Slaves and slavery

Part of what makes us what we are

Necessity is the plea of every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.
William Pitt the Younger, speech on the India Bill, 18 November 1783

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WARNING: This page contains material that some may find distressing.

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Although St Helena is best known for the liberation of slaves, its earlier history is rather darker.

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Slavery (n): An institution or social practice of owning human beings as property, especially for use as forced labour.{a}

Below: Two PhasesEffects on St Helena todaySlavery CommemorationsRead More

Two Phases

Slaves and slavery

  1. From the arrival of the English in 1659 until liberation in 1834 St Helena kept and exploited slaves. You can read more about this dark period in our history on the page Slavery on St Helena.

  2. Six years after St Helena’s slaves were emancipated, St Helena became the base for the Royal Naval operations aimed at disrupting the International Slave Trade carrying slaves to ‘the New World’ - the new colonies in the Americas. You can read more about this more positive period in our history on the page Attacking the Slave Trade.

Effects on St Helena today

Although many of the ‘Liberated Africans’ were relocated away from St Helena, around 1,000 also remained and integrated with the local population, together with the approximately 1,800 freed former-slaves already here. Add to this around 2,400 people of European descent (settlers + troops), a few remaining Chinese and you have the population of St Helena in the mid-19th Century. It is therefore often said that the genetic makeup of modern-day Saints can be defined by the three ‘S’s - Settlers, Soldiers and Slaves{1}. One Saint has traced his lineage back to white settlers, black slaves, a Chinaman and a Boer. Another identified genetic markers from Europe, various different parts of Africa, India, various parts of Asia and Scandinavia. Yet another came up with: 40.5% South Asian (Indian); 12.4% Nigerian; 7.7% Italian; 7.2% Iberian; 6.7% Filipino/Indonesian/Malaysian; 5.2% Finnish; 4.7% Kenyan; 4.4% Maasai; 1.7% Sierra Leonean; 1.5% Papua New Guinean and 1.4% Indigenous Amazonian. You can see the variety of ancestral origins in the saint faces shown below.

The following portraits were taken in the late 1970s and illustrate some of the variety of faces on St Helena{2}:

Freed slaves were often given as a surname the first name of their former owner. This explains the number of islanders with surnames like Benjamin, Duncan, Francis, George, Henry, Joshua, Lawrence and Leo.

Today Saints take an active part in work to eliminate slavery from the modern world. The Equality & Human Rights Commission runs awareness campaigns on slavery today. The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on 2nd December is actively celebrated here, as was the 2007 Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade in the British Empire.

Saints have also been active in opposing the plan to industrialise Ruperts because of the impact it will have on the ‘Liberated African’ sites and monuments in the valley.

Slavery Commemorations

A number of annual days mark themes related to slavery, which are observed to varying degrees on St Helena:

Read More


There is no funny image on this page. There is nothing funny about slavery.
The shocking thing about slavery is that it still goes on today{3}
To join the fight against slavery see the Equality & Human Rights Commission website.
Slave Manacles


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{1} Though the Chinese Labourers brought in the early 19th Century also made a significant contribution.{2} If you or one of your relatives is shown here and you object to us displaying this image please contact us, identifying the image, and we will remove it.{3} In 2019, approximately 40 million people, of whom 26% were children, were enslaved throughout the world.{b}.

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Slaves and slavery | Copyright © John Turner

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