Slavery Law

This section collects source material relating to slavery and the law in Britain and the British Empire in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is very much under construction, and very far from being comprehensive; it’s the start of a research project,  into slavery in and around Britain, not a finished product.

It is currently organized into 2 parts:

  • A list of English, British and United Kingdom statutes relating to slavery and the slave trade, with links to their texts if available, on this site or elsewhere.
  • A list of British court cases, and reports of some of them.

I will be adding the texts of selected Caribbean and Colonial American laws at some point, but I have decided that given what they are – repugnant, dissimulating, and entirely the product of the slavers themselves – and that those I have so far collected are not representative, they  should be published with at least some context and explanation.

There will also be a section of related, miscellaneous material, and a bibliography of works on slavery and the law, as time allows.

None of this material should be taken at face value. Much of it is the product of the enslavers, who were often at pains to present themselves as morally upstanding benefactors, yet were in fact simply brutal. The early legal judgements, most especially those of Lord Justice Holt at the start of the eighteenth century, disallowing the possibility of slavery on British soil, did not prevent that slavery happening there, to the measure of probably thousands of Black people in Great Britain,* nor did they apply to the transatlantic slave trade.  And of course, nearly all these texts are instruments of racist dehumanizing.

* I base this number on the excellent Runaway Slaves website. Apparently, the next update to it will bring the number of runaways up to nearly 2,000.