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Commencement of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 – This Day in History

An Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies; for promoting the Industry of the manumitted Slaves; and for compensating the Persons hitherto entitled to the Services of such Slaves.


The Atlantic slave trade existed from the 16th to the 19th century.

The vast majority of the slaves were from the central and western parts of Africa, and were sold to European slave traders by Africans, and were transported across the ocean in the hulls of ships, crammed together in a small space in chains, across the Atlantic to the colonies in north and south America.

Current estimates are that over 12 million Africans were shipped across, although actual number taken from their home was much higher.

The Atlantic Slave trade is also known as the Triangular trade – slavery was one part of this cycle – the middle passage – which involved four continents, four centuries and millions of people.

The slave trade resulted in a vast and as yet unknown death toll for African captives. c1.2-2.4 million died on the route alone to the New World, more were to die when they got there.

The traders would try to fit anywhere between 350 to 600 slaves into one ship. Before the shipping of people was outlawed in 1853, 15.3 million enslaved people had arrived in the Americas. The voyages took 2 ½ months at sea.

In Britain, America, Portugal, and in other parts of Europe, opposition against the slave trade grew.


William Wilberforce, 1759–1833 was a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade, in which he campaigned tirelessly against the slave trade.

On 28th October 1787, William Wilberforce wrote in his diary:

“God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the Reformation of society.”

20 years after starting his campaign the Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807, in which the Royal Navy established the West Africa Squadron to patrol the west coast of Africa against the transportation of slaves. It suppressed the slave trade but did not stop it. That was to come in the final year of Wilberforce’s that he would see his dream becoming reality. The House of Commons passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. It came into fruition on 1st August 1834. While the practice of slavery was banned within the British Empire, the British government for years later still had to fight tirelessly with traders within the Empire to discontinue the practice. As stated above the act of slavery was outlawed but the shipment of slaves was finally outlawed in 1853. The act of slavery unfortunately did not stop over night. But William Wilberforce’s tireless work paved the way to its ultimate end.

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