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Legacies of Enslavement at Christ's College, Cambridge

Legacies of Enslavement at Christ's is a project aiming to research the complex connections between members of Christ's College and enslavement in the British colonies. In 2022, the project focused on creating a database of the members of College who benefitted financially from enslavement, or who supported it in public debates.

Legacies of Enslavement at Christ's in numbers


Financial Beneficiaries

The core of the database is the 38 alumni of Christ's College, identified by the project as 'financial beneficiaries' of enslavement. 


Each alumnus has their own unique connection to the ownership of enslaved people or the slave trade. In most cases, the alumnus, one or both of their parents, or their grandparents owned enslaved people. In some instances, however, their connection is primarily through a sibling or marriage.


Occasionally, direct involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, or ownership of plantations in Virginia or the British West Indies - which required enslaved labour to function - is better substantiated by extant sources than ownership of enslaved people. 


Click below to explore the 38 individual profiles detailing how each person was connected to enslavement.

Public advocates

The project also identified three members of the College who acted as advocates for enslavement in public debates, both in parliament and in print. Both Bernal and Isaacson also feature in this database as financial beneficiaries of enslavement.


Ralph Bernal

Ralph Bernal defended the practice of enslavement and argued in support of West Indian slave owners in Parliament during the 1820s and 1830s.

Stephen Isaacson

Stephen Isaacson wrote articles defending enslavement and made a major public speech in opposition to emancipation in the early 1830s.

Thomas Thompson

Thomas Thompson wrote in defence of the slave trade and enslavement in the early 1770s, highlighting what he argued were its biblical justifications. 

Family networks

Our research also uncovered that some families that benefitted from enslavement sent multiple people to Christ's.

These families and their often complex connections with enslavement are outlined on these pages.

Four members of the Byam family arrived at Christ's between 1701 and 1726.

Two members of the Sherard family arrived at Christ's between 1824 and 1832.

Three members of the Smith family arrived at Christ's between 1811 and 1847.

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Enslaved people

The sources used in this project included only a handful of clues about the lives and identities of the thousands of people enslaved to the benefit of members of the College.

What follows is therefore an outline of how enslaved people feature in this project, explaining why so little information about them was discovered.

Click here for more information about our approach to the project and the underlying database.

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