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Tobacco Box, Georgian

  • Tobacco box

The lid of this lead tobacco box features a decorative African slave’s head. It is therefore associated with the transatlantic slave trade where West African slaves were sold by native slavers to European slave ships and transported in mass numbers to the West Indies. Here slaves were sold to plantation owners and the profits from human traffic were used to buy luxury goods such as sugar, rum and tobacco. These items were then transported back to Europe and sold to the public. British merchants and investors made great personal fortunes from the slave trade until a campaign to end the human misery of slavery succeeded. In 1807 Britain abolished the Atlantic slave trade and used both the Royal Navy and diplomacy to enforce this legislation

More info

Tobacco was grown and harvested by African slaves in the southern American colony of Virginia. It was then packed and shipped to the Cumbrian port of Whitehaven in the 1670s. Whitehaven merchants began transatlantic slave trading in 1711, and continued until the 1760s before Glasgow merchants began to monopolise this trade. Many Georgian people invested in slave ships and became very wealthy from their profits. The transatlantic slave trade enabled Carlisle’s population to enjoy luxury consumer goods such as sugar, coffee, cotton, rum, tobacco and tea, all harvested by slave labour.

Notes on Slavery and Carlisle

The impact of the slave trade reached every corner of the British Isles, including Carlisle.

Roman Carlisle witnessed slaves used in domestic service.

John Kent was the son of a freed slave. He became Britain’s first black policeman and worked in Carlisle from 1837. Dismissed for drunkenness he went to work for the North West railway in 1844.

From the seventeenth century Carlisle’s population was able to savour everyday British consumer goods such as sugar, coffee, cotton, rum, tobacco and tea. Yet such products were provided by slave labour. The slave triangle between West Africa, The Caribbean and the United Kingdom enabled the transport and deployment of a slave workforce and the resultant import of these luxury items.

A number of people were appalled at the conditions of trade and the treatment of slaves by their masters and overseers.  The abolition movement however grew in strength and due to the efforts of men such as Clarkson and Wilberforce pressure increased. August 1834 saw the extinction of slavery in the West Indian colonies, however slaves were still indentured to their owners until 1838.

Carlisle’s Victorian connections with slavery had also not completely ended. 1836 saw the building of Shaddon Mill and the textile giants of Dixons and Fergusons imported raw cotton from the slave plantations of the United States and exported calico to clothe the slaves there. The decline of the cotton trade in Carlisle coincided with the end of slavery in the southern States.

Today slavery still exists. Varying forms of slavery are found globally today. People trafficking is a key issue in modern society. Women and men are enslaved in the sex trade. Forms of bonded labour are found in both rural and industrial employment. Sweatshops earn huge amounts of money with little care for their workforce.  Vulnerable people are still being exploited by those attempting to make profit from their most valued commodity - human beings.  

Key facts: 
  • Cumbrian ports of Workington and Whitehaven were some of the biggest involved in the transatlantic slave trade during the Georgian period. The colonies which used slave labour supplied commodities such as cotton and tobacco to Britain.
  • This tobacco box is decorated with the head of an African slave. This was a fairly common decorative theme during this period.

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