slave labour. Bournville/Cadbury is a good example.

And of course lots of labour here was supplying such industries (e.g. Sheffiled making shackles), if there was a town with a big factory doing so and not much else, a lack of mobility an other options may have meant peasants had limited choice about getting involved in it.

touchingcloth

All that said, there is a meaningful distinction to be made about the aftermath of emancipation in the US and Britain. In the US it meant that millions of formerly enslaved people were now living directly among the former slavers, and in theory subject to many of the same rights as their former masters (who in many cases became employers rather than owners).

Things were different for Britons because the people they owned and trafficked were largely over there and invisible, and we had a slow bleed of former slaves and their descendants actually moving to Britain culminating in things like the Windrush generation. We had comparatively small numbers of freed African slaves being cast into polite society immediately by emancipation - low tens of thousands rather than millions of people

Buelligan

I think there were 'ancient' populations of (ex slave in many cases) black people living in ports and slaving ports like Cardiff, Liverpool, Bristol and London, where their populations were concentrated enough to be noticeable and therefore, perhaps, treated by the police and authorities in ways similar to those apparent in the US.

#17
I think American exceptionalism needs slavery as an original sin that they eventually get redeemed for during the civil war and the emancipation proclamation, performed by an individual who is often presented as an almost supernatural being, or at least morally pure to a supernatural extent that jusifies the religious treatment America's "fathers" get. It would bugger up the story to situate slavery as intimate to the other great evil of colonialism as the two major supports of modern capitalism's first phase of development. And presumption that ideologies are something other nations have, not us: they have ideologies, but we have a national story. A lot of stuff coming out America politics across the political spectrum from Christian nationalism to privilege theory depend on the centrality of both atonement and exception, just like how British exceptionalism depends on the myth of English spirit and the idea that it was England that pushed the progress of all nations forward. Even the English left isn't free of the social darwinist overtones of Britain as a inherently and uniquely socially progressive or scientific nation (luv the NHS). Its ideologically useful for western nations to see colonialism and the slave trade as their own personal fault and not link them to the wider economic situation of the time, because it enables a national narrative where the nation has a unique burden to carry and therefore a unique passage from imperfect to perfect. The greater the shame, the greater the promised redemption and the brighter the future, and the stronger the national character to endure the obstacles on the way to destiny.

Zetetic

Quote from: Buelligan on August 06, 2022, 11:46:41 AMI think there were 'ancient' populations of (ex slave in many cases) black people living in ports and slaving ports like Cardiff, Liverpool, Bristol and London, where their populations were concentrated enough to be noticeable and therefore, perhaps, treated by the police and authorities in ways similar to those apparent in the US.
I'd never heard of the 1919 race riots, for example, until a few years back (and that's tied up with not really talking about the economic impacts of the two world wars, I guess).

(Edit: And once you go down that road, you have the uncomfortableness that maybe part of the reason why the Second World War ended up as a touchpoint in Britain was because it was a source of massive relief to a lot of people, rather than a cause of real sacrifice and suffering.)

All Surrogate

I think the historical position of Ireland within the british state has to be acknowledged as well. That was very much 'internal'. You could argue that there's a keener recognition in America of that part of british history than in Britain today.

touchingcloth

Quote from: Buelligan on August 06, 2022, 11:46:41 AMI think there were 'ancient' populations of (ex slave in many cases) black people living in ports and slaving ports like Cardiff, Liverpool, Bristol and London, where their populations were concentrated enough to be noticeable and therefore, perhaps, treated by the police and authorities in ways similar to those apparent in the US.

We also had significant populations of brown people to enjoy whipping - both metaphorically and literally - until well into the 20th Century. Go Brits!

idunnosomename

Quote from: Dr Rock on August 06, 2022, 10:23:48 AMbut nobody ever owned another person and could sell them like in American slavery.
this simply isn't true for the kingdom of England. There are plenty of slaves (servi) recorded in the Domesday book in 1086. Around 10% of the population. They're not serfs, they are true slaves.

The practice pretty much went away in the next century or so. This might be worth a look if you want to know more

https://www.historytoday.com/archive/normans-and-slavery-breaking-bonds

bakabaka

We've always sold slaves. When the Romans arrived the going rate for slaves was one amphora of wine per healthy person (usually male). Within 50 years it had gone up to six people per amphora. And we got our slaves by raiding the neighbours, not going to some far-flung place to grab strangers.
The only plus was that if they had had any bardic training they would be used to teach oratory to posh Romans' kids.

Dr Rock

Quote from: idunnosomename on August 06, 2022, 12:19:25 PMthis simply isn't true for the kingdom of England. There are plenty of slaves (servi) recorded in the Domesday book in 1086. Around 10% of the population. They're not serfs, they are true slaves.

The practice pretty much went away in the next century or so. This might be worth a look if you want to know more

https://www.historytoday.com/archive/normans-and-slavery-breaking-bonds

Sorry, yeah I forgot about that. I've researched this before, honest.

Dr Rock

Anyway, I just want an interesting discussion to come out of this. Like why has the US - post Roots anyway - made so many films about slavery days, yet I can't think of any British films about how shit it was to be a serf.

Buelligan

There's that whole Robin Hood thing you have over there.

idunnosomename

Quote from: Dr Rock on August 06, 2022, 12:45:10 PMAnyway, I just want an interesting discussion to come out of this. Like why has the US - post Roots anyway - made so many films about slavery days, yet I can't think of any British films about how shit it was to be a serf.
a big fancy Peasants Revolt drama shot on big fancy sets at Shepperton in the 60s wouldve been cool. Seems like there's a B/w one with Anthony Hopkins as Wat Tyler but its only 30 min.

Now it'd all be miserable and colour graded and everyone would have shit all over them.

Quote from: Video Game Fan 2000 on August 06, 2022, 11:47:17 AMjust like how British exceptionalism depends on the myth of English spirit and the idea that it was England that pushed the progress of all nations forward. Even the English left isn't free of the social darwinist overtones of Britain as a inherently and uniquely socially progressive or scientific nation (luv the NHS).

A lot of conflation of England/English with Britain/British here, which is a whole other discussion in itself, of course.

Terence Bowl

Quote from: touchingcloth on August 06, 2022, 10:51:26 AMthere is really only a tiny window of time between the Declaration of Independence, and the abolition of slave trading and keeping in the two countries.
Are you getting the war of independence mixed up with the American civil war?
Someone born into slavery in America the day independence was declared (July 4th 1776) would have been 89 years old on the day slavery was officially abolished in the US (December 18th 1865).

Quote from: Dex Sawash on August 06, 2022, 11:32:45 AMWho tends your cotton and rice then?
That used to be are cotton and rice you thieving new worlder.

#29
Quote from: Clatty McCutcheon on August 06, 2022, 01:13:47 PMA lot of conflation of England/English with Britain/British here, which is a whole other discussion in itself, of course.

The mythology I'm talking about is dependent on the idea that progress is tied to social order and a cheerily maintained hierarchy. Ideologically I think it depends on making England exceptional within the British Isles as Britain is exceptional in the world. There's probably a lot of "body politic" stuff still kicking around, with southern English cities as the leader or head of the nation and the rest as the muscle and backbone. England's supposed stewardship or industrial driving of the other British nations allegedly mirror how Britain as a whole was somehow responsible for the fate of the entire world. Hey Ireland, Scotland and Wales: you have your place at the head of the great system, so understand that other nations have their place in the wider order. So don't lets have you express any sympathy for Indians or or Africans. You speak our language, don't you? Which is another point: the focus we've had over last decades on "national identity" English v British, as a cultural rather than economic legacy of Empire, has do a great deal to obscure the fact that colonial racism was expressed as much through language as skin colour or national borders. The more Englishness is tied to language, a mercantile language prized for perspicacity, the harder it is to take a critical look at the ideological frame that leads narrower questions of culture and identity because the alleged "clarity" of English itself is inseperable from sedimented philosophical prejudice and the repressions that prejudice served to justify.