Home > Books I have read recently, culture > A book about the abolition of the slave trade

A book about the abolition of the slave trade


My latest history read was Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild, a book about the abolition of the slave trade.  If you read it, you will likely never eat sugar in the same way!

Although to our shame, there were many Christians who justified slavery, there was also a group of Christians who who not give up in pursuing the abolition of the slave trade.  Hochschild describes how the abolitionist movement was one of the (if not the) greatest human rights movements of all time–in fact, many of the strategies used by most “citizens’ movements in democratic countries today”, were formulated and perfected by those early abolitionists.  The abolition movement led to laws against child labor and for worker rights, women’s rights and eventually to universal suffrage.  In this book, you meet well-known personalities such as Wilberforce and Newton but also learn about the critical roles of the lessor known Thomas Clarkson and Olaudah Equiano.

Some shocking statistics from the opening chapter (his book does not dwell on statistics).

  • “At the end of the 18th century, three-fourths of all people alive were in bondage of one kind or another.”
  • “Close to 80,000 chained and shackled Africans were loaded onto slave ships and transported to the New World each year.”
  • Often, more than a third of all slaves would die on the voyage and 20% of the sailors would die on the passage or of disease
  • There was an estimated 35,000 Atlantic slave voyages over the three and half centuries of trade

Hochschild sets the scene in the 18th century.

“a world in which the vast majority of people are prisoners.  Most of them have known no other way of life. They are not free to live or go where they want.  They plant, cultivate and harvest most of the earth’s major crops.  They earn no money from their labor.  Their work often lasts 12 to 14 hours a day. Many are subject to cruel whippings or other punishments if they do not work hard enough.  They die young.  They are not chained or bound most of the time, but htey are in bondage, part of a global economy based on forced labor.  Such a world would, of course, be unthinkable today.” 2

A concluding sentence is also worth highlighting, “The end of slavery did not mean the end of injustice, but one measure of human progress, surely, is that today enslaving others is a “crime against humanity” under international law.  360

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