Posted on June 8, 2020

Who Was Edward Colston and Why Was His Bristol Statue Toppled?

Martin Farrer, The Guardian, June 8, 2020

The statue of slave trader Edward Colston that was toppled from its plinth and pushed into the docks by protesters has long caused anger and divided opinion in Bristol.

The 5.5-metre (18ft) bronze statue had stood on Colston Avenue since 1895 as a memorial to his philanthropic works, an avenue he developed after divesting himself of links to a company involved in the selling of tens of thousands of slaves. His works in the city included money to sustain schools, almshouses and churches.

Although Colston was born in the city in 1636, he never lived there as an adult. All his slave-trading was conducted out of the City of London.

Colston grew up in a wealthy merchant family in Bristol and after going to school in London he established himself as a successful trader in textiles and wool.

In 1680 he joined the Royal African Company (RAC) company that had a monopoly on the west African slave trade. It was formally headed by the brother of King Charles II who later took the throne as James II. The company branded the slaves – including women and children – with its RAC initials on their chests.

It is believed to have sold about 100,000 west African people in the Caribbean and the Americas between 1672 and 1689 and it was through this company that Colston made the bulk of his fortune, using profits to move into money lending.

He sold his shares in the company to William, Prince of Orange, in 1689 after the latter had orchestrated the Glorious Revolution and seized power from James the year before.