On 28 August 1833, the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the Slavery Abolition Act, abolishing slavery throughout the British Empire.
Nearly a year later, on the 1st of August 1834, the Act commenced. It had been over half a century since the inception of the anti-slavery movement among the British Public. The Act was followed in 1839 by the formation of the Anti-Slavery Society, the world's oldest human rights organisation.
Below are a few notable former slaves, whose lives have been recorded within the records at Findmypast.
Dido Elizabeth Belle
Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761–1804), pictured above with her cousin Elizabeth Murray, was born into slavery as the natural daughter of Maria Belle, an enslaved African woman in the West Indies, and Captain John Lindsay, a British career naval officer who was stationed there.
Lindsay took Dido with him when he returned to England in 1765, entrusting her to his uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield and his wife to raise. The Murrays educated Dido, bringing her up as a free gentlewoman at their Kenwood House, together with their niece, Elizabeth Murray. Belle lived there for 30 years, and in his will of 1793, Lord Mansfield confirmed her freedom and provided an outright sum and an annuity to her.
In these years, her great-uncle, in his capacity as Lord Chief Justice, ruled in two significant slavery cases, finding in 1772 that slavery had no precedent in common law in England, and had never been authorized under positive law.
Ignatius Sancho (c. 1729 – 14 December 1780) was a composer, actor, and writer. He is the first known Black Briton to vote in a British election. Ignatius gained fame in his time as "the extraordinary Negro", and to 18th-century British abolitionists he became a symbol of the humanity of Africans and immorality of the slave trade.
The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, edited and published two years after his death, is one of the earliest accounts of African slavery written in English by a former slave of Spanish and English families.
Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745 – 31 March 1797) also known as Gustavus Vassa, was a prominent African abolitionist and freed slave who supported the British movement to end the slave trade. As a child he was enslaved in his village of Essaka, in what is now southern Nigeria, and shipped to the West Indies, being sold in Virginia.
With his master, an officer in the Royal Navy, he eventually moved to England, where he purchased his freedom. Throughout his life Equiano worked as an author, a seafarer, merchant, hairdresser, and explorer in South and Central America, the Caribbean, and the Arctic, the American colonies, and the United Kingdom, where he settled by 1792.
His autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, depicts the horrors of slavery and influenced the enactment of the British Slave Trade Act of 1807, which abolished the African slave trade.
Mary Prince (c. 1788-after 1833) was a slave, born in Barbados, but brought to Britain by her owners. Once in Britain, she tried unsuccessfully to gain her freedom and decided to go public with her experiences of being a slave. Her story was narrated to the author Susannah Strickland and was published in 1831.
Her account particularly appealed to female anti-slavery campaigners as it highlighted the effect slavery had on domestic life.