Myths and Truths

The transatlantic traffic in enslaved Africans is a dark area of Bristol’s history, and it’s important we can understand the city’s role in it. Do you know your fact from your myth?

“Blackboy Hill got its name because enslaved Africans were auctioned here”


The street name comes from the Black Boy Inn. The pub name was probably linked to King Charles II, who was known as ‘the Black Boy’ because of his dark hair and complexion, rather than to the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans (not least because enslaved Africans never were auctioned on the Downs).

“Bristol was a minor port in the traffic in enslaved Africans”


Bristol played a major part in the transatlantic traffic in enslaved Africans, with Bristol merchants financing over 2000 slaving voyages between 1698 and 1807. These ships carried over 500,000 enslaved Africans from Africa to slave labour in the Americas.

“Bristol residents were given billions in compensation for their lost ‘property’ in 1834”


Bristol’s plantation owners and merchants who invested in plantations received over £500,000 in compensation for the ‘loss’ of their enslaved ‘property’ when the Emancipation Act was passed, freeing the enslaved in 1834. Today, that could be worth up to £2,036,000,000.

a cut out section of a newspaper

“Enslaved Africans were advertised in the local paper”


If an enslaved African was brought into Bristol and sold as a house servant, it was usually by word-of-mouth or an advertisement in the local paper. Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal advertised ‘A Negroe Boy, about Ten years old, He has had the Small-Pox’ for sale in August 1760, enquiries to the Printing Office in Small Street.

“Redcliffe Caves were used to house enslaved Africans”


Sand was dug here for the local glass making industry, creating the caverns. Very few enslaved Africans came to Bristol and were sold here, they were normally shipped directly from Africa to the Americas and sold there, where there was the demand for their labour. The caves were used to store goods, including those for the Africa trade, and may have been used as a temporary prison for French prisoners of war.

“St Mary Redcliffe church rang its bells in celebration when a bill to abolish slavery was defeated in 1791.”


There is no record of payment for the bell ringers, so this is most likely a myth. However, the church certainly had links with the transatlantic traffic in enslaved Africans, and many of its congregants would have had some financial interest in the trade. One of the city’s biggest slave traffickers, Edmund Saunders, was Churchwarden in the early 18th century.

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Written by Sue Giles, Senior Curator at Bristol Museums and edited by Hudi Charin, participation volunteer