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214 years ago today

It was a baby step as steps go, but one by a Very Big Baby.

One of the major players in the international trade finally called it quits as a matter of law.

Exactly 214 years ago today, 25 March 1807, England said “enough” when it came to the slave trade.

On that day, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act received the assent of the British Crown,1 and the slave trade throughout the British colonies became illegal on 1 May 1807.2

1807 Act

No, it didn’t stop the trade. It didn’t even stop it within the British colonies, any more than the United States law making it illegal to engage in international slave trading — the act prohibiting the importation of slaves that took effect in 18083 — stopped the international trade by Americans.

And it didn’t make slavery illegal within Britain or its colonies.

But it absolutely marked the beginning of the end.

The English influence helped lead other European nations to the same result:

With the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1810, Portugal agreed to restrict its trade into its colonies; in the Anglo-Swedish Treaty of 1813, Sweden outlawed its slave trade; and in the Treaty of Paris of 1814 whereby France agreed with Britain that the slave trade was “repugnant to the principles of natural justice” and agreed to abolish its involvement the slave trade in five years. In the 1814 Anglo-Dutch treaty the Netherlands outlawed its slave trade, and the 1817 Anglo-Spanish treaty called for Spain to suppress its trade by 1820.4

And it gave rise to the abolition movement that finally resulted in the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, the statute by which slavery itself became illegal throughout most of the British Empire5 — a statute that in turn spurred the abolition movement in the United States.

And all of these created records:

• both the British and American bars on international slave trade resulted in prosecutions and other records of violators;6

• the American law gave rise to new records on the internal domestic trade as customs forms were required for coastal transportation of the enslaved;7

• the abolition movements of both countries are recorded in documents, manuscripts, newspapers articles and more;8

• the Slavery Abolition Act provided compensation to British enslavers,9 and a similar law for enslavers in Washington, D.C. created documentation as well.10

Documenting the beginning of the end with records we can use.

Starting 214 years ago today.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “The beginning of the end,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 25 Mar 2021).


Image: UK Parliament, Flickr, Open Parliament Licence v3.0.

  1. See “Abolition of the Slave Trade,” Black Presence: Exhibitions, The National Archives ( : accessed 25 Mar 2021).
  2. See Wikipedia (, “Slave Trade Act 1807,” rev. 9 Mar 2021.
  3. “An Act to prohibit the importation of Slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States,” 2 Stat. 426 (2 Mar 1807, effective 1 Jan 1808).
  4. Wikipedia (, “Slave Trade Act 1807,” rev. 9 Mar 2021.
  5. “An Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies; for promoting the Industry of the manumitted Slaves; and for compensating the Persons hitherto entitled to the Services of such Slaves,” 3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73 (28 August 1833, effective 1 August 1834).
  6. See e.g. “American Slavery, Judicial Records,” ( : accessed 25 Mar 2021). And see Walter B. Hill, Jr., “Living with the Hydra: The Documentation of Slavery and the Slave Trade in Federal Records,” Prologue, Winter 2000 ( : accessed 25 Mar 2021).
  7. See e.g. “Slave Ship Manifests filed at New Orleans, 1807-1860, Slave Manifests of Coastwise Vessels Filed at New Orleans, Louisiana, 1807-1860,” ( : accessed 25 Mar 2021).
  8. See e.g. “Abolition of Slavery,” Education, The National Archives ( : accessed 25 Mar 2021). And see e.g. “The Frederick Douglass Papers,” digital collection, Library of Congress ( : accessed 25 Mar 2021).
  9. See “Office of Registry of Colonial Slaves and Slave Compensation Commission: Records,” index only, The National Archives ( : accessed 25 Mar 2021).
  10. Damani Davis, “Slavery and Emancipation in the Nation’s Capital Using Federal Records to Explore the Lives of African American Ancestors,” Prologue, Spring 2010 ( : accessed 25 Mar 2021).
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