Not a Confederate Flag in Sight


The most cruel aspect of the British slave trade to the West Indies was the extreme mortality rate among sugar plantation slaves, which prompted increased traffic in slave importation there and increased misery for the poor Africans. In contrast, the rising birthrate and population among slaves in the American South indicates that the unfortunate institution was far more humane. But the question to answer is this: If none of the slavers of various countries were flying Confederate Battle Flags and the American Confederacy had no part in this nefarious traffic which populated the British colonies in North America; how is it that only the Confederacy is tainted by its late association with African slavery, and any symbols of it are seen as "racist"?

Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402

Not A Confederate Flag in Sight:

"During the American Revolution the (British) slave trade was discouraged by French and colonial American privateers. Peacetime recovery was slow (and)…By 1787 British traders still had not regained their former level of human exports. In that year some 137 ships with a combined tonnage of 22,263 and with crews of about 5,000 sailed from British ports to trade for slaves on the African coast. They carried British goods (which) were delivered to British factories on the coast, part to private black dealers for slaves. With (the slaves on board) the ships began the difficult eight-week journey across the Atlantic (and) because of the frightful conditions on board, perhaps only 34,000 (of 42,000) remained alive when they reached the West Indies. There they were sold for an average of 35 pounds each to English, French, Dutch, Danish and Spanish (plantation) proprietors, either directly or through agents.

The organization of the British slave trade centered in Liverpool and Bristol. Aggressiveness, specialization, and proximity to the manufacturers of African trade goods had helped the former town overcome the lead of the latter in the first half of the century. In 1787 Liverpool sent 78 ships…to Africa, whereas Bristol sent only 31 ships…a few (slave) ships also cleared from London, Lancaster and Poole. None came from Scotland.

(In March 1790) a total of 139 Liverpool ships was employed in slaving, of which half were owned by only eight companies. The other half were scattered among another thirty-one owners. Liverpool slave merchants often engaged in other kinds of shipping, as well as banking and insurance. Around Liverpool a network of small manufacturers and tradesmen supplied the "trade goods" used or barter in Africa—beads, textiles, ironmongery, brass bars, cheap rifles, liquor, and so on—and generally fitted out the ships for each new venture. Suppliers of trade goods around Manchester employed "upwards of 18,000 men, women and children. In Liverpool itself, participation in the trade was almost a community affair….it is well-known that many of the small vessels that import about a hundred slaves are fitted out by attorneys, drapers, ropers, grocers, tallow-chandlers, barbers, tailors, etc; some have one-eighth (share in a ship’s capital), some a fifteenth, some a thirty-second."

A striking proportion of the 38,000 to 42,000 slaves purchased annually by the British traders in Africa were destined for non-British territories on the other side of the ocean. George Hibbert, a London slave and sugar merchant, estimated that 15,567 slaves were annually imported, and remained, in the British West Indies, leaving 23,000 to 27,000 for other Caribbean buyers. The foreign market for slaves had been built up during the eighteenth century with the approval of the British government. According to the economic ideas of the day, slaves were a commodity whose sale abroad would help the balance of trade. Not until later did the slaves come to be seen as factors of production and hence responsible for the upsurge in foreign competition in the sugar market.

Before 1775 the British slave merchants faced little competition in foreign markets. Their proximity to supplies of cheap trade goods, and their superior financial organization gave them an advantage over other European traders. (But) Aggressive merchants from Massachusetts (and) Rhode Island…were reported to have vastly expanded their trade to Africa immediately after the revolutionary war, and by 1790 they were even fitting out in English ports to save money. Most of them were supplying the Southern States, but they found it easy to ship by way of the Caribbean to pick up extra business. Spain, having gained two small islands off the Cameroons coast in 1778 tried hard to establish her own slave trade (and) the French had already accomplished (her own slave trade)… Before 1778 the French had imported 14,000 to 15,000 Africans a year in their own ships, while purchasing even more from the British.

(According to the) Slave Trade Regulating Bill of 1788…the number of slaves annually exported from Africa was given as follows: 38,000 by the British, 20,000 by the French, 10,000 by the Portuguese, 4,000 by the Dutch, and 2,000 by the Danes.

As in Bristol, the defense of the slave trade settled in the hands of the most official and respectable body: in Liverpool, the Mayor and Common Council. The Council was a self-perpetuating body which co-opted new members as needed, and over the years it had come to be dominated by the African (slave trade) merchants. Even the Mayor was a slave trader. Thus the African merchants were able to initiate petitions, or send delegations, in three separate capacities, a position they used to combat abolition.

(T)he day to day work of opposing abolition fell mainly to the member of Parliament: for Bristol, Banastre Tarleton and the brothers Gascoyne. Banastre Tarleton was elected…on the record of his brutally heroic record in the American War. In 1787 he published a boastful "History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Provinces of North America" which cast such discredit on his superior officers that Tarleton lost his chance for further promotion. Loquacious, strong-minded, passably educated and well-known in society, and outspoken Whig and friend of the Prince of Wales…(Tarleton) is the M.P. most closely associated with the defense of the slave trade because he sat for Liverpool from 1790 to 1806, when the abolition question was at its height. Such were the defenders of the slave trade."

(The Abolition of the Slave Trade in England, 1784-1807, Dale H. Porter, Archon Books, 1970)