Beatings, brandings, suicides: life on plantations owned by Church of England missionary arm

Last Updated: June 16, 2024By
Escaping Slavery: Quasheba’s Untold Story

In the 18th century, Quasheba, a mixed-race woman held in slavery, made a daring escape from a sugar plantation in Barbados. Though her fate remains unknown, the brutal conditions she fled in 1783 are well-documented. Official records simply note her as “run away.”

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Life on the Plantation

The Codrington plantations, where Quasheba was enslaved, were notorious for their harsh conditions. Enslaved people there faced extreme violence, punishment, and tyranny. Many chose death over the cruelty they endured. Forced to harvest sugar cane under the whip, these people were often branded with hot irons.

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The plantation, owned by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), covered 763 acres and made about £5 million annually in today’s money. The SPG was the Church of England’s missionary arm, highlighting a dark chapter in the church’s history.

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Church and Slavery: A Controversial Link

Recently, evidence from Lambeth Palace library revealed that an 18th-century Archbishop of Canterbury approved funds to buy enslaved people. This discovery is painful for Justin Welby, the current archbishop, who expressed deep regret over this involvement. He acknowledged that while nothing can fully make up for these crimes, the Church is committed to uncovering the full extent of its involvement.

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The Horrors Uncovered

Research by Robert Beckford, a professor of social justice, suggests that the Church’s ties to slavery are more extensive than previously known. The SPG, which received the Codrington plantations in a bequest from Christopher Codrington, continued the brutal practices. Codrington’s will required the plantations to maintain at least 300 enslaved people for educational purposes, under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

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Branding and Brutality

Enslaved people on these plantations were branded with “society” on their chests, marking them as property of the SPG. The death rate was high, with estimates of 600 to 1,200 enslaved people dying between 1710 and 1838. The SPG purchased at least 450 enslaved Africans from 1712 to 1761. Rewards were offered for runaway enslaved people, showing the desperation of those like Quasheba to escape.

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The Church’s Role

The SPG was led by Church of England leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. Thomas Secker, the archbishop in 1758, approved funds for purchasing new enslaved people. He acknowledged the high death rates and the continual need for new enslaved laborers.

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By 1781, the Codrington plantations had 162 field workers and 73 children. The plantations even received tools sized for child workers, highlighting the extent of exploitation.

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Acknowledging the Past

In 2006, the Church of England apologized for its role in slavery. Despite this, calls for reparations and further acknowledgment continue. The Church Commissioners, managing the Church’s assets, have researched the Church’s links to slavery. A recent report showed how its endowment fund was partly linked to transatlantic chattel slavery.

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The USPG, the successor to the SPG, also apologized for its historical role at the Codrington estate and pledged £7 million for renewal and reconciliation projects. However, this was criticized for lacking dialogue with the Barbados National Task Force on Reparations.

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Moving Forward

Institutions like Lloyd’s of London, the Guardian, and the Bank of England have also begun addressing their historical ties to slavery. Lloyd’s of London pledged £52 million to promote racial equality, and the Guardian’s founders were linked to slavery through cotton trading. The Bank of England discovered it owned enslaved people in the 1770s.

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The National Trust found that a third of its properties had links to slavery, and Greene King, a brewery, apologized for its founder’s involvement in the slave trade.

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Seeking Justice

Trevor Prescod, a Barbados MP, stressed that the Church must acknowledge its role in justifying slavery and take responsibility. The Church Commissioners have committed to transparent research and ongoing engagement to understand this dark history better.

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Understanding and acknowledging these truths is crucial for healing and justice. Quasheba’s story, along with many others, serves as a reminder of the enduring impact of slavery and the importance of confronting and learning from the past.

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