‘If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.’ – Abraham Lincoln
Since 2007, 25 March has marked the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, with numerous events being held by the United Nations to commemorate the millions of victims of slavery. To coincide with this important act of remembrance, we have chosen a group of titles that have their own special stories of slavery to tell present-day readers. These thought-provoking and informative books offer insights into many aspects of slavery and the slave trade, dark chapters in human history that still resonate deeply with so many.
1. Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, David Eltis and David Richardson
The first comprehensive and up-to-date atlas of the slave trade from Africa to the New World is included in this publication by two world-leading historians. Over a period of more than 400 years, over 15 million were taken across the ocean to almost all countries that possessed an Atlantic coastline. In this book Eltis and Richardson use maps to show the countries that were involved in the slave trade, examining the locations in which the ships were outfitted, boarded and many other intriguing geographical dimensions. This publication marks a significant achievement, and has been widely regarded as a groundbreaking and highly important piece of work, that does justice to the so many that suffered the inhumanity of slavery.
2. The Fortunes of Francis Barber, Michael Bundock
A compelling and moving book, The Fortunes of Francis Barber, follows the manservant of the writer Samuel Johnson, from his birth in Jamaica to being brought to London in 1750. Barber had a fascinating life, serving in the British Navy, before returning to Johnson’s household, where the writer became increasingly dependent on his servant, who by this time had become both highly educated and devoted to Johnson. Barber’s story provides an insight to the life one of many 18th-century black Britons, who unfortunately are frequently unaccounted for in history. Upon Johnson’s death Barber was made his residual heir and moved to Staffordshire in accordance with the late writer’s request. Bundock’s book provides the perspective of a slave who eventually enjoyed freedom, something that was still withheld from many others of the same period.
3. Indian Ocean Slavery in the Age of Abolition, Robert W. Harms, Bernard K. Freamon and David W. Blight
Despite the British effectively abolishing slavery in the trans-Atlantic world by the end of the 19th century, the same can not be said for both legal and illegal trading of slaves in the Indian Ocean. In fact abolition seemed to spur on these inhumane activities. This publication includes a series of essays by esteemed scholars focusing on a variety of topics that relate to the western Indian Ocean and the slave trade including, British imperialism and slavery; Islamic law and slavery; and the bureaucracy of slave trading. Indian Ocean Slavery in the Age of Abolition provides unique perspectives on atrocious areas of history that are often overlooked. This publication is a must for anyone with interest in slavery, the Islamic world or abolition.
4. Ship of Death, Billy G. Smith
The Hankey was a small ship that left a huge mark on the Atlantic world. Ship of Death follows the voyages of the ship from West Africa to the US, Haiti to London. Those sailing on the Hankey set out with the good intention of starting a colony in West Africa free of slavery, instead the ship is best known for carrying mosquitos infected with yellow fever thus causing a pandemic killing tens of thousands. The horror of this outbreak was not matched until the Spanish flu of 1918. In this book Smith uncovers the long-forgotten story of Hankey, linking it to some of the most significant events of the late 18th century, including the Haitian slave revolution and the Louisiana Purchase.
5. My Bondage and My Freedom, Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass escaped slavery in 1838 and went on to become one of the key figures in the abolitionist movement, renowned for oratory and his writing talents. My Bondage and My Freedom is the powerful personal account of Douglass’s life, in which he condemns the atrocious and evil system in the United States that allowed human beings to be legally regarded as property. This new edition includes an introduction and annotations by David W. Blight, giving further insight into one of the most remarkable treatise on freedom and equality ever written. An astounding and massively important historical figure, Douglass once said ‘I would unite with anybody to do right; and with nobody to do wrong’.
Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) was an American social reformer, orator, author and statesman. David W. Blight is professor of American history at Yale University and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition.
6. The Zong: A Massacre, the Law and the End of Slavery, James Walvin
In late 1781 over 130 enslaved Africans were massacred when thrown from the slave ship Zong, due to the captain’s fear that there was not enough drinking water onboard to last until landing. This horrendous event, retold last year in the film Belle, led to significant reevaluations of the laws that surrounded the slave trade, awakening the abolitionist movement in Britain. James Walvin’s publication provides the most in-depth account of the Zong and its ensuing controversies to date and argues that without the Zong, the history of slavery would have taken an entirely different course, with alternative morals and political trajectories adopted.
James Walvin is professor emeritus, University of York, and a world authority on transatlantic slavery. Among his many previous books are Black Ivory: Slavery in the British Empire and The Trader, The Owner, The Slave: Parallel Lives in the Age of Slavery.