Bristol...the slavery trail
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The Docks

The City Docks
The area around Bristol Docks has many connections to the slave trade. There are many merchants houses, and the sites of ship yards, trading rooms and warehouses, public houses and coffee shops.
We have a lot of records which tell part of the story of the past, but often we only have tiny little parts of really interesting stories. We have things like private letters and business papers, and we have paintings and newspapers. Although we cannot always piece together the whole story we do know that Bristol was a very busy port in the eighteenth century (the 1700's), and that a few families got very rich by profiting from the low-paid work of thousands of sailors and labourers and the unpaid work of slaves.

The Black Presence in Bristol in the Eighteenth Century
We know that there were Africans and other ethnic minorities in Britain during the Roman period. By the time of Elizabeth I there were ethnic minority communities in several of Britain's small towns and cities, especially where there were ports. Throughout Britain's history there has been emigration (exit from) from Britain, and immigration into Britain. Up to the mid-twentieth century ethnic minority communities were small, but were contributing to Britain's growing wealth and strength.

African and 'creole' (American/Caribbean-born) slaves did not come in large numbers to Bristol. Not many historical records exist to tell us the ethnic origin of people in the past, but historians in Bristol have shown that in the eighteenth century there were there hundred or so people of African origin that we can name. Most of these came to Bristol as servants. A few came as 'free' men and women, mostly as sailors, others as skilled workers in a variety of trades. At least one son of a West African slave-trading Prince visited Bristol in the mid- 18th century and others came to London and Liverpool to learn English.

Some times plantation owners had relationships with slaves or servants, and the children born as a result occasionally were brought to Bristol. Some of these mixed-race children of the wealthy plantation owners came to Bristol to go to school, To begin with Black servants and slaves in the household of a rich person were an exotic and unusual status symbol, but by the later part of the 1700's as slave revolts became more common in the Caribbean and British courts less tolerant about masters keeping slaves in Britain itself, Black servants became unfashionable. As a result, work was increasingly harder for Black people to find.

Our information about the black community in Bristol is gradually growing as more research is done, but we can only reconstruct a small part of the story because historical records are never complete.

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