Timeline of The Slave Trade and Abolition

1555: A group of Africans (from present day Ghana) are brought to England by John Lok, a London merchant, to learn English so that they can act as interpreters in their homelands. They are to help the English break the monopoly that the Portuguese have over the African trade in gold, ivory and pepper. A written account speaks of "taule and strong men", who "coulde well agree with our meates and drynkes."

1562-9: John Hawkins becomes the first Englishman definitely known to have traded in Africans, making three voyages to Sierra Leone and transporting a total of 1,200 inhabitants to Hispaniola and St Domingue (Dominican Republic and Haiti). He sells them to the Spanish in exchange for pearls, hides, sugar and ginger.

1618: King James I creates The Company of Adventurers of London Trading into the Parts of Africa.

1672: The Royal African Company is formed in order to regulate the English slave trade, with a legal monopoly over the 2,500 miles of African coast from the Sahara to the Cape of Good Hope. The company is financed by royal, aristocratic and commercial capital.

1698: The Royal African Company monopoly ends, opening the trade to private traders from Bristol and Liverpool.

1713: Under the Treaty of Utrecht following the War of the Spanish Succession, Britain is awarded the 'Asiento' or sole right to import an unlimited number of enslaved people to the Spanish Caribbean colonies for 30 years.

1730: First Maroon War in the British colony of Jamaica. Groups of escaped slaves in the mountains repel British forces and a treaty in 1739 confirms their free status.

1760: Rebellions by enslaved people in Jamaica last for several months and claim many lives.

1765: Granville Sharp begins legal challenges to the British slave trade with the case of Jonathan Strong.

1772: John Woolman, an American Quaker and early anti-slavery campaigner comes to England to gather support from English Quakers. 

1772: James Somerset case in London. Chief Justice Lord Mansfield rules that enslaved people in England cannot be forced to return to the West Indies.

1782: The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho are published.

1783: 133 Africans are thrown overboard alive from the slave ship Zong so that the owners can claim compensation money from their insurance company.

1783: British Quakers form a committee against slavery and the slave trade.

1786: Thomas Clarkson's 'An Essay on Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species' is published.

1787: 'Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species' by Ottobah Cuguano is published.

The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the African Slave Trade is founded in London.

1789: 'The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano' or 'Gustavas Vassa the African' is published.

1790: Wilberforce's first Abolition Bill is rejected by Parliament.

1791: Rebellion by enslaved people in St Domingue triggers the Haitian Revolution, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture.

1795: Second Maroon War in Jamaica; Fedon's Rebellion in Grenada.

1802: West India Dock opens in the Port of London, initially dealing solely with the produce from the West Indies.

1804: St Domingue declared the Republic of Haiti, the first independent black state outside of Africa.

1807: The Act to Abolish the Transatlantic Slave Trade is passed in Parliament.

1833: Slavery Abolition Act is passed in Parliament, taking effect in 1834. This act gives all enslaved people in the Caribbean their freedom although some other British territories have to wait longer. However, ex-slaves in the Caribbean are forced to undertake a period of 'apprenticeship' (working for former masters for a low wage) which means that slavery is not fully abolished in practice until 1838.