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QUEENS' MEMBERS AND THE SLAVE TRADE

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BETWEEN 1700 AND 1833 at least eighty Queens’ members are known to have originated from, lived in, or maintained significant career interests in the West Indies, out of a total of around 2,000 who were members during those years. Whilst some, such as William Woodis Harvey, migrated there as missionaries, others came to Queens’ either from slave owning families, or proceeded to careers that benefited from enslavement. We cannot be certain exactly how many Queens’ members were connected to slavery in these ways, although the government compensation scheme that followed the Slavery Abolition Act (1833) did much to identify some of them. Of over 40,000 Britons who sought compensation for the loss for their slaves, at least twenty-two claims relate to Queens’ members. These record family ownerships of plantations, recipients of slave holdings through marriage or inheritance, and those who provided associated legal and financial services. For example, the former student and Fellow, John Lane whom the college’s Commemoration of Benefactors book (1823) records having donating library books in 1806, worked as a London lawyer whilst co-owning one of the largest plantations in Barbados with around 256 enslaved people. Unlike Lane, who probably never visited Barbados, Rev. Nathaniel Gilbert (Queens’ m. 1804) maintained close links with Antigua where he died in 1854. There, from 1679, his family had accumulated property and slaves, two of whom were brought to England for baptism by John Wesley in 1759. The fact that Gilbert was sent to a college, then closely associated with abolitionism, underlines the contradictions that lay at the heart of Britain’s engagement with enslavement. So far, thirty-five Queens’ members have been identified who benefitted financially from slave holdings, with a further thirteen benefiting after having left Queens’. Attendance at Cambridge was undoubtedly a means of laundering plantation investments into status, connections and respectability at home.

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