Liverpool and the Slave Trade

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Image courtesy of Liverpool Daily Post and Echo

This month marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade and for me, Stephen Guy, it recalls an ancestor who was involved in the trade.

A grim period of Liverpool’s history was when the town was Europe’s leading slave trade port.

Comparatively few slaves were brought to Liverpool - it was the trade itself that generated big profits.

Ships sailed from Liverpool laden with manufactured goods such as pots and pans, guns, alcohol and textiles. These were exchanged for slaves in Africa who were then taken across the Atlantic.

The Africans were then sold and such commodities as sugar, coffee, tobacco, rice and cotton – all produced by slave labour – were purchased.

The slave trade was fuelled by profit and Europeans’ desire for luxuries, creating the demand for captive Africans to do the work. They received no pay and were not allowed any freedom. Millions of enslaved Africans were taken to the Caribbean and the Americas not only on Liverpool ships but from other British and European ports.

It took many years of campaigning by abolitionists such as William Wilberforce, Olaudah Equiano and Liverpool‘s William Roscoe to finally get the trade outlawed in Britain in 1807.

The Transatlantic Slavery Gallery at Merseyside Maritime Museum focuses on this fascinating and thought-provoking story.

A map shows the location of various British slaving ports and the approximate number of slave ship voyages between 1700 and 1807. Liverpool had the greatest number with 5,300 voyages during this period.

A globe shows the triangular route taken by slave ships. First they went from Liverpool to west Africa. After picking up slaves they crossed the infamous Middle Passage over the Atlantic lasting six to eight weeks. The third part of the journey was back to Liverpool.

My ancestor Earl Guy set sail from Liverpool on the Ariadne as second mate in 1802. They picked up 177 slaves at the Rio Pongo in Africa before setting off for Demerara (now Guyana) in South America.

Earl was one of eight crewmen who died on the voyage and was presumably buried at sea.

He may have been named after the Earles, who were a well-known family of Liverpool slave traders. There is still an Earle Street, off Old Hall Street in Liverpool city centre, named after them.

A new Maritime Tale appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.