The Church of England and Slavery
Smith, Stephen J. S.
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This dissertation investigates the involvement of England’s legally established state church in British West Indian slavery throughout the long eighteenth century. The study then covers the creation of the first Church of England dioceses in the West Indies in 1824 and the relationship of their respective bishops with the British government throughout the transition from slavery to eventual emancipation in 1838 and in the post-emancipation period. The Church of England did not formally acknowledge its slaving history until 2006. Therefore the purpose of this study is to research that history in order to contribute to the growth of knowledge within the church, within the non-established Anglican churches in the present-day West Indies, and the public at large about the role played by the Church of England in British slavery. Research for this dissertation focuses initially upon the conduct of the church’s clergy during the pre-diocesan era, the use of the bible in abolitionist and anti-abolitionist rhetoric, the issue of slave baptism for both clergy and slave owners and the Church of England’s management of its inherited slave plantations. There is also the question of why the clergy remained under the long- distance authority of the Bishop of London until 1824. This study then investigates the selection, arrival and leadership challenges of the new diocesan bishops in Barbados and Jamaica. The resources for this study draw upon the published writings of clergy both for and against slavery, correspondence between the slave colony bishops and the British government, nineteenth-century newspapers and journals, government committee reports and mission society annual sermons. In conclusion this dissertation argues that the complicity of the Church of England in British slavery was enabled by the church’s establishment status. From this position of authority, the church promoted social acceptance of slavery within Church of England ranks, actively participated in the slave plantation system and served as an agency of government intended to ensure the continuation of that system when Britain abolished slavery in 1838.