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Preston and the slave trade

Posted on - 3rd October, 2021 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Preston News
A somewhat romanticised image of a slave ship from 1830. Conditions would have been far worse
A somewhat romanticised image of a slave ship from 1830. Conditions would have been far worse

By the 1740s Preston was becoming increasingly prosperous. Demand for luxury goods, such as rum, was growing. Several merchants were eyeing the West Indies trade. At least three locally owned ships were directly involved in moving slaves from the Gold Coast of Africa to Barbados.

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The Lancashire coast and the colonial trade

17th century map of the Fylde coast Pic: John Speed
17th century map of the Fylde coast Pic: John Speed

Most trade from Preston went to the northern European ports, however Kirkham merchants were keen to trade with the West Indies. In 1861 a warehouse was built on the Ribble at Naze Point, to the south of Freckleton. Furthermore, there was another warehouse on the Wyre. Exports included Lancashire cheeses, on unrefrigerated ships! Most of the cheese arrived rotten. Rum and sugar was imported.

Lancaster

Lancaster was heavily involved in the colonial trade. The image below was taken in one of the warehouses on the River Lune, now the Maritime Museum. It shows cotton, in bales, and rum in casks, being imported from the USA and the West Indies.

Rum and cotton are unloaded in Lancaster Pic: Geoffrey Whittaker
Rum and cotton are unloaded in Lancaster Pic: Geoffrey Whittaker
Old 18th century warehouses proliferate along the Lune in Lancaster
Old 18th century warehouses proliferate along the Lune in Lancaster

The slave ships, a dangerous trade?

The most profitable trade was in moving slaves. Preston’s connection with the slave trade was brief but brutal. In 1755 three ships sailed to Africa to collect slaves and deliver them to the plantations in Barbados. The Hothersall of Poulton landed 150 slaves. The Betty and Martha landed 65 and the Blossom of Preston, 131. However pirate action and rebelling slaves began to slow interest in the project.

The slave traders

Conditions on the slave ships were horrendous. The trapped ‘passengers’ were crammed in below decks with no sanitation and poor food. Disease was rampant and many deaths occurred. Dead slaves were dumped overboard.

One of the smaller slave ships showing the 'mixed' cargo
One of the smaller slave ships

Escaped slaves destroy the ship

One local ship was lost in 1761, the Mary of Lancaster. While the ship was still anchored in the Gambia River, off James Fort, the slaves began to fight back. They escaped and destroyed the ship. After this incident the Fylde coast ports resumed trade with the Baltic and that ended Preston’s dubious flirtation with the slave trade.

Barbados, a hell hole?

Contemporary illustrations often romanticised the brutal reality of plantation life.

Slaves in Barbados Pic: Barbados Historical Society
Slaves in Barbados Pic: Barbados Historical Society

Kevin Farmer, of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, says: “The wealth accumulated from sugar, rice and cotton in the New World over several hundred years until the late 19th century was the result of the ‘blood, tears and death’ of millions of enslaved Africans.”

The museum contains some gruesome artefacts, such as the brand used to burn an owner’s mark on to the victim. There is also a ball and chain that was attached to prevent the slave escaping.

The end of slavery in the British Empire

After long years of campaigning, the African slave trade was outlawed by the British Empire and the US in 1807. However the trade continued. In fact, slave ships were treated as pirate vessels and hunted down by the Navy. More than 1,600 slave ships were captured up to 1860. Unfortunately, the trade continued as the southern states of the US maintained slavery on the cotton plantations. The American Civil War ended slavery in the south and a sad chapter of human history came to an end in 1865.



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