The database builds on two earlier phases of work on British slave-ownership which worked backwards from the end of slavery to trace the development of British colonial slavery. In 1833 Parliament finally abolished slavery in the British Caribbean, Mauritius and the Cape. The slave trade had been abolished in 1807, but it had taken another 26 years to effect the emancipation of the enslaved. However, in place of slavery the negotiated settlement established a system of apprenticeship, tying the newly freed men and women into another form of unfree labour for fixed terms. It also granted £20 million in compensation, to be paid by British taxpayers to the former slave-owners. That compensation money provided the starting point for our first project. In the second phase, we tracked back to c. 1763 the ownership histories of the 4000 or so estates identified in the first phase. In doing so, we doubled the number of estates identified and added another 20,000 slave-owners. By its nature the second phase will never be truly complete, and we continue to add to our data and publish new findings under the Centre.
At the core of the completed project is this online Encyclopaedia of British Slave-ownership containing information about (1) every slave-owner in the British Caribbean, Mauritius or the Cape at the moment of abolition in 1833; (2) all the estates we have identified in the British Caribbean in the period 1763-1833; and (3) all the slave-owners, attorneys, mortgagees and legatees we have identified to date for the estates between 1763 and 1833. Entries for individuals include information about the activities, affiliations and legacies of these men and women, with a particular emphasis on the "absentee" owners based in Britain.
The records of the Slave Compensation Commission, set up to manage the distribution of the £20 million compensation, provide a more or less complete census of slave-ownership in the British Empire in the 1830s. The individuals named in these records form the starting point of the Encyclopaedia. The records for the estates between 1763 and 1833 are more fragmented. These are discussed in more detail in the section on [Sources for the Estates] elsewhere in this website.
Please note that the records we have concern slave-owners; regrettably, we do not have systematic information on the enslaved themselves, although we are working to link our data to the Registers of the enslaved people, a limited but - in comparison with the silence of the rest of the archive - nevertheless a rich source on the enslaved people that were produced for most British colonies every three years in the period c. 1817-1834.
The registers of the enslaved are held by the National Archives; you can read a brief account of them on the Moving Here: UK Government Web Archive site.
(The Moving Here pages are no longer maintained: see Moving Here archived pages.)
There is also an enormous amount of information about the enslaved in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.
If you have any questions, please contact us.
The following podcast by the project team about the original project and its aims dates from 2009. It last a little over 10 minutes. Click here (opens in a new window): LBS aims.
And you can also see a short video of Catherine Hall talking about the original project: