Abolition of the slave trade medal

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National Maritime Museum, First floor, The Atlantic gallery

In 1807, after years of fighting, the abolitionist movement succeeded in outlawing the international slave trade. 

As the trade in enslaved people reached its peak in the 1780s, more and more people began to voice concerns about the moral implications of slavery and the brutality of the system. From the beginning, the inhuman trade had caused controversy.

London was the focus for the abolition campaign, being home both to Parliament and to the important financial institutions of the City. As early as 1776, the House of Commons debated a motion ‘that the slave trade is contrary to the laws of God and the rights of men’.

Following dedicated campaigning from prominent figures such as William Wilberforce, the abolition campaign grew into a popular mass movement. Africans also played a significant role, especially those living in London such as Ignatius Sancho or Olaudah Equiano.

Despite their efforts the scale of the trade continued to grow throughout the abolition campaign. Between 1791 and 1800, around 1,340 slaving voyages were mounted from British ports, carrying nearly 400,000 Africans to the Americas.

In 1806-07, with the abolition campaign gaining further momentum, Wilberforce had a breakthrough in Parliament. Legislation was finally passed which brought an end to Britain’s involvement in the international slave trade. However full emancipation was not achieved until 1838 and none of the ex-slaves received compensation.

A number of medals were produced to commemorate this event. This particular example was created for distribution in Sierra Leone, the reverse carries an Arabic inscription including the words 'verily we are all brothers'.

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