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The struggle to end slavery. A timeline


1444 The first public sale of African slaves takes place in Lagos, Portugal.
1482 The Portuguese start building the first permanent slave trading post at Elmina on the Gold Coast (now Ghana). The fort eventually passes through Dutch and English hands and by the eighteenth century was handling 30,000 slaves each year.
1510 The first slaves arrive in the Spanish colonies of South America, having travelled via Spain.
1518 The first direct shipment of slaves from Africa to the Americas takes place.
1562 John Hawkins becomes the first English man to trade in slaves. He is a cousin on Sir Francis Drake.
1564-5 Hawkins leads a second slaving expedition. This is partly sponsored by Elizabeth I who allows Hawkins to make use of a royal ship, the Jesus of Lubeck. The expedition is a success.
1567-8 A third slaving expedition is mounted by Hawkins. Although this starts well, bad weather forces them to take shelter in Mexico where their ships (including two royal vessels) are captured by the Spanish. No further expeditions are made for some years.
1619 Dutch traders start to convey slaves from Africa to America.
1630s British interest in the slave trade grows as plantations are established in the Americas. A number of companies are set up to deal with the trade.
1652 The Dutch establish a colony at the Cape of Good Hope. Their position now makes them the dominant slaving nation.
1660 The Royal Adventurers into Africa, a British company, is set up to trade in slaves and other commodities from Africa. By 1665 it was able to earn £100,000 but competition from private traders forced the company to cease trading in 1672.
1672 The Royal African Company is established with James, Duke of York, as its governor. Between 1672 and 1689 it is responsible for transporting nearly 90,000 slaves. It suffers competition from private traders but survives and prospers.
1700s Britain becomes the dominant slave-trading nation.
1713 Britain wins the right to carry slaves to the Spanish Americas under the Terms of the Treaty of Utrecht (drawn up at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession). They sell the rights to the South Sea Company for £7.5m. Despite difficulties the Company survives and prospers.
1780s The slave trade reaches its peak. It is estimated that one slave ship leaves Britain every other day. The toll on human life is considerable. The Privy Council estimate that half of the slaves are dying either in transit or in the initial period after their arrival (called 'the seasoning').
1787 The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade founded by Granville Sharp and Thomas Clarkson.
1788 The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade organises its first petition campaign. Over 100 petitions complaining about slavery are presented to Parliament.
1789 Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave, publishes his autobiography, The Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavas Vassa, The African. The book is a best seller.
1792 The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade organises its second petition campaign. This time 519 petitions are presented to Parliament.
1807 Britain passes the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act which outlaws the British Atlantic slave trade.
Post-1807 The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade is superseded by the African Institution which campaigns for other countries to ban the slave trade.
1808 United States passes legislation banning the slave trade.
1811 Slavery is abolished in Spain and the Spanish colonies. Cuba, however, refuses to accept the ban and continues to deal in slaves.
1813 Slave trading is banned by Sweden.
1814 Slave trading is banned by The Netherlands.

Slave trading is abolished by France although it is not made effective until 1826.

Great Britain and Spain sign a treaty prohibiting the slave trade.


Portugal abolishes the slave trade north of the equator.

Britain places a naval squadron off the West African coast to enforce the ban on slave trading.

1823 The Anti-Slavery Society formed. Members include Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce and Henry Brougham. The Society campaigns for better conditions for slaves in the West Indies and for the gradual abolition of slavery.
1820s Other anti-slavery groups are formed, many of which argue for the immediate abolition of slavery.
1828-1830 Parliament is presented with over 5000 petitions calling for the abolition of slavery.
1833 The Abolition of Slavery Act is passed. It brings into effect the gradual abolition of slavery in all British colonies. Plantation owners in the West Indies receive £20 million in compensation.

The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society is formed to campaign for the global abolition of slavery.

Rebellion aboard the slave-ship, Amistad, takes place. The rebelling slaves are eventually allowed by an American court to return to Africa.

1848 Slavery is abolished by France.
1851 Slave trading is abolished by Brazil.
1858 Slavery is abolished in Portuguese colonies although all slaves are subject to a 20 year apprenticeship.
1861 Slavery is abolished in the Dutch colonies of the Caribbean.
1865 Slavery is abolished in the United States following the Civil War.
1886 Slavery is abolished in Cuba.
1888 Slavery is abolished in Brazil.

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