Museum of Slavery and Freedom, London
Uncovering the Forgotten History of Deptford
Deptford, in South-East London, has a long connection to the triangular slave trade even though much of it is rarely discussed. The Royal Navy had an important dockyard here. Naval ships built in local yards gave convoy protection to slavers at the behest of monarchs for more than 200 years. The first ever British slaver, John Hawkins, enriched Queen Elizabeth I with profits from slavery. He lived and worked in a naval house in Deptford. The town subsequently built many of the cutting-edge vessels that trafficked human beings across the Atlantic for profit. The ships returned with cargo from slave plantations, including sugar which was harvested by slaves working in harrowing conditions. The sugar was then processed in sugar houses. There were several in Deptford. Many of the area’s principal citizens, businesses and institutions were actively involved in the slave trade and its allied industries.
Notable Figures from Deptford’s Past
A leading abolitionist who wrote most of his landmark treatise The History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Stave Trade by the British Parliament at Hatcham House in the hamlet of Hatcham near New Cross. He also visited vessels anchored at Deptford to question sailors about their knowledge of the trade. Even after the trade was abolished in the British empire in 1807, Clarkson continued to campaign for the complete abolition of slavery. The house was demolished in 1869 and its exact whereabouts remain unknown to this day.
Equiano’s autobiography states he was kidnapped from what is now southern Nigeria when he was about 11 years old. He was shipped to the Caribbean and then to Virginia. He was sold on several more times. He arrived in London with his naval master and was trafficked again from Deptford Strand. He eventually bought his own freedom and became involved in the abolitionist movement in London in 1786. Here he became an outspoken critic of the whole plantation and enslavement system.
Eighteenth-century Britain is often depicted as refined, glamorous and rich. That is not how the enslaved people in Deptford experienced it. We know little about them other than the traces left behind in newspaper advertisements. These brusque statements, drenched in outrage and entitlement, are uncomfortable to read. MoSaF presents a selection of them as the awful truth, an imperfect glimpse into the reality of Black people’s lives in our neighbourhood during the period.
Run away the 9th of September last from onboard the Ship Alexander, lying in the lower Wet Dock near Deptford; a Negro Man named Lime-house, aged 32 Years, born in Guinea, smooth-faced, with short thick Fingers, about 5 Foot 6 Inches high. Whoever brings him to Capt. Richard Bond at his House near Ratcliff-Cross, shall have a Guinea Reward.
A Well-set Negro, commonly call’d Sugar, Aged about Twenty Years, Teeth broke before, and several Scars in both his Cheeks and Forehead, having absented from his Master, whoever secures him, and gives Notice to Benjamin Maynard at the Angel and Still at Deptford shall have a Guinea Reward, and reasonable Charges.
Run away on Sunday Night the 11th inst. from onboard the Truman, now in Mess. Well’s Dock, Deptford, a Negro Slave, named Theodore, speaks the French Tongue, born at Martinico, about 5 Feet 6 Inches high, had on when he run away a blue Jacket, and a green one under, wearing a Hat and Wig.
Whoever apprehends the said Negro Slave and brings him to Mr. Comyn, at his House in Paradise Street, Rotherhith, shall receive three Guineas Reward with reasonable Charges.
It is imagined he may attempt escaping on board some of the Foreign Ships now in the River; the Clearing Officers at Gravesend are requested to examine the said Ships. Whoever harbours him will be prosecuted.
Person disposed to buy a Negro Boy or Girl; the Boy about 14 Years old, the Girl about eight, both well-proportion’d; the Boy is able to wait at a Gentleman’s Table, the Girl handy in the House, and works with her Needle. For further Particulars, enquire of Mr. Samuel Downes, Distiller, in Deptford
A selection of other advertisements mentioning Deptford’s enslaved citizens can be found at runaways.gla.ac.uk/database
About MoSaF The Museum of Slavery and Freedom, London
MoSaF is a community group with strong roots in Deptford, south east London. Our backgrounds are culturally diverse. We have experience in community development, education charity work, management, academia and journalism.
Our aim is to reveal a forgotten part of Deptford’s history. Though only a stone’s throw from Royal Greenwich, our story is a very different one. It deserves as much attention as the usual tales of kings, queens, famous diarists and wealthy merchants.
MoSaF is a non-profit organisation based at 9 Deptford Church Street, SE8 4RX