Slavery was common in the ancient and medieval worlds. Strabo, a Greek scholar, mentioned that one of the major exports from Britain to the Mediterranean countries like Italy and Greece in the Iron Age was Britons sold as slaves (the others being grain and hunting dogs). The Romans would have brought slaves from all over the world to Britain after it was conquered in AD 43. Slaves would have built roads and buildings and been owned by rich people who lived in villas in the countryside. It is likely that some of our Roman roads, like Akeman Street, were constructed by slaves and our villas, like Latimer, Yewden or Foscott, might have been home to slaves. In the Roman period slaves could make money and were often freed, perhaps when their master or mistress died. The Roman emperor Vitellius was said to have been descended from a freed slave.
The civilisations in North Africa and the Near East also took slaves from prehistory to the post-medieval period, often from the Mediterranean region and Eastern Europe and sometimes from Northern Europe. Ships were attacked by “Barbary” pirates (from what is now Tunisia and Morocco) and Slavs from the Balkans were taken by the Ottoman Empire (based in what is now Turkey).
Slaves were also around in the Anglo-Saxon and medieval periods. Slaves were those who had been captured in war from foreign countries or local people who were criminals or could not pay their debts. The point where the Saxon and the medieval periods meet, at the Norman invasion of England in 1066, can be studied through the Domesday Book, which recorded all assets in the kingdom so the new King William I knew how much to tax everyone. You could get your students to do a search on Buckinghamshire's Heritage Portal database using the keyword slave. All of the results will refer to slaves recorded in the Domesday Book.
For a large project, you could split your class into several groups and each group could take a district and count up how many slaves were recorded in the Domesday Book. There are a lot more recorded for Aylesbury Vale, so perhaps you can have a number of groups working on a selection of parishes in that area, one working on Wycombe area and, because there are very few in Chiltern and South Bucks areas, you could have one group working on those two together. Print off maps showing Buckinghamshire’s parishes from the Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal and each group has to show how many were owned in each place. Your pupils could shade each parish in lighter or darker blue depending on how many slaves were owned there. Remember that each parish may have more than one village. See the map where two parishes have been shaded in. In Ludgershall there were 6 slaves in total (1 in Tetchwick and 5 in Ludgershall itself) and in Bledlow-cum-Saunderton there were 12 slaves so the blue is darker (8 in Bledlow and 4 in Saunderton).
Oliver Cromwell enslaved many Irish Catholics during the English conquest of Ireland in the mid-seventeenth century. Many British criminals were also transported instead of sent to prison or hanged. They were transported to the Americas to work on plantations as slaves or indentured servants. Later, many criminals were sent to Australia too.
Some of the largest landowners in Buckinghamshire were probably involved in trading African slaves or buying them and setting them to work, mainly on sugar plantations in the US and the Caribbean. Slavery of Africans started in the fifteenth and sixteenth century but became much more large scale in the eighteenth century. By this time, England led the trade. At the same time movements were born calling for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. In the years of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century the US and Europe eventually banned both. The Anti-Slavery Campaign website has a history of African slavery and education resources at www.antislavery.org/reports-and-resources/.
There would also be free Africans in Britain, and possibly in Buckinghamshire, too. It is thought there were between 10,000 and 15,000 black people, both free and servants, living in London in the seventeenth century. More details about Black and Asian presence in Britain from the Romans to the Victorian period can be found on the National Archives website www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/blackhistory.
The Temple family of Stowe and their relations the Nugents owned African slaves who worked on their Caribbean plantations. The first Duchess of Buckingham, Anna Eliza Brydges, inherited the Hope plantation in Jamaica from her mother and the main family line also owned the Middleton Plantation in Jamaica. A relation, Sir George Nugent, became Lieutenant-Governor and Commander in Chief of Jamaica from 1801-1806. His American wife, Maria Skinner, kept a diary of her time on the island, commenting on the slaves she owned and the Abolition Movement in England. The brother of the first Duke, Baron George Nugent, was made president of the Buckinghamshire Anti-Slavery Society when it was founded in 1826, in direct opposition to the main family. Although the plantations in Jamaica were only one source of income, the abolition of slavery in 1833 would have caused financial problems for the family; the expense of living as Dukes ruined the family and the house contents were sold off in 1848.
Nathan de Rothschild was related to the family at Waddesdon and was a politician. He was against the slave trade and issued a loan in the 1820s to compensate slave-owners who had had to free their slaves, thereby hastening the end of the trade. This piece of information could be the starting point for a debate. Two opposing sides could argue that slave owners should or should not have been compensated for losing their slaves, but this may be too uncomfortable for the pupils chosen to argue for compensation. Perhaps instead, you could have a class discussion where all your pupils look at the pros and cons of giving compensation to the ex-slave owners. The discussion could also be steered to thinking about the issue of compensation for the descendants of freed slaves today.
There is more detail about the British anti-slavery movement on the BBC website at www.bbc.co.uk/history/society_culture/protest_reform/antislavery_01.shtml. After the abolition of slavery altogether in 1833, some Indians became indentured servants, a form of temporary and “voluntary” slavery, in Britain and British Colonies. Sometimes people felt they would be better off selling themselves this way, to escape from poverty, crimes or debts. Slavery still happens today and although this does go into the difficult subject area of trafficking in young people for the sex trade, perhaps children should be made aware that slavery is not something that is not yet completely behind us.
Click here for more ideas for Putting Buckinghamshire in context.