This Day in History – August 1st, 1838

aboardVermont, progressive as ever, abolished slavery in 1777. At the time it was still independent, and when Vermont joined the United States as the 14th state in 1791 it was the first state to have done so. Over the next couple of decades the northern states each outlawed slavery, and by 1802 Ohio had a state constitution that abolished slavery; however, things were a bit slower across the Atlantic in Britain.

In 1805, a bill for abolition passed in the British House of Commons, but was rejected in the House of Lords. The movement to end slavery was actually gaining more successful in the United States with President Thomas Jefferson, in 1806, calling upon Congress calls for criminalizing the international slave trade, asking Congress to “withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights … which the morality, the reputation, and the best of our country have long been eager to proscribe.” The year after that Britain did respond with the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act that banned slave trading in British Empire; captains of slave ships were to be fined £120 per slave transported. Royal Navy ships began patrols of African coast to arrest slaving vessels. The West Africa Squadron (Royal Navy) was established to suppress slave trading; by 1865, nearly 150,000 people were freed by anti-slavery operation.

710slaves2Starting in 1807, the British were making many strides toward an international ban on the slave trade, and by 1811 slave trading was a felony in the British Empire, punishable by transportation to the penal colonies for British subjects and foreigners. 1815, and the British actually paid Portugal £750,000 to cease their slave trading north of the Equator. Three years later, in 1818, Britain made anti-slavery treaties with Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands, and then with Sweden in 1827, and then France and Denmark in 1835. This human right’s movement was spreading across Europe and beyond. Back in North America, however, Republic of Texas was established in 1836 and slavery is made legal there.

The British continued to dismantle slavery where it could, and on August 1st, 1838, all enslaved men, women and children in the British Empire finally became fully free after a period of forced apprenticeship following the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. By 1845, 36 British Royal Navy ships were assigned to the Anti-Slavery Squadron, making it one of the largest fleets that the world has seen.

Meanwhile, back in the United States of America in 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the presidential order for the Emancipation Proclamation and declared slaves in Confederate-controlled areas to be freed. As late as the 21st century, several other countries took much longer to end slavery . . .

  • 1962: Saudi Arabia
  • 1962: Yemen
  • 1964: The United Arab Emirates
  • 1970: Oman
  • 1981: Mauritania
  • 2003: Niger
  • 2007: Mauritania

. . . and tragically there are still about 30 million people still living in slavery around the world.


Map courtesy of the Washington Post

To learn more about current slavery and what is being done for abolition, please visit

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