Abolition of slavery in the Americas

Painting of PS Banshee at sea

'PS Banshee' by Samuel Walters, Accession number 1968.5.2

Built in 1863 by Jones, Quiggin and Co of Liverpool, the Banshee was the first of the so-called 'blockade runners' ordered by the Confederate States to beat the blockade imposed by the Federal Navy during the American Civil War.

Abolition of slavery in the United States

The slave trade was abolished in the United States from 1 January 1808. However, some slaving continued on an illegal basis for the next fifty years. One popular subterfuge was to use whaling ships.

The campaign to end slavery itself in the United States was long and bitter. The struggle was advanced by the efforts of more than 100 antislavery societies, through periodicals like William Garrison's "The Liberator" and also by the passive and active resistance of Black people.

Whilst slavery was gradually reduced in the northern states, the determination of the southern states to oppose emancipation led to the Civil War of 1861 - 65. Many Blacks fought on the Federal side and separate Black units were formed.

The ending of slavery in 1865 did not improve the lot of most Black Americans and whites developed new forms of discrimination, such as segregation, over the following 100 years. The civil rights movements, led by such figures as Martin Luther King, eventually achieved success in establishing legal equality. However, despite the undoubted achievement of individual Blacks, most Americans of colour still face economic and social discrimination and disadvantage.

Frederick Douglas
Frederick Douglas (1818-1895) escaped from slavery and became one of the foremost antislavery campaigners of his generation. His writings were influential and he also visited Britain and Europe lecturing and gathering support.

Abolition of slavery in the Caribbean and South America

Despite the abolition of the slave trade by several European states in the early years of the 19th century and the subsequent attempts to suppress it, illegal slaving continued until the 1870s. Indeed, approximately a quarter of all Africans who were enslaved for the trade were transported across the Atlantic after 1807. The largest proportion of this trade operated directly between Africa and the Americas, notably Brazil and Cuba. The last known slave ship landed its cargo in Cuba in 1867.

The abolition of slavery was equally protracted. Slavery was abolished in British Caribbean colonies from 1834, though slaves were forced to undertake a further 4 year period of apprenticeship before they were finally freed. The achievement of freedom is thus dated from 1 August 1838. Brazil was again the last country to emancipate all its slaves in 1888.

Freedom plate with scene of former slave family in front of cabin

Detail from plate with scene of former slave family in front of their cabin, with text: 'FREEDOM FIRST OF AUGUST 1838'

However, abolition brought no improvement for the majority of ex-slaves. Indeed, the development of sugar beet and other sources of sugar saw economic depression and hardship throughout much of the Caribbean. The economic and political history of many of the former slave colonies of Latin America and the Caribbean has continued to be one of little improvement for the majority of the population.