In 1833 slavery was abolished in the British Caribbean, Mauritius and the Cape. Freedom from slavery was a momentous occasion for those who had been enslaved, and a moment that Buckingham residents directly campaigned for.
One such campaigner was Sir George Nugent-Grenville, son of the 1st Marquess of Buckingham. George was a radical Whig and MP for Buckingham and Aylesbury for 25 years. In January 1826 George chaired an anti-slavery meeting in Buckingham and became President of the local Anti-Slavery Society. Anti-Slavery Societies held public meetings and created pamphlets where the stories of freed slaves, including Olaudah Equiano, could be heard. We don’t know exactly where the anti-slavery meeting took place in Buckingham, but we think it was likely at the Town Hall.
It wasn’t unusual for members of the family at Stowe House to get involved in arguing for political change. The family at Stowe was a political dynasty descended from George Grenville, who was Prime Minister of Britain between 1763 – 1765. Both George Grenville and the younger Sir George Nugent-Grenville represented the Whig party which was responsible for many social reforms, as well as the creation of workhouses.
On slavery, the family was sharply divided. George’s nephew, Richard Grenville 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, was Chairman of the West India Committee a pressure group who fought to be allowed to continue keeping and using slaves in the British Caribbean long after it had been declared illegal in Britain. The Duke was a Tory MP between 1818 and 1839 as well an owner of enslaved people.
The Duke owned Hope Estate in St Andrew, Jamaica and applied for and received compensation of £6,630 5s 6d when Jamaican slaves were freed by British law. The equivalent of around £800,000 today. The slaves themselves were forced into unpaid ‘apprenticeships’ for a further six years as part of the compensation scheme to slave owners. Accounts of Hope Estate say that almost all of the slaves were black.
The 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, Richard’s father, also served as an MP. In June 1804 he opposed an earlier attempt to abolish slavery by William Wilberforce. Saying: “he believed the moment this bill was passed, the death warrant of every white man in the West Indies would be sealed.” The 1st Duke also applied for compensation from the slave owners scheme but was declared ineligible.
With thanks to the UCL Legacies of British Slave Ownership project, which made this research possible.