A packed meeting of The Friends of the Museum of Taunton (FOTMOS) were captivated by South West Heritage Trust’s archivist, Esther Hoyle, as she talked about the emotive subject of slavery in Somerset during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Using documents held in the archives she showed how three local landed families had used money coming from the sales of sugar and rum. Much had been spent on house renovations, which gave employment to many local craftsmen, but in contrast, the alms-houses in East Coker were supported by money coming from this trade, which in turn was dependent on slave labour.
There is a fascinating document in the archives in which an agent in Jamaica, fearing that the economy of Britain would be ruined if the slave trade was abolished, refers to “that infernal miscreant Wilberforce”. Of course, William Wilberforce, Samuel Coleridge Taylor, Hannah More and others, including the inhabitants of Watchet who signed a petition against the slave trade, won their case and in 1807 the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed in parliament. Sir Stephen Chapman of Tainfield House, Kingston St. Mary was Governor of Bermuda and it fell to him to oversee the emancipation of the slaves there.
The Friends’ next speaker will be Mary Siraut talking about Exmoor Forest at 7.30 on July 19th at the Museum of Taunton. All are welcome to attend, the fee for guests being £3. For further details, please visit the Museum or see their website wwwfriendsofthemuseumofsomerset.com