The Atlantic slave trade involved an estimated 12.7 million enslaved Africans and lasted nearly four centuries, while the Indian Ocean trade included more than a million people, but began earlier and continued longer. Over one quarter of those victims boarded slave ships after 1807, when the British and US governments passed legislation curtailing (and ultimately banning) maritime human trafficking. As world powers negotiated anti-slave trade treaties thereafter, British, Portuguese, Spanish, Brazilian, French, and US authorities began seizing ships suspected of prohibited trade, raiding coastal slave barracks, and detaining newly landed slaves in the Americas, Africa, Atlantic and Indian Ocean islands, Arabia, and India. In this process, naval courts, international mixed commissions, and local authorities decided the fates of the survivors around the Atlantic and Indian Ocean littorals. Between 1808 and 1896, this judicial network emancipated roughly 6 percent of an estimated 4 million enslaved Africans. This website retraces the lives of over 250,000 people emancipated under global campaigns to abolish slavery, as well as thousands of officials, captains, crews, and guardians of a special class of people known as "Liberated Africans."
Key Locations of British Abolition Efforts After 1808
This network of international courts produced extensive documentation about tens of thousands of people victimized by the slave trade. These records are scattered in many archives and are written in multiple languages. Each case adjudicated before these courts usually contains information about the condition of enslavement along the coast of West Africa, the events leading up to the seizure of the slave ship, and the judicial process resulting in emancipation, which was usually followed by periods of indentured servitude lasting several years.
The most fascinating historical evidence these courts produced were registers of Liberated Africans. These records amount to descriptive lists of people physically removed from slave ships, or captured close to the African coast. The worldwide collection amounts to detailed records for over 100,000 individuals. The data includes their African names, aliases, age, sex, height, a brief physical description, among other details worthy of historical analysis. Beyond doubt, the scale of record-keeping in multiple languages enables an unprecedented analysis of: 1) a major branch of the African diaspora; 2) the socio-economic development of the Caribbean; 3) slavery as a crime against humanity; 4) a global human rights movement; and 5) complex meanings associated with "identity," "slavery," "indentured servitude," and "freedom."
The need for collaborative research related to the global diaspora of Africans and their descendants is challenging because the documentation is extensive, multilingual, and scattered around the world in hundreds of archives, libraries, churches, courthouses, government offices, museums, ports and personal collections. The overall aim of this project is to bring together as much data as possible regarding the transnational links between these international courts and piece together the lives of over 250,000 Liberated Africans. Unfortunately, the exact number of courts, cases and people involved in the process of abolitionism, and indeed when, where and how many Liberated Africans resettled around the world, remains unclear clear. The long-term goal of this project will resolve these issues through the reorganization of voluminous documentation generated during hundreds of trials; and by following individuals before, during, and after emancipation. The contributors of this project are constantly searching for source materials related to this theme from around the world, and are working hard to upload as much data as possible on an ongoing basis. For more information about the sources click here.