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It is 9:00 am and Agnes Scott’s SPARC is starting. The first presentation that I saw was a history presentation by Ashley Lawrie entitled The England They Knew. The main topic of her presentation was to discuss England and the West Indies and the effect that these places had on each other particularly during the time of slavery and the slave trade. There are many documents and reports about how England was the oppressor and the West Indies were the oppressed, but she took a different route and decided to research on how the English viewed themselves during this time. Did they view themselves as oppressors or should outlying factors be considered? Before she started to talk about her research she gave out some background information about event occurring during this time period. Some background information included:

  • change in diet (more sugar was consumed)
  • West Indies experienced competition from the United States colonies in sugar production
  • sugar revolution lead to the expansion of the slave trade
  • debates about the ethics of slavery were based on a religious perspectives
  • proslavery advocates viewed slavery as god’s divine will, while antislavery advocates view-point was treat others the way you want to be treated
  • 1713 was the beginning of British national law that legalized slavery, but around the 1770s slavery was beginning to be frowned upon

It was interesting that in such a short period of that people’s views about slavery began to change, particularly the views of people in England. This change in viewpoint was due to the events that were happening in England that placed a lot of emphasis on human rights. Some influences that caused these changes were the Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, and England’s civil war against the monarchy. The desire for equality, human rights, and the questions about freedom caused these great shifts in slavery view points. People were starting to realize that since they were being treated unfair in their homeland that the slaves in the West Indies must have been experiencing the same unfairness. However, the English people did not know the extent of their treatment.
It should also be taken into consideration that due to the distance of these two places that people were not aware of the actually realities of that were happening to the slaves in the West Indies. They simply thought of slavery as being a work force. It was not until the Quakers, who were traveling in the West Indies to spread their religious views, saw the horrifying treatment of the slaves in the West Indies that people became aware of what was happening. Soon people started writing journals about the things that they had witnessed.
By 1770 there was a case called the Somerset case that had such a major impact on the views of slavery and human rights that many people believe that it led to Britain stopping the slave trade. Charles Steward was a slave owner and he took his slave with him to England. His slave ran way, but he was found. Charles Steward decided to sell him to Jamaica and this decision concerned Somerset’s English godparents, which many slaves had during this time, along with many abolitionist who wanted the antislavery movement to progress. In the end of the case it was concluded that since the slave laws were only colonial laws they did not apply in England. As a result, it was that Somerset was not a slave.
After many debates in parliament it was decided in 1814 to get rid of the slave trade which had significant economic implications on the West Indies because the work force was now gone, it was cheaper to bring slaves in. England soon tried to spread their views about slavery to the United States. It seem that they felt that since they were “Mother” England that they had to right to influence the other colonies.
After listening to Ashley’s presentation it seems that her main points were slavery was everywhere and no one country played a major part in starting slavery it was a group of countries that each played a role in the establishment. The point that I got from her presentation is not to believe every portrayal that you see, just because everything on the internet portrays England as an oppressor does not, mean that every English person approved of the treatment of the slaves. Generalizing is not always an acceptable, because it keeps people from considering all factors and seeing the overall truth about England. Should England be considered an oppressor? In my opinion no, because the fact is that even though they helped to start the slave trade and colonies they have no control over how the colonial slave masters treated their slaves and could not possible know the extent of the treatment since they are not over there.