How British women helped to abolish slavery in 1804

Believe it or not, but by the 1700’s, deciding whether or not to take sugar with your tea had become a political statement. While sugar-free diets are now all the rage, the motivations behind this health trend are a far cry from those of the anti-saccharine during the abolitionist sugar boycotts of Britain and North America.

By the 18th century drinking tea sweetened with sugar was a staple of millions of British households. This in turn helped fuel the despicable trade in slaves, necessary to keep the price of sugar low and keep up with the ever-increasing demand.

According to Royal Museums Greenwich , between 1662 and 1807 Britain human trafficked over three million Africans to the Americas as slaves.

Many of these ended up working on sugar plantations in the Caribbean, famed for inhumane conditions and high death rates. Estimates claim that by the end of the 18th century, over 400,000 slaves had perished in the process.  

The Haitian Declaration of Independence was proclaimed on 1 January 1804 in the port city of Gonaïves by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, marking the end of 13-year long Haitian Revolution. The declaration marked Haiti’s becoming the first independent Black nation in the Western Hemisphere.

After the independence of Haiti, sugar needed to be boycotted, so the former slave labor population could not be successful on its own. They were also forced to sign and pay for the losses of the slave labor corporations in Haiti.

Christian Quakers in Britain and America led the movement against slavery. Rejecting class divisions, they viewed slavery as contradictory to their principles.

Sugar came to represent the corrupting force of greed and the Quakers began to understand the power of ethical consumer choices in shaping the political landscape.

By the early 1800’s, eating sugar was about as acceptable as displaying tusks of ivory in one’s living room is today, explained NPR. In the 1820’s, sugar bowls adorned with anti-slavery slogans had become a popular trend, with consumers opting for sugar sourced in India instead.

Due to pressure from the abolitionist movement, by 1807 King George III had signed the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, effectively banning the slave trade in the British Empire . Nevertheless, many slavers defied the new legislation and slavery continued to exist in the Caribbean.

This provoked another sugar boycott in the 1820’s, exerting pressure on the government. Nevertheless, it was only in 1833, with the Slave Emancipation Act, that British slavery gradually came to an end.

While most people associate the movement with Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce, women and children played a crucial role promoting the boycott and in deciding their household consumption.

A study from the University of Exeter highlighted the production of antislavery children’s literature and the role Georgian children played by refusing to eat products made with sugar.

Ancient Origins / ABC Flash Point News 2023.

2 Comments on “How British women helped to abolish slavery in 1804

  1. Haiti got into big trouble after its so-called independence, the French sugar business was moved to other colonies in the southern USA, leaving Haitians to cut their trees in order to sell charcoal instead, dooming them into poverty.

    Liked by 1 person

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