University College London has launched a website which will challenge our feelings towards some of our ancestors. You can’t judge your fore-bears because you haven’t stood in their shoes, haven’t lived in their society and can’t possibly know the whole story, but we might not always like what we find.
Sometime ago I discovered a will of a brother of one of my direct line ancestor who left the family home and travel to America. The will left a number of slaves to his son along with land and personal possessions. How did I feel …. mortified, but whilst I can and do condemn the business of one human being being enslaved to another I can’t judge the man. He was English, he went to America to better himself and in so doing he complied with what was normal for the time, he had slaves.
The UCL has two projects which are looking at the impact slavery had on the formation of modern Britain, the Legacies of British Slave Ownership database is the outcome of the first. Structure and significance of British Caribbean slave-ownership 1763 – 1833 is the second.
I can report, with some relief that my ancestor doesn’t feature in the database, but a search under the name Smith brought forth 325 individuals. I chose the first entry as an example.
Sarah Arrowsmith of the estate Dick’s Last Shift
of St Andrews, Jamaica
Claim dated 30 November 1835 for £522 13s 1d
If family names are found then a certain amount of background reading would be required before the data discovered on this website can be understood.
An interesting website for which UCL is to be congratulated, but one that some family historians might find challenging.