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
Members of the College identified as 'financial beneficiaries' of enslavement'
Years over which they arrived at Christ's, between 1685 and 1887
Different colonies where people were enslaved, to the benefit of members of the College
Public advocates defending the practice of enslavement and resisting emancipation
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.
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 defended the practice of enslavement and argued in support of West Indian slave owners in Parliament during the 1820s and 1830s.
Stephen Isaacson wrote articles defending enslavement and made a major public speech in opposition to emancipation in the early 1830s.
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.
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.