Slavery, Wealth and Statues in London – Part 2
Following on from our earlier post, on London statues that commemorate slave-trades, slave owners and slavery apologists and other racists…
It’s also instructive to illustrate that slave trading and slave plantation-owning meant big bucks – not all of it was invested in commissioning bronze or stone idols of the wealthy…
In London as in the UK as a whole – there’s just too much to even list when it comes to slavery-related wealth, and how that wealth was then ploughed into buying land, big houses, investing in industries.
Just to concentrate on ONE small area of South-East London – around Deptford, Lee and Blackheath – just as an example. You can broaden this out to any number of areas in the capital, and beyond; slave-sweated millions funded everything from educational institutions to art galleries, from factories to fashion… It’s estimated that the British Industrial Revolution could not have had anything like the scope that it did without the huge amounts of ready cash swilling around derived from slave-trading, supplying the plantations and selling the sugar and other products slaves made cheaply.
Deptford Dockyard was an important naval dockyard and base at Deptford on the River Thames, in what is now the London Borough of Lewisham, operated by the Royal Navy from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. It built and maintained warships for 350 years. Over the centuries, as Britain’s Imperial expansion, based heavily on its naval seapower, demanded more and more ships, and the royal dockyards like Deptford, Woolwich, Chatham and Portsmouth were often busy, and grew larger and larger, employing more and more workers.
Deptford became an important seafaring and trading centre. Ships were built, fitted out and stocked with provisions here before being launched on voyages around the world, and were repaired here when they returned. Royal Navy ships sailing from Deptford protected Britain’s growing empire and trade routes. The early English Navy played a huge part in the beginnings of the Atlantic Slave trade.Traders and explorers also sailed from the dockyards. People interested in sea voyaging came to Deptford, hoping for support from the king or financial backing from rich London merchants.
Ships began sailing to Africa from here as early as the 16th century, and possibly before. While rumours of gold were an important initial impetus to enterprise with Africa and slaves became of paramount significance, other items of trade should not be overlooked. Hides, camwood, indigo, cotton, resin, soap and ivory from elephants and hippos also attracted London sea traders and their merchant backers to West Africa.
Many sea captains owned or stayed in houses close to the dockyard. During the seventeenth century many of the wealthy merchants involved in trade with Africa lived houses nearby in Deptford Green, Lee or Blackheath. Hoping to make big profits, they invested money in ships that sailed to Africa to trade for exotic goods and capture African people, who were shipped across the Atlantic to work as slaves on plantations in the British colonies in the Caribbean. The ships returned to Deptford where the sugar, tobacco and other crops produced by these plantations were unpacked and stored before being sold. This became known as the Triangular Trade.
Captain John Hawkins was the first English slave trader – historian Joan Anim-Addo describes him as “the English father of the Atlantic Slave Trade”.
Hawkins and his cousin Francis Drake found fame as prominent ‘privateers’ (licensed pirates) operating against the Spanish Empire’s ships in the Caribbean, and gradually beginning to trade in the area. “A feature of the shipping engaged in West Indian privateering… [was] the overwhelming predominance of Londoners. There are forty-one ships mentioned herein whose port of origin has been traced; thirty-one were from London.” (Kenneth Andrews) The Royal Dockyard at Deptford played a significant role in London’s privateering ventures.
He was appointed Treasurer of the Royal Navy and lived at the Treasurer’s House at Deptford dockyards. On his first voyage he captured 300 Africans and took them to the Caribbean, selling them to the Spanish settlers there in exchange for animal skins, ginger, sugar and pearls. These were very exotic goods then, and made Hawkins a fortune when he sold them to London merchants. This was the beginning of the triangular trade across the Atlantic.
Hawkins and other pioneering seamen found on the coast of Africa local people skilled in the manufacture of trading commodities such as pepper and cloth, and African traders, manufacturers and skilled artisans in organised communities. This was not widely reported: the distorted representation of African lifestyle and patterns of existence, portraying them as savages with no real culture; this was given prominence in the century to follow, as English slave trading took root. In fact, traders were met by organised groups skilled in defending the waterways, particularly the rivers leading upstream into the heart of Africa. The coastal Africans, they found, had an established maritime culture, with skilled handling of the canoe a speciality. Naval forces consisting of small, specialised African crafts were initially able to repel Europe’s sophisticated maritime war machinery.
Hawkins made four slave trading voyages to Sierra Leone, sailing from Deptford, between 1564 and 1569; Queen Elizabeth I backed him, sending navy ships to protect his slave ships.
When John Hawkins was knighted by the Queen he had a crest of arms drawn up that included a picture of an African bound with ropes, acknowledging the money he made from captured Africans.
John Hawkins’ brother-in-law Edward Fenton also traded for slaves in Sierra Leone. He was buried at St Nicholas’ church in Deptford, which is named after the patron saint of sailors. In the church there is also a statue of Hawkins’ brother William, another slave trader.
The Pett family were master shipbuilders in Deptford for several generations and built many of the ships that were involved in the Atlantic trade. The timber for shipbuilding came from their estate near Chiselhurst (now called Petts Wood).
Deptford was a place of arrivals and departures. Many British people who owned or ran plantations and went to live in the Caribbean set sail from Deptford. Many people of African origin who came to Britain landed at Deptford. Some were sailors and some were brought to work in Britain as slaves or servants.
In 1652, Oliver Cromwell was a regular visitor to Deptford to oversee the building of two ships The James and The Diamond, ships which formed part of a fleet Cromwell sent in 1654 to capture Jamaica from the Spanish, where sugar plantations were established worked by African slaves. After the restoration of the Stuart monarchy, Deptford royalist John Evelyn was appointed to the Kings’ Council for Foreign Plantations in 1671, set up to advise King Charles II on how to govern his new colonies (where slaves worked on the plantations). He was also treasurer of the Royal Hospital for Seamen in Greenwich, which is now the Old Royal Naval College and was not far from Sayes Court. John Evelyn’s wife’s family had been naval administrators for many generations and their home, Sayes Court, was sandwiched between the dockyard and the victualling yards.
Samuel Pepys, born in London in 1633, is famous for his diary, which records the details of his life from 1660 until 1669. In 1673 he was made Secretary to the Admiralty. Naval ships were sent by the Admiralty to protect British colonies, particularly to the West Indies with its profitable sugar plantations.
Samuel Pepys was also a shareholder in the Royal Adventurers into Africa, a company set up by London merchants, which traded with West Africa and transported enslaved Africans in company ships to work on plantations.
The Pepys Estate in Deptford is named after Samuel Pepys. From 1665 to 1673 he was Surveyor-General of the Victualling. Where the Pepys Estate now stands was the site of the Red House stores, where ships were victualled (stocked with food and other provisions). Records show that the Red House warehouses were also used to store tobacco grown and cut by African slaves, which had been shipped to Deptford from plantations in Jamaica.
Captain Bligh, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, set sail from Deptford on a later voyage in 1791, sailing for the South Seas to collect breadfruit trees from Tahiti. He landed 347 trees at Port Royal, Jamaica, in 1793. Bligh’s plan was to grow breadfruits on the plantations in the Caribbean as cheap food for slaves. The breadfruit grew well and became essential part of the diet of the enslaved Africans, along with yam and plantain. By giving slaves food that was cheap to grow, the plantation owners could make a bigger profit. What the enslaved Africans preferred to eat was not taken into consideration.
Deptford Town Hall, built in 1905, houses three statues of slave pioneers (and imperial heroes) Francis Drake, Robert Blake and Horatio Nelson:
- Sir Francis Drake (c. 1540 – 1596) was a pioneer of the slave trade making at least three royally sponsored trips to West Africa to kidnap Africans and sell them. Elizabeth I awarded Drake a knighthood in 1581 which he received on the Golden Hind in Deptford.
- Robert Blake (1598 – 1657) was an admiral who served under Oliver Cromwell throughout the English Civil War. He fought the Dutch to secure the trade triangle between the Caribbean, West Africa and England. Cromwell was responsible for trafficking the first waves of
enslaved people to and from the Caribbean; installing the plantation system in Jamaica; and the massacres in Drogheda (1649).
- Horatio Nelson (1758 – 1805), was a naval flag officer whose leadership is credited with a number of decisive British victories, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815). Nelson spent a large part of his career in the Caribbean and developed an affinity with the slave owners there, using his influence to argue against the abolitionist movement in Britain.
A debate has been going on there, stimulated by Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action, a BME-led student protest group launched in 2019. Their protests led to accurate descriptions being published on Goldsmiths website to ‘help reinterpret the building’s history through a contemporary lens”.
Goldsmiths Deptford Town Hall, SE14 6AF
Land and Lordships
The involvement of Deptford ships in slaving led to huge profits for some merchants – some of this money as spent buying up or building posh houses to show off and enjoy these ill-gotten gains.
Lewisham areas such as Lee and Deptford saw massive change as a result of a national thrust towards quick profits. Enriched slaving merchants used their new profits to buy land and titles, symbols of status and power. Areas like Lewisham, Lee and Blackheath were popular neighbourhoods with some of the men who made fortunes selling human flesh.
Take one example: the Manor House at Lee, near Lewisham. In Henry VIl’s reign the manor house of Lee was set in 575 acres of arable land, an area larger than some West Indian islands. Between the mid-16th century and the early 1700s, the land was bought and sold many times over – often from one slave-trader to another.
A number of the wealthier local residents profited directly from the African Caribbean trade and plantations. John Thomson, son of Maurice Thomson, leased Lee House for three years after his father’s death. Like many whose wealth was founded on slavery, he became a member of ‘the mother of parliaments’, was knighted and was later made Baron Haversham. His wife, Frances Annesley, was a member of an old Lee family. Her father, Arthur Annesley, Earl of Anglesey, successively President of the Council of State and Treasurer of the Navy, amd Lord Privy Seal, had a hand in the many decisions affecting the governing of newly founded slave-based colonies in the West Indies, including petitions from Maurice Thomson and other merchants.
Another Lee resident, William Coleman, was a factor or agent based in London. Coleman’s wife was related to one of the Deputy Governors of the Caribbean island of St Christopher. He made a pile from trade with the West Indies, specifically arranging credit to individual planters, then importing their goods and exporting them supplies – for a fat commission. Coleman took up residence at the Manor House in Lee around 1750. Already 66 when he bought the property, Coleman made a number of further property purchases which extended the family estate locally. In February 1748 part of Lee Farm had been added. In April 1766 more land was acquired.
As a young man in the 1720s, Coleman had been the London agent for the West Indian proprietor and planter John Pinney and his heirs. Pinney was a plantation owner on the island of Nevis. (Pinney himself may have been associated with Lee).
John Pinney, a ‘respected and responsible’ planter with political clout in Nevis, treated his slaves in the manner of the times. Profit from sugar was all-consuming. Pinney is reputed to have made his (black) sugar boiler test the sugar before by making him dip thumb and forefinger into the scalding syrup to see whether the sugar that stuck had boiled to the right consistency.
Thomas Lucas was nephew and partner to William Coleman. Their firm, Coleman & Lucas, did lots of business with John Pinney in Nevis until 1773. (Some property purchased by Coleman at Lee was possibly an investment on behalf of Lucas). When Coleman died, some 88 years old in 1771, his chief heir was Thomas Lucas whose inheritance included not only the manor house at Lee but also property in the West Indies. Lucas’ influence with Nevis Governor Woodley ensured John Pinney’s son, John Pinney the younger, was appointed to a seat on the council of Nevis.
Economic power in the West Indies meant wealth, which meant political power in the islands, and guaranteed political power in Westminster. The ‘West India Lobby’ evolved a connected, influential network which worked for their own interests above all. Thomas Lucas was elected an MP for Cornwall in 1780, became treasurer of Guy’s Hospital in 1764, and its president in 1775. When he lost his Parliamentary seat four years later, one of the new MPs for his area was Francis Baring, (who also succeeded him in his residence at Lee).
Lucas established a family tomb at St Margaret’s, Lee. His first wife was buried there in 1756 and his second wife in 1776. On his own death in 1784 most of his property passed to his third wife, Eliza, who subsequently married John Angerstein of Greenwich (see below), taking her inherited property into her marriage with him.
Francis Baring was apprenticed to the leading Manchester and West Indies merchant Samuel Touchet. Baring’s rise to power an influence was meteoric: he allegedly made his first money out of dealing in slaves while still a very young man of 16 (though where did he get the money to buy them?). He became a household name in banking and finance. He joined the Baring family business (oh, THAT’s where he got his money aged 16!); they traded in linen and wool. Francis developed this into a merchant banking house. (Capitalism being the bastard child of textiles and banking since its very birth). Baring was made a baronet in 1793: three years later he purchased the manor house and estate in Lee. He enlarged the estate and built the present day Lee Manor House. By 1815 Baring’s had become the largest and richest merchant banking house in the country.
Baring operated at the highest level of finance and politics for the time: director of the East India Company, adviser to government, financier in the French Revolutionary/Napoleonic Wars… slave trading was only a part of his top-flight manipulation in the formative years of UK capitalism….
Barings Bank of course hit the international spotlight in 1995 when a single broker, Nicholas Leeson, caused its bankruptcy. Baring even got his own street named after him in Lewisham – Baring Road, Lee, which runs from the South Circular up to Grove Park.
A Lewisham maroon plaque commemorating Francis Baring was installed on the old Manor House, referring to him as a merchant, without mention of what the ‘merchant’ refers to. In June 2020, after local pressure, Lewisham Council covered it up, pending a broader discussion about its future. The context of this was the series of Black Lives Matter protests across the country and the debate sparked by the depedestalisation of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol.
The Slavers of Blackheath
In the 18th century, around 20 merchants lived in houses around the edge of Blackheath: a fair number of them were deeply involved in the slave trade and slave plantations.
William Innes lived in Grotes Place. He was a leading West India merchant and supporter of the slave trade. Thomas King, of Dartmouth Grove, was a partner in the firm of slave agents Camden, Calvert & King. At one time the company is thought to have owned one in every five slave ships that sailed from London to Africa. Francis Abbatt was a shipping merchant and made much of his wealth shipping slaves. He is now most remembered for founding the Royal Blackheath Golf Club, thought to be the oldest golf club in Great Britain.
Local historians think the golf course became an ideal place for merchants involved in the slave trade to share ideas and make trading agreements.
Members of the golf club included:
Thomas King, (see above)
Francis Baring, of Lee, above.
Ambrose Crowley, an iron merchant who manufactured iron manacles, shackles and collars used on slave ships. These were used to stop enslaved Africans from fighting back, and to stop them committing suicide by throwing themselves overboard, which some Africans chose to do to escape a life of slavery.
In 1744, Alderman Samuel Fludyer purchased the prestigious Dacre House in Blackheath, adding a cherry orchard to the estate. Samuel and Thomas Fludyer were partners in a well-known firm of warehousemen and merchants, who traded widely, supplying the West Indies plantations with goods.
In 1747 the wealthy alderman is reputed to have spent the considerable sum of £1,500 on his campaign to be elected for Parliament. Fludyer was an associate of William Beckford, Alderman, MP, and massive slave plantation owner – the ‘uncrowned King of Jamaica’. Samuel was elected MP for Chippenham in 1754.
The most famous of the Blackheath slave-owning businessmen was John Julius Angerstein, founder of Lloyds of London, set up to insure slave ships and co-owned plantations in Grenada.. A cautious businessman, Angerstein made much of his wealth through East Indian trade, but he inherited extensive West Indian business interests, through his wife’s earlier marriage to Thomas Lucas (see above). He owned a third share in a slave estate in Grenada, one of the islands that fell under English control at the end of the Anglo-French Seven Years War (1756-63).
Angerstein built Woodlands House, Mycenae Road, Blackheath between 1772 and 1774; in the latter year he drew up the policies on which Lloyds’ insurance business is still based. Angerstein’s painting collection later became the foundation for the National Gallery.
He was also a Churchwarden at St Alfege’s church in Greenwich. Inside the church, near the west door there is a memorial stone to him. Angerstein Wharf, Horn Road, in Charlton, also is also named for him.
The above reflects a small part of the wealth slave-trading brought to one part of London. Pan that out across the capital, across the country. Whatever change the Black Lives Matter movement can bring to bear on the present and the future, understanding how kidnapping, exploitation and genocide of Africans profited the ruling elites in the UK, and fed into the culture, is crucial. It’s not erasing history to draw attention to statues, memorials and street names that honour these wealthy men, or to point out where their wealth came from, and what that money created and contributed to.
Some great investigative work has been and is being done in many areas… check out Inside Croydon with some research into slave-ownership, in another South London manor, Croydon…
More info on who owned slaves – not just who traded them and profited from this hour-industry – can be found at Legacies of British Slave-ownership
Set against the luxurious homes and self-congratulatory memorials of the golfing slave-trading elite, there is of course the mirror image of their lives – the lives of the Black Africans they shipped in, shipped out, bought and sold; ownership of and attendance from personal Black slaves and later Black servants was prestigious in itself, like a kind of exotic badge of your status. British plantation-owners, merchants and naval officers often brought their slaves with them when they returned to from their plantations.
But Black people and their descendants made independent lives as well, although expansive monuments to their passing through are fewer…
Deptford was the first place any slaves brought to England in the early days of the trade may have disembarked. African Olaudah Equiano – who fought to become a freed man and was one of the key figures in the slave abolitionist movement – was initially trafficked to Deptford, as related in his autobiographical ‘Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano’:
“we… arrived at Deptford the 10th of December, where we cast anchor just as it was high water. The ship was up about half an hour, when my master ordered the barge to be manned; and all in an instant, without having before given me the least reason to suspect anything of the matter, he forced me into the barge; saying, I was going to leave him, but he would take care I should not… he swore I should not move out of his sight; and if I did he would cut my throat, at the same time taking his hanger. I began, however, to collect myself and, plucking up courage, I told him I was free, and he could not by law serve me so… just as we had got a little below Gravesend, we came alongside of a ship which was going away the next tide for the West Indies; her name was the Charming Sally, Captain James Doran; and my master went on board and agreed with him for me; and in a little time I was sent for into the cabin. When I came there Captain Doran asked me if I knew him; I answered that I did not; Then, said he, ‘you are now my slave’.”
In 1772: “a Captain at Deptford beat his Negro boy in so cruel a manner that he died”.
The earliest known record of a black person living in Deptford is a record in the parish register of the burial in 1593 of ‘Cornelius a Blackamoor’ on 2nd March at St Margaret’s church in Lee. Black people were often referred to as “Negroes” and “blackamoors” at this time. There is no information in the record about Cornelius’s age, his job or his family.
There are no records to show how many black people lived in London in Cornelius’s lifetime: enough, though, to provoke decrees from Queen Elizabeth I that there were too many and they should be expelled. The total number of people living in London then is also unknown. Many historians agree that during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the number of black people living in London increased. Historian Steve Martin estimates that by the end of the eighteenth century London was home to 10,000 to 15,000 people of African origin, among a total of 800,000 residents. Enough lived around central London to form networks and communities: a number gathered, for instance, to hold a party celebrate Lord Mansfield’s court ruling in 1772 that transporting slaves onto British shores was demonstrably illegal.
From the evidence provided by parish registers we know that many black people lived in and around Deptford in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These records, now held in local archives, show that increasing numbers of black people were baptised or buried at St Nicholas’ church and St Paul’s church in Deptford; St Margaret’s Church in Lee and St Alfege’s Church in Greenwich. Deptford and Greenwich were home to a lot of people who worked at the dockyards or on board ships. It is likely that many were of African origin. Archaeological excavations at the burial ground at the old Greenwich naval hospital (now the Royal Naval College) showed that two sailors buried there were African. Parish registers show that black mariners were buried at St Paul’s church in Deptford. Other archive records show that a black seaman who lived in Deptford led a mutiny on the ship, the Zant in 1721, because “we had too many Officers, and that the work was too hard.”
Samuel Pepys, the famous London diarist, wrote in his diary in April 1669: “for a cookmaid, we have… used a blackmoore of Mr. Batelier’s, Doll, who dresses our meat mighty well.” We do not know any more of Doll’s story, but perhaps when she came to London she arrived at Deptford.
Not all black people who came to London were slaves. Many were free people and some decided to settle in or near Deptford, where the ships they arrived in had landed. Most people of African origin who lived in London had jobs and lived as ordinary members of the working class. Only a few, like Olaudah Equiano, were members of the middle and upper classes. Many black people in London, like many white people, lived in poverty, and there are very few detailed records of their lives. There are very few details of the lives of poor people living in London at this time as most could not write, and so were unable to write diaries, letters or books about their lives.
Belinda Charlton was baptised at St Margaret’s church, Lee on 13th June 1725. Her baptism record shows that she was born in 1705, and she was described as a ‘black maid lodging at Blackheath’. She was not described as ‘servant of’ or ‘belonging to’ someone, which might have been written in the record if she was a slave. In the eighteenth century it was thought that people who were baptised could not be made slaves, and baptism became a sign of being free. So Belinda Charlton may have been a free woman, perhaps working in one of the large houses owned by wealthy merchants in Lee and Blackheath. From the record in the parish register we do not know Belinda’s age, place of origin or when she died.
It is likely that some of the black people living in south London in the eighteenth century had been soldiers. Thousands of Black people who had fought on the side of the British in the American War of Independence in 1776 came to Britain. Slaves who had fought in the war were promised their freedom and a pension. The British government never gave them their pensions, so many were forced to become beggars.
As opposition to the slave trade began to grow in the eighteenth century, black people living or working in south London added their voices to the call for abolition. One group who we know about were the Sons of Africa, who included Olaudah Equiano.
And in the centuries since, Lewisham, Deptford, New Cross and other parts of South East London have become home to large Black communities – many descended from the slaves shipped to the Caribbean by Angerstein, Hawkins and their ilk… The presence of so many Africans has always enraged racists, especially those who love to celebrate the Empire, Britain’s glorious naval past, etc – all built on selling human beings for profit. But attempts to drive Back people out from this area have met with fierce resistance – witness the Battle of Lewisham and the Black People’s Day of Action,
It’s racism that tries to erase history – not toppling statues.