Decolonising Lancaster: a Preliminary Resource List for local teachers and community groups working on Lancaster’s Slavery and Plantation histories


This photograph depicts the Rawlinson’s Family Memorial Grave Stone, which sits just outside the front of Lancaster Priory and was  defaced in June 2020, as part of Black Lives Matter Protests in Lancaster. Rev. Canon Chris Newlands commented on the defacement of this memorial  “We can’t remove our history, but we want to make sure the city and the priory is fitting for a world in which we condemn slavery.”

In the eighteenth century, Lancaster was heavily involved in the Atlantic slave trade (it was the fourth largest slave-trading centre in England), and Lancaster merchants were also involved in a significant amount of direct trade with the West Indies and Americas. Indeed, Lancaster slave traders and merchants developed extensive commercial networks in the West Indies and Americas, importing slave-produced goods such as mahogany, sugar, dyes, spices, coffee and rum, and later cotton for Lancashire’s mills, from plantations, and exporting fine furniture, gunpowder, woollen and cotton garments. Young men from Lancaster families worked as agents and factors across the West-Indies. Over generations these families accumulated land and property, plantations and slaves. As Eric Williams details in Capitalism and Slavery (1944), slave traders, merchants who profited from slave labour, and their descendants dominated local political life in towns such as Lancaster as aldermen, mayors, councillors and MPs.

Led by young people, many school aged, the Black Lives Matter protests in Lancaster have created a new wave of debate in the local area, about how to engage with local histories and legacies of slavery.

This includes:

The slave trade and the roles played by Lancastrians in thIs transatlantic trade as individuals who captained, worked on and/or invested in the slave ships involved in “the capture of men, women and children, mainly in west Africa, their sale to European traders in exchange for guns, textiles etc and their terrible forced crossings of the Atlantic and sale in the New World”. This trade in enslaved people also involved Lancaster men working in the West Indies or on the American mainland as factors (agents/ middle-men) for Lancaster merchants.

We also need to address the involvement of the city, individuals, families and local businesses, in the wider slavery business.  For example,  the wealth which flowed into 18th century Lancaster in the form of the plantation goods produced by enslaved people in the West Indies and Americas, such as sugar and rum, cotton, mahogany and other exotic woods, and tobacco shipped into Lancaster’s St George’s Quay.

The role played by individuals, often young men, who travelled from the local area to live and work as overseers and plantation managers, as well as agents and factors in the West Indies and Americas

The ownership of enslaved people and plantations in the West Indies and Americas by Lancastrians, including the financial compensation received by people when slave-ownership was legally abolished in 1833.

In short, the slave trade and the slavery business (including slave ownership. and the buying, selling and trading in enslaved people that ownership involved in plantation societies) was compromised of range of activities, with individuals having different degrees of direct and indirect involvement with the horror of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the torture and brutalities attendant with plantation slavery.

The Rawlinson’s were a large family whose wealth was derived from the slavery business and slave ownership, including a large export/import trade between Lancaster and Liverpool and the West Indies, and the ownership of plantations, including enslaved workers on those plantations, and sugar refining. From the mid 1760s, the Rawlinson’s co-owned the Goyave Sugar Plantation in Grenada, and in the early 19th century a branch of the family owned a cotton plantation in Guyana (then Demerara). There is also a evidence that some members of the family where involved in the transatlantic slave trade, investing in six slave ship voyages between 1749 and 1800 (source: Melinda Elder).

Perhaps not surprisingly, Abraham Rawlinson, (MP for Lancaster 1780-90), opposed the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Writing in his letter-book in 1792, on the sugar boycott campaign led by abolitionists, ‘the people in England want to lower the prices of sugar and yet continue presenting petitions from all quarters to Parliament to procure the abolition of the slave trade. Many have left off the use of sugar, for the purpose of putting a stop to the slave trade. If the custom become prevalent of eating and using nothing that has been touched by slaves, we may soon expect to see people in the state of their first nature, naked in the field, feeding like Nebuchadnezzar upon grass. What wonders their philanthropy or Enthusiasm will produce is unknown’

In Lancaster we can trace (and can still see) legacies of both the slave trade and the slavery business in the economic, social and cultural development of the city and the wider region, including in its woollen and cotton mills, its canal, and its civic and welfare estate, including schools, hospitals and more. As Alan Rice has written:

Lancaster is in many ways uniquely connected to the story of slavery from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century; from the West Indian trade, through the transatlantic slave trade to the industrial revolution and its growth of cotton factories dependent on colonial slave labour

Current protests and debates about the legacy of the slave trade and the slavery business in Britain have been shaped by new academic research, such as the Legacies of British Slave-ownership database, at UCL, and the BBC television series based on this research Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners (2015), and by research which evidences and explores the history and presence of black lives in Britain; enslaved people, servants and “free” labourers working on ships and in ports. For example, the recent Runaway Slaves in Britain project, has provided new evidence of the presence of enslaved people living in 18th century Lancaster and Heysham (listen to Alan Rice, discussing this new evidence of black lives in the Lancaster area ).

To help inform these conversations locally I have begun some initial work on a resource pack for schools and community groups. The references below represent the first stage of this work, more to follow, and more suggestions welcome. I will update this page regularly. Thanks to those who have already been in touch with additional resources, questions and clarifications. Particular thanks to historians Melinda Elder and Michael Winstanley.

In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, a Lancaster Black History Group has also been formed, which is working with the city council, local museums and organisations.

In am a sociologist, and my own research on this topic is part of long standing project on Decolonizing Lancaster. One of the things I am interested in seeks is how we can do local history in ways which are reparative, and in doing make visible important but often hidden global legacies and connections between inequalities and injustices in the past and the present. For a sample of this project, please see the sister blog post  ‘Black Lives Matter and Legacies of Slave Ownership in Lancaster‘. Some of this Lancaster history research also found its way into my recent book, Stigma: the Machinery of Inequality. 

Lancaster and Slavery Reading List (* = Lancaster and local area specific content)

Anderson, J. 2015 Mahogany: The Costs of Luxury in Early America. Harvard University Press.

*Bernier, C.-M., Bernier, C.-M., Rice, A., Durkin, H., Himid, L., 2019. Inside the invisible: memorialising slavery and freedom in the life and works of Lubaina Himid, Liverpool studies in international slavery. Liverpool University Press, Liverpool.

Baucom, I., 2005. Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History. Duke University Press. Chicago.

Dabydeen, D., 2011. The Black Figure in 18th-century Art.

*David, Rob and Winstanley, M., 2013. The West Indies and the Arctic in the Age of Sail; voyages of Abram, 1806-62 (Lancaster University, CNWRS/RHC). [A study of a Lancaster ship owned by Burrow and Mason, Lancaster merchants, and a planter, Abram C Hill, on Tortola, which sailed between Lancaster and the Tortola, and later became a whaler].

Devine, T. (Ed.), 2015. Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.

*Duggan, M., 2013. Sugar for the house: a history of early sugar refining in North West England.

*Elder, M., 2007. The Liverpool Slave Trade, Lancaster and Its Environs, in: David Richardson, Suzanne Schwarz, Anthony Tibbles (Eds.), Liverpool and Transatlantic Slavery. Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, pp. 118–137.

*Elder, M., 1992. The slave trade and the economic development of eighteenth- century Lancaster. Ryburn Pub, Krumlin, Halifax [England].

Eltis, D., Richardson, D., 2015. Atlas of the transatlantic slave trade.

Gerzina, G., 2020. Britain’s black past.

Gerzina, G., 1995. Black England: Life before Emancipation. John Murray, London.

Gilroy, P., 2002. There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation. Routledge, London, New York.

Hall, C., Draper, N., MacClelland, K., Donington, K., Lang, R., 2016. Legacies of British slave-ownership: colonial slavery and the formation of Victorian Britain.

*Howson, G., The Making of Lancaster: people, places and war, 1789-1815 (Lancaster: Carnegie, 2008).

*Huddleston, J., 2010. And the Children’s Teeth are Set on Edge: Adam Hodgson & The Razing of Caton Chapel,  A Tale of Slavery and Abolition in a Lancashire Village

Hurston, Z.N., 2018. Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave. Harper Collins, London.

*Ingram, K. E. “Furniture and the Plantation: Further Light on the West Indian Trade of an English Furniture Firm in the Eighteenth Century.” Furniture History 28 (1992): 42-97. [including some records of ships used to export Gillows furniture].

Johnson, J.F., 1843. Proceedings of the General Anti-Slavery Convention, called by the committee of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. John Snow, London.

Mouser, B. “Iles de Los as Bulking Center in the Slave Trade, 1750-1800,” Outre-Mers. Revue d’histoire 313 (1996): 77–91.

Olusoga, D., 2018. Black and British: a Forgotten History. Palgrave.

Olusoga, D., 2015. The history of British slave ownership has been buried: now its scale can be revealed. The Guardian.

Pinckard, G., 1806. Notes on the West Indies: Written During the Expedition Under the Command of the Late General Sir Ralph Abercromby. Hurst, Rees and Orme, London, 3 volumes.

Pleece, W., 2018. Freedom Bound: Escaping Slavery in Scotland. BHP Comics, Glasgow. [graphic novel]

Rediker, M., 2008. The slave ship: a human history. John Murray, London.

*Rice, A., 2009. ‘Revealing Histories, Dialogising Collections: Museums and Galleries in North West England Commemorating the Abolition of the Slave Trade’. Slavery & Abolition 30, 291–309.

*Rice, A., 2007a. ‘Naming the money and unveiling the crime: contemporary British artists and the memorialization of slavery and abolition’. Patterns of Prejudice 41, 321–343.

Rice, A., 2007b. ‘The Cotton that Connects, The Cloth That Binds: Manchester’s civil war, Abe’s statue, and Lubaina Himid’s transnational polemic’. Atlantic Studies 4, 285–303.

Rice, A., 2004. ‘Remembering iconic, marginalised and forgotten presences: Local, national and transnational memorial sites in the black Atlantic’. Current Writing 16, 71–92.

Rice, A., Kardux, J.C., 2012a. ‘Confronting the ghostly legacies of slavery: the politics of black bodies, embodied memories and memorial landscapes’. Atlantic Studies 9, 245–272.

*Rice, A.J., 2012. ‘Creating memorials, building identities: politics of memory in the Black Atlantic’.

Rice, A.J., 2003. Radical narratives of the Black Atlantic. Continuum, London ; New York.

*Richardson, D., Tibbles, A., Schwarz, S., 2010. Liverpool and transatlantic slavery. Liverpool University Press, Liverpool.

*Roscoe, Philip. 2020. ‘White Markets, Black Markets‘ [On the racialized structures of finance and history of stock markets – including Zong massacre and family connections to Liverpool/Lancaster slave traders, this is a podcast and blog/transcript]

Sandhu, S., 2011. The First Black Britons. BBC History.

*Smartt, D., 2008. Ship shape. Peepal Tree, Leeds. [Poems about Lancaster and Slavery]

*Schofield, M. 1946 An Economic History of Lancaster 1680-1860 vol. 1 (Lancaster Historical Association, 1946).

*Schofield, M. 1976. The slave trade from Lancashire ports outside Liverpool, 1750-90’. Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire¸vol. 26, 30-72. 

Schofield M. and Richardson, D, 1992 Whitehaven and the eighteenth-century slave trade, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, vol.92, 184-204 

*Stuart, S. Gillows of Lancaster, 1730-1850 (Woodbridge, 2008), 2 volumes

Tattersfield, N. 1998. The Forgotten Trade: Comprising the Log of the Daniel and Henry of 1700 and Accounts from the Minor Ports of England, 1698-1725. [Focuses on Dartmouth, but has brief mention of Lancaster, and more on Whitehaven. By drawing on an original log book and other contemporary historical source material, this book offers particualr insights into the sheer complexity, time, labour and risks involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade for opportunistic merchants. Should be read alongside Rediker’s The Slave Ship”].

Tibbles, A., 2018. Liverpool and the slave trade.

Trouillot, M. R., 1995. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Beacon Press, Boston.

*Tyler, I., 2020. Stigma: The Machinery of Inequality. Zed Books, Limited, London.

Walvin, J., 2007. A short history of slavery. Penguin, London.

Walvin, J., 2001. Black ivory: a history of British slavery, 2nd ed. ed. Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, UK ; Malden, Mass. USA.

* Walvin, J. 2017 Slavery in Small Things: Slavery and Modern Cultural Habits

*White, A., 2003. Lancaster: a history. Phillimore, Chichester, West Sussex, England.

Williams, E.E., 1994. Capitalism & slavery. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.

Databases  *= Lancaster and area specific content

*Legacies of British Slave-ownership, UCL

plus Guidance from LBS website on what sorts of people received compensation 

*Runaway Slaves in Britain: bondage, freedom and race in the eighteenth century

*Slave Voyages Database

3-D rendering of a Slave Ship

*Black Abolitionist UK Speaking Locations

Museums, Newspaper stories and and more * =local are specific content

*Lancaster and the Slave Trade

*Lancaster Slave Trade and Fair Trade Trail Map (this is about to be updated, July 2020, and the new trail features stories of black agency and black lives in the city – link coming soon and the new map can be picked up for free from Maritime Museum and the Priory)

*Bringing to life Lancaster’s Georgian boom and rich maritime heritage through locational audio dramas and community engagement, Port Stories gathered award-winning writers, actors, celebrated historians and passionate Lancastrians to animate the dramas behind the architecture.

*Nick Lakin, (2020) ‘What next? Lancaster’s slave trade past in the spotlight again as calls are made to re-name streets and create a new memorial’, Lancaster Guardian,

*Lancaster Slave Trade and the Quakers,

*Mike Hill, (2020) Lost story of Preston’s slave traders, Lancashire Evening Post,

*Online Teaching pack ‘“the abominable trade: Cumbria’s’ Connections to the History and Legacy of Slavery ”

*‘Slavery in the North of England’ Melinda Elder, OpenLearn

*Cumbria and the Slave Trade sheet

How Much Did Manchester Profit From Slavery?  – a partnership project with eight Manchester museums

The Life of James Johnson

*Abolished? Lancashire Museums marking 200 years of the abolition of the Slave Trade, Lancashire Museums, 2007,

*Handlist 69: Sources for Black and Asian history, Lancashire Archives,

The Black Presence in Britain

National Archives Black Presence 1500- 1850

*Lubaina Himid (Turner Prize Winning Artist who has worked extensively on Lancaster and its connections to slavery) Making Histories Visible,

Lubaina Himid “Its nice that’

*Lubaina Himid Swallow Hard, the Lancaster Dinner Service

*Kevin Dalton Johnson’s ‘Captured Africans’ memorial on St George’s Quay,

Lives Remembered: Slaves in the 1700s and 1800s, Historic England,

Elder and ‘The Lady’s Box – a twelfth share in one ship‘  [on Gillow’s Lady’s Box]

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  1. Bill M.

    Thank you for this, and especially for not referring to the “Golden age” of Lancaster (which the town museums still do (last time I was up) in passive voice without saying who called it the “Golden Age”).


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