Embedded image permalinkWhen people think about the history of the slave trade they commonly think only of the US slave trade. Less well known is the history of the British slave trade. Jamaica’s intervention has just changed all that.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent visit to Jamaica proved a humiliating experience not only for him but for the entire British establishment. It was the first visit to the former British colony by a prime minister in fourteen years, and given how it turned out it’s a fair bet it will be at least another fourteen years before a British prime minister visits the Caribbean island again.

Cameron’s visit kicked off with his announcement that Britain is to invest £25 million in building a new prison on the island; so that Jamaican nationals currently being held in British prisons can be deported home. However, his announcement was overshadowed by a demand for reparations from Britain by Jamaican campaigners and politicians over Britain’s role in a slave trade which decimated

Jamaica and the wider Caribbean; and which has been a factor in the region’s economic and social dislocation and retardation since.

Britain’s slave trade lasted from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century. Research reveals that 10,000 ships were sent from Britain to Africa over the course of the British slave trade, from where they carried slaves to work on British slave plantations in the Americas, including Jamaica. Professor and historian, David Richardson, has calculated that a total of around 3.5 million African slaves were transported on these slave ships.

Also known as the ‘triangular trade’, ships transporting slaves to the Americas were then loaded with the sugar, tobacco, and other goods produced on the plantations, before being carried back to Europe where they were sold to finance sending said ships to Africa again for more slaves, thus repeating the cycle.

In the early 18th century the slave trade was the most lucrative part of Britain’s economy. Without the huge income it derived Britain would never have been able to develop the industrial and military strength responsible for forging its empire and, with it, the political, cultural, and social institutions that helped cement its status as the most powerful country in the world during the 18th and 19th century.

This power and economic might was built on the backs of the savagery and barbarity of human slavery, during which millions of men, women, and children suffered and endured unimaginable cruelty. Countries such as Jamaica were de-developed, their societies, histories, and cultures scarred beyond measure. Those scars are yet to heal.

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