Anti Slavery Society pamphlet
Glasgow City Archives and Special Collections

Olaudah Equiano, abolitionist (c1745-97).
His book about his experiences as a slave shocked British people. He gave lectures in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen in the early 1790s.
Glasgow City Archives and Special Collections

Abolitionists, including Zachary Macaulay
© National Portrait Gallery, London

The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act
Even though slavery had been judged illegal in Scotland (and also in England), the slave trade system was allowed to continue in the British Empire.

It wasn’t until 1807, after a long campaign, that the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed in Britain. Abolitionists came from all walks of life – both rich and poor. Among the first were the Quakers, and many Abolitionists came from evangelical groups. Leading campaigners included William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Zachary Macaulay and Olaudah Equiano. Africans played a major role – enslaved people through resistance on the plantations, and freed Africans by contributing to the campaign in Britain.

The End of Slavery
The Act stopped the transatlantic slave trade in the British Empire, and meant that plantation owners could no longer buy new slaves – but slavery was still legal.

The supporters of Abolition continued their campaign. It was during this time that women played a more visible role – though they were not allowed to vote, they organised lobbying groups in support of Abolition. The plantation owners, and others making profits from slavery, fought hard to uphold the system. However, in 1833, slavery was declared illegal in the British Empire.

An apprenticeship system was put in its place on the plantations - but this proved to be little better than slavery and was abolished in 1838. The plantation owners received compensation for losing their slaves – but the enslaved people received nothing.

In 1783, following the American War of Independence (1775-83), Britain lost its American colonies. This put a stop to Scotland’s lucrative tobacco trade – and several tobacco merchants went bankrupt. Scotland continued to trade with British colonies in the Caribbean. Slavery existed in America until 1867.

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