Contemporary Slavery

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Celebrations planned to commemorate the abolition of the slave trade 200 years ago will do little to highlight the global growth of the trade today.

On 7 November 1775, Lord Dunmore, while governor of the Virginia Colony in America, made a proclamation whereby he offered freedom to black Africans if they joined the King’s Army and took up arms against the Patriot Militias. Hundreds of slaves, men and women, ran toward the British lines. Dunmore then formed an 800-strong company of soldiers that became known as the Ethiopian Regiment. After Dunmore’s retreat from Virginia and back aboard British ships, many of the Black soldiers and families contracted smallpox. On departure from Virginia, Dunmore put ashore the sick and dying to fend for themselves and retreated from Virginia to New York with the remaining 300 men of the Ethiopian Regiment.

By 1787, a movement in Britain had begun to take shape that was determined to work toward the abolition of the trading in slaves. The movement was spearheaded by key members of the Clapham Sect: Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharp and William Wilberforce are among the key celebrated figures in the history of the abolition movement in the UK. Finally, on 25 March 1807, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed and the trade in slaves within British territories ended. It was not, however, until 23 August 1833 that the Slavery Abolition Act was passed, and slaves did not get their freedom until 1838. As part of the deal, Caribbean plantation owners were paid over £20 million in compensation.

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Published in Photoworks Issue 8, 2007
Commissioned by Photoworks

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