As Europeans settled in America, in the 16th century, they imported enslaved African workers. As settlements grew so did the demand for slaves. Over the next 300 years, close to eleven million enslaved people were transported across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to America and the West Indies, with Britain leading this trade from the mid 17th century. Ports such as Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow sent out many slave ships each year, bringing great prosperity to their owners. Many other cities also grew rich on the profits of industries which depended on slave-produced materials such as cotton, sugar and tobacco.
The call in Britain to abolish slavery began in the 1760’s supported by both black and white abolitionists. Pro-slavery campaigners argued that the slave trade was important to British economy and claimed that enslaved Africans were well treated. However frequent rebellions by enslaved Africans and evidence of the appalling conditions endured by them led to growing calls to abolish the slave trade. In 1807 Parliament passed an Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which abolished the trade by Britain in enslaved people between Africa, the West Indies and America.
It was clear that enslaved people were being harshly treated and many resisted and rebelled against their enslavement. In 1833 Parliament passed a 2nd act to abolish slavery in the British West Indies, Canada and Southern Africa, making it illegal to buy or own a person. However, slavery continued in other parts of the British Empire including area’s run by the East India Company, Sri Lanka and St.Helena. From 1808 until 1869 the Royal Navy seized over 1600 slave ships, freeing some 150.000 Africans, despite this a further one million people were enslaved and transported throughout the 19th century.