House Barham in Teston

A young boy hidden behind a tree, quickly pulls the rope in his hand. There is a strange scream, a clatter and the boy triumphantly jumps out of his hiding place. At the other end of the rope is a prey, a medium-sized faky bird. A happy boy grabs him under his arm, but unfortunately he doesn’t enjoy his prey too long. Joy is interrupted by voices coming from a distance and quickly returns behind the tree. The view that appears to him is frightening. A procession of people connected by a chain is led by a dark-haired man in a hat. A whip flutters at his side and a rifle hangs on his shoulder. Walking men have ties on their legs and arms and loops on their necks.

V0050647 Group of men and women being taken to a slave market

They are almost naked, barefoot, and blood flows from their feet and body. White armed executioners are coming from their side, and the caravan is closed by another white, whose face shows hatred. Slave traders lead their prey to the ship. This is the scene I remember from the famous TV series Roots, which was broadcast by Polish television during my childhood. Do you remember the famous Kunta Kinte?

The disgusting slave trade lasted forever. Since the discovery of America and the creation of colonies there, people have been brought to work in inhuman conditions on farms, mines and construction sites, about 12 to 15 million people. Most of them were brought from eastern and central Africa. Imported people were treated as property, like the inventory of buyers and owners had the right to do with them what they wanted, even kill. This miserable practice of sending slaves to the colonies was initiated in the fifteenth century by the Portuguese, but quite soon joined by other countries. But don’t think that there were no slaves before. Even before Columbus, prisoners of war from Africa were brought to Europe to become domestic servants in rich houses. In the eighteenth century, London had the largest population of dark-skinned people from Africa, both slaves and fugitives, up to 10,000.

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Johan Zoffany Family with slave

I cannot understand how Christian Europe could agree to such treatment of people. When I hear someone say that people are worse now than ever before, I want to laugh. I remind myself what I studied about the inquisition, slave trade, crusades, etc. and I appreciate the times in which I lived.

In the eighteenth century enlightenment came, and with it some great thinkers, and  the first human rights, the first constitutions. In the United Kingdom, Portugal, the United States and other countries, an opposition against the slave trade has started developing, known as abolitionism. Abolitionists first wanted a ban on the slave trade and then on the abolition of slavery itself.

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The movement was headed by the Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) and the elite of the Evangelical Church headed by Senator William Wilberforce. And this person interests me the most.

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It so happened that about 5 kilometers from my house is Barham House, an elegant, white building, with windows with a wonderful view of the Medway River valley.

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The house has a rich history. It was built for one of the murderers who killed Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. Then it passed from hand to hand until he finally found his way into the hands of the Barham family. And one of the house owners, Lady Barham, invited William Wilberforce to the secret meetings. And not only him. The invited guests came quietly to discuss the difficult situation of slaves and the necessity of abolishing slavery. Step by step successes were achieved, in 1772 all slaves brought to the British Isles gained freedom. Denmark was the first country to forbid the slave trade in 1792, and Great Britain joined sixteen years later. From then on, the British were successful in trying to change the attitude of other countries and enact a comprehensive ban.

The United States from 1807 banned the import of slaves, but trade was still possible inside the country. The abolitionists around Wilberforce continued to fight, meeting and planning at Barham House, amongst other places and finally, by an act of 1833, the British Parliament officially abolished slavery in the country and in the colonies. Unfortunately, the act was signed a month after the death of our parliamentarian.

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