Freedom’s Debtors


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British Antislavery in Sierra Leone in the Age of Revolution

Padraic X. Scanlan

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A history of the abolition of the British slave trade in Sierra Leone and how the British used its success to justify colonialism in Africa

British anti-slavery, widely seen as a great sacrifice of economic and political capital on the altar of humanitarianism, was in fact profitable, militarily useful, and crucial to the expansion of British power in West Africa. After the slave trade was abolished, anti-slavery activists in England profited, colonial officials in Freetown, Sierra Leone, relied on former slaves as soldiers and as cheap labor, and the British armed forces conscripted former slaves to fight in the West Indies and in West Africa.
At once scholarly and compelling, this history of the abolition of the British slave trade in Sierra Leone draws on a wealth of archival material. Scanlan’s social and material study offers insight into how the success of British anti-slavery policies were used to justify colonialism in Africa. He reframes a moment considered to be a watershed in British public morality as rather the beginning of morally ambiguous, violent, and exploitative colonial history.

Padraic X. Scanlan is an assistant professor of international history at the London School of Economics and Political Science and a research associate at the Joint Centre for History and Economics at the University of Cambridge.

"Scanlan's book is a beautifully written, deeply researched contribution to the history of empire and antislavery. He takes a fresh approach to the study of British abolition, investigating the everyday economic, bureaucratic, and military practices of the British Empire in Sierra Leone in its first thirty years as a settlement for formerly enslaved people. This important book shows how ideologically-driven abolition policies were developed, adapted, and enacted in the messy, unpredictable practice of colonial rule."—Bronwen Everill, author of Abolition and Empire in Sierra Leone and Liberia

Won the 2018 Wallace K. Ferguson Prize from the Canadian Historical Association for the outstanding book published in 2017 in a field of history other than Canadian History

Freedom’s Debtors: British Antislavery in Sierra Leone in the Age of Revolution was selected as the winner of the 2018 James A. Rawley Prize for the book. The Rawley Prize is awarded annually by the American Historical Association (AHA) to honor the best book on the integration of Atlantic worlds before the 20th century.
ISBN: 9780300217445
Publication Date: October 24, 2017
320 pages, 6-1/8 x 9-1/4
10 b/w hafltones, 2 maps
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