Transatlantic Slave Trade and Abolition

23 August | Gallery | Schools | Online | Links

The Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was signed into law by King George III on 25 March 1807. The Museum marked the bicentenary year with a range of events and publications to remember the millions of people who suffered and died through enslavement, to honour those who resisted it and pay tribute to those who campaigned for abolition.

23 August – a history defined

Toussaint Louverture, Chief of the French Rebels in St. DomingoToussaint Louverture, Chief of the French Rebels in St. Domingo by Holl; after François Bonneville; published by H. D. Symonds, 1802. Repro ID: E9974 ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Michael Graham-Stewart Slavery Collection. Acquired with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery FundOn 23 August 1791 a massive uprising started by enslaved Africans erupted on the island of Saint Domingue, now known as Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The uprising would play a crucial role in securing the island as the first Caribbean island to declare its independence and only the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere.

The island had become one of the wealthiest producing colonies and therefore attracted the interest of the French, the Spanish and the English, three of the world’s strongest powers at the time. There were a number of factors that led up to the rebellion, one of which was the French Revolution commencing in Paris in 1789, which called for ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ (liberty, equality and fraternity, or brotherhood).

For 13 years the country was in a state of civil war with the enslaved fighting for their freedom under the leadership of their fellow Africans. One of the most successful commanders was Toussaint L’Ouverture, a self-educated former domestic slave. Under the military leadership of Toussaint, the freedom fighters were able to gain the upper hand and defeat the French, Spanish and British forces who attempted to regain control over the island and quell the uprising.

Toussaint died in 1803, but the wheels of change were already in motion. The rebel forces continued to fight for their freedom and on 1 January 1804 Haiti was declared an independent republic.

The Haitian Revolution (as it is often called) is noted as the only successful slave rebellion in world history. It became a pinnacle of resistance to enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and the Americas and would be regarded as turning point in the fight to abolish the trade of enslaved Africans and the eventual end to transatlantic slavery.

In 1997, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO, declared 23 August, the beginning of the uprising, the 'International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition', to be celebrated annually, and requested that all UN Member States take part in the commemoration.

The commemoration marks the proclamation of the first black state, Haiti, symbol of the struggle and resistance of enslaved Africans and the triumph of the principles of liberty, equality, dignity and the rights of the individual, and also the fraternal reunion of the peoples of Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean and Europe.

Atlantic Worlds gallery

Atlantic Worlds flyer Atlantic WorldsThe Atlantic Worlds gallery explores the connections between three cultures, spanning three centuries of exploration, trade, war, enslavement and resistance.

The gallery displays new material relating to the transatlantic slave trade including a rare and detailed daily logbook from the slave schooner Juverna, written by Master Robert Lewis, which includes observations on a classic Triangular Trade slaving expedition from England.

Atlantic Worlds also recounts the stories of some of the people involved in the resistance movement and the campaign for the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade – including Toussaint l’Ouverture, Olaudah Equiano and Samuel Sharp whose acts of resistance and rebellion were crucial to the turning of European public opinion against the trade.  

View all objects from the gallery browse by theme and hear John Agard's caption poems read by the poet.

Schools and teachers

Schools sessions

Print resources

Online resources

Understanding Slavery Understanding Slavery
An innovative website designed to give educators a tool-kit for teaching the history and legacies of the transatlantic slave trade, including a large set of learning resources. The site has been launched by the Understanding Slavery project, developed by a partnership of national and regional museums.

Understanding Slavery - Citizen website (KS3)
Site for students, complementing the USI Citizen Resource, with an interactive Timeline and My Scrapbook feature.

Freedom - Britain and the Transatlantic Slave Trade
Find out about Britain's involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and abolition, create your own exhibition of slavery artefacts and have your say about the slave trade in our online KS3 History resource. The Freedom website has a slavery timeline and an overview of themes including the triangular trade, abolition and resistance.

PortCities London: London and the transatlantic slave trade
Investigates the central role London played in Britain's involvement in the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans during the 17th and early 18th centuries. With links to an online slavery trail through Greenwich and facts about Ignatius Sancho and Olaudah Equiano.

Useful links