The fight to end slavery, like the fight against the slave trade, was a long one. In Aberdeen it began in 1825 with the formation of a local anti-slavery society. George Brantingham, a Quaker grocer, was its energetic treasurer. A practical man, he stocked up on sugar imported from India so that his customers could buy sugar that was not grown by slaves.
The Aberdeen Anti-Slavery Society included leading citizens of the city and shire, especially clergymen and academics. But the North East still had strong commercial ties to the Caribbean and many plantation owners and merchants opposed the campaign. The Aberdeen Journal was filled with angry letters arguing for and against slavery.
The government calls on rebel slaves to surrender during the big Jamaican uprising of 1831-2. (The National Archives)
In the Caribbean, the slaves themselves demanded their freedom, repeatedly and forcefully. Massive slave rebellions erupted in Barbados in 1816 and Guyana in 1823, but the biggest occurred in Jamaica, just after Christmas 1831. Government troops suppressed it brutally, executing hundreds of people. But to many people in Britain, this only proved that protecting slave owners cost too much money and blood. Soon afterwards, parliament passed the first Emancipation Act.
Although defeated, slavery left many bitter legacies. Caribbean societies were sharply divided by poverty, racism and resentment. Beyond the Caribbean too, relations between Europeans and Africans were horribly scarred by the long history of enslavement and prejudice.
The Emancipation of our people from slavery and all it signifies in terms of human cruelty, suffering, sacrifice, folly, courage, deception, greed, triumph of the human spirit and faith and hope cannot be allowed to slip from our collective memory. There are lessons to be learnt that are of lasting value. Revd Burchell Taylor, Pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, Jamaica