Liberated Africans is the first digital publication focused exclusively on the operations of the world's earliest international courts dedicated to the humanitarian effort to stop human trafficking. This resource provides an unprecedented amount of data on the life experiences of individuals who at the time were designated "Liberated Africans." In the course of this global abolition movement, documentation was assembled around the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The sheer scale of record-keeping is perhaps unprecedented in humanities and social science research. The diverse types of documents include proceedings for about 1,000 trials, registers containing biographical sketches for people removed from slave ships (including physical descriptions), labor contracts, anti-slavery legislation, correspondence on resettlement policies, images of captured slave ships and even photographs of some Liberated Africans.

Archival Sources

Materials hosted on this digital archive originate from different archives, libraries and the personal collections of numerous scholars from around the world. Due to British efforts to abolish the slave trade, a large proportion of records hosted herein are held in the British National Archives, Kew and involved series from: Foreign Office (FO), Colonial Office (CO), Admiralty (ADM), among many others. In support of this project, the British National Archives has issued a license [inert link to license here] to republish their materials they have digitized, or the originate from the personal collections of this project's many contributors. We also make use of records digitized through the British Library's Endangered Archives Programmer (project number EAP443), especially in relation to the Sierra Leone Public Archives. As this resource continues to expand, other sources from other world archives will be made available depending on licensing agreements. We aim to include sources from other national archives and libraries in most of the countries affected by the abolition of the slave trade. In particular, we are targeting materials from: archives in the Abu Dhabi, Aden, Angola, Antigua, the Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, France, the Gambia, Germany, Grenada, Guianas, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Liberia, Mauritius, Muscat, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Portugal, RĂˆunion, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Scotland, Spain, Suriname, St. Helena, Tortola, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zanzibar, among other places. Since many Liberated Africans adopted Christianity, there are also source materials in records compiled by the Catholic Church, Church Missionary Society, Lutheran Historical Society, Methodist Missionary Society, among others. The pdf file names for downloadable records obtained from this website include an abbreviated citation, which is explained further in the guidebook.

The Registers of Liberated Africans

This digital archive hosts query-based search engines linking users to digital copies and databased transcriptions of the Registers of Liberated Africans, which are arguably the most comprehensive set of biographical sketches for thousands of women, men, and a large proportion of children, recorded immediately after their removal from slave ships. Register data include names, ages, sex, height, nations, and physical descriptions detailing ethnic scarifications, brandings, disease, and/or physical abuse. Recent estimates determine that over 100,000 people were registered, mostly in Britain's main base of operation for the suppression of the slave trade in Freetown, Sierra Leone. It is worth noting that in both Sierra Leone and Cuba, but not Brazil, attempts were made to document the African names of Liberated Africans. Scholars have been attempting to interpret the language of these names and other biographic details to evaluate the demography and ethnolinguistic composition of the slave trade. Variations in the register occur depending on the region, period and person who compiled these lists. The three main areas where court officials made the registers were Cuba, Sierra Leone and Brazil. Due to international law, the registers were made in the official language of the place where the court existed; hence Spanish for Cuba, English for Sierra Leone, and Portuguese for Brazil. To complicate matters, abolitionists made numerous copies of the registers which were not always precise and variations between copies occurred. To this day, it remains unknown which copy was the "original."

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Register of Liberated Africans from Sierra Leone (1808)

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Register of Liberated Africans from Cuba (1824)

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Register of Liberated Africans from Brazil (1821)

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Register of Liberated Africans from East Africa (1872)

Other Trial Records

Much like the registers, there was much variation in terms of court proceedings. Generally speaking, British officials attempted to provide abstracts of the cases. These documents generally provided a summary of how the British captured enslaved Africans, usually at sea by the royal navy, and a summary of the verdict, which was mostly "condemned" if engaged in illegal trade, or "restored" if trade was deemed legal. In most successful cases, condemned slave ships were auctioned and the proceeds funded the courts. As a result, there were often expense reports included for each case.

Trial Abstract (Enlarge View)

Expense Report (Enlarge View)

Other records also include: testimonies, depositions, correspondence, resettlement policies, and changes to policies and procedures which often resulted in legislature. Beyond trial records, there is a wide range of materials because many Liberated Africans were baptized, enrolled in schools, enlisted in the military, got married, bought and sold property, moved to different places, and even had death certificates. In fact, some Liberated Africans were prominent historical people, such as Reverand Samuel Ajayi Crowther who became the first African Anglican bishop. Linking in primary sources with complex metadata therefore enables a in depth study of the entire abolition movement from the perspective of the people involved.

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