Dark Secrets of the Church: The Archbishop’s Shocking Approval of Slavery Payments

Last Updated: June 16, 2024By

Dark Secrets of the Church: The Archbishop’s Shocking Approval of Slavery Payments


Okay, so here’s a shocking tale from the 18th century. It turns out that an Archbishop of Canterbury actually approved payments to buy enslaved people for sugar plantations in Barbados! Yeah, you read that right.

Thomas Secker and the Codrington Plantations

Thomas Secker, the Archbishop at the time, agreed to reimburse over £1,000 for buying enslaved people for the Codrington Plantations. Not just that, but he also hired enslaved people from others. These actions were supposedly for the “lasting advantages of the estates.” Can you believe that?

These details come from documents found in the Lambeth Palace Library, showing how the Church of England was deeply involved in slavery through its missionary branch, The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG).

A Painful Legacy

When this news came out, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was pretty upset. He said, “Every new piece of evidence around the Church’s involvement in the slave trade is sobering, and reading that a former archbishop of Canterbury was involved in the purchase of enslaved people is particularly painful.” He called it a “blasphemy against God’s creation” to treat people as less than human.

The Church’s Deep Roots in Slavery

The SPG got the two sugar plantations back in 1710 from Christopher Codrington, who wanted them to be worked by 300 enslaved people and a college built on the estate. It’s estimated these plantations made about £5 million a year in today’s money!


The SPG was founded in 1701 to convert people in the colonies, and the Archbishop of Canterbury often chaired its meetings. From 1710 to 1838, archbishops were the SPG presidents during the time enslaved people worked on these plantations.

Approving Payments for Slavery

In 1758 and 1760, at meetings chaired by Secker, payments were approved to buy “new negroes” and hire enslaved labor. These facts come from the Lambeth Palace Library’s documents.

Trevor Prescod, a Barbados MP, said the church’s involvement in slavery “right up to the archbishop” showed its deep roots in this terrible practice. He emphasized that the church, being a major player in establishing slavery, has a huge responsibility to compensate the victims.

Life on the Plantations

The enslaved people on these plantations had it really tough. They were branded with irons and forced to work under the whip. In 1781, a document listed 73 children among the enslaved people on these plantations.

The Church’s Response and Apology

The Church of England apologized in 2006 for its role in the slave trade and the Codrington Plantations’ operations. But it hadn’t admitted before that an Archbishop approved funds for buying enslaved Africans.

Last year, the Church Commissioners, who manage the church’s finances, published a full report on their financial links to slavery. They pledged £100 million to address past wrongs. An independent group recommended that the church should fund more research to uncover its full involvement in slavery.

In September last year, the United Society Partners in the Gospel, the SPG’s successor, apologized for the “crimes against humanity” committed at its plantations. They admitted enslaved people were branded and not properly cared for, leading to many deaths.

The Church Commissioners said they would continue researching their archives to uncover more about the church’s role in slavery. They even published a letter showing that senior church members were aware of the horrors of slavery on these plantations.

Moving Forward

This dark chapter in the Church of England’s history is a reminder of the importance of acknowledging past wrongs and striving to make amends. While nothing can fully atone for these crimes, the church is committed to uncovering the truth and addressing these painful parts of its history.

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