Friday, 17 July 2015

Slave-owning Britain

Intrigued by the premise of this programme, I could not resist looking up Littles in We have been made aware in recent years of the extent to which many of the great fortunes of England were made on the backs of slaves. What David Olusoga exposed was how deeply into the middle-classes dependence on income from slaves descended.

I knew there must have been a namesake who was a major slave-owner in mainland colonies because of the number of African-Americans who bear the surname. (Plantation owners habitually gave all their human property their own surname as well as a forename to replace their African names, and not necessarily only those sired with female slaves.) Cleavon Little, the multi-talented actor who had just one starring role but sadly too early to catch today's colour-blind casting in American TV and film, was one. Another was a young woman who I remember as Sally Little, but whose short period of fame occurred too early to register on the World Wide Web. She had taken the life of a prison guard who had been routinely abusing her and made United States history by being acquitted of first-degree murder. (I often wonder what happened to her after the trial.) And of course Malcolm X was formerly Malcolm Little.

Little is not an uncommon name, especially in Scotland, so I have little fear that any of my direct ancestors were beneficiaries of the appalling trade. It was interesting to check the name, even so.

Indeed there were a few Littles in the West Indies compensation register, and none were significant bar one: Dorothy Little, the widow of the rector of Hanover parish in Jamaica. It seems that the Church of England saw no shame in owning slaves in the early 19th century. Looking up the names of rectors of Hanover turned up a rather less common name than mine, that of Anglin. There must be a familial link with BME and gay Liberal Democrat activist Charles Anglin.

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