British Slave Owners’ Family Makes Public Apology in Grenada
Andre Wright, The Guardian, February 27, 2023
An aristocratic British family has travelled to the Caribbean country of Grenada to publicly apologise for its ownership of more than 1,000 enslaved Africans and promise £100,000 in reparations.
Laura Trevelyan, a New York-based BBC correspondent who investigated her family’s link to the slave trade, donated the money to the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Speaking at a ceremony in the capital, St George’s, also attended by Grenada’s prime minister, Dickon Mitchell, Trevelyan said the apology was a first step in the process of reparatory justice.
“To the people of Grenada, we, the undersigned, write to apologise for the actions of our ancestors in holding your ancestors in slavery,” she said on Monday.
John Dower, another Trevelyan family member who stood alongside Laura in delivering the apology, said slavery was a crime against humanity, adding that “we repudiate our ancestors’ involvement”.
The apology was signed by 104 descendants of part owners of six Grenadian plantations. Seven family members attended Monday’s ceremony.
The family urged the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, to negotiate compensation with Caribbean leaders for centuries of exploitation.
“We urge the British government to enter into meaningful negotiations with the governments of the Caribbean in order to make appropriate reparations through Caricom, and bodies such as the Grenada National Reparations Commission,” Dower said. Caricom, or Caribbean Community, is a group of 15 countries in the region.
Other private donations will be made by the Trevelyan family to bursaries and other educational causes.
University College London published information on the Trevelyan legacy in 2013. In 1834, as part of the abolition of slavery, the family received the equivalent, at today’s rate, of £3m in compensation.
Laura Trevelyan, an American citizen, said that the £100,000 donation would be drawn from a pending pension payout from the BBC.
Prof Hilary Beckles, vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies and a leading reparations lobbyist, said the Trevelyan ancestors were “leading architects” and an “essential part of the slavocracy of this world”.
Describing slavery as systemic genocide, Beckles said that while British traders brought 3.5 million Africans to the Caribbean, only 600,000 were in the region by the time of emancipation.
He likened the compensation given to slave owners to offering a reward to a bank robber for his crime.
“The enslavers dominated the British parliament. They were the legislators. So the enslavers raided the British Treasury of £20m pounds to pay themselves. It was the largest ever expenditure taken by the British parliament,” said Beckles.
The professor said reparations should not be viewed as a handout but as a clawback of resources extracted for the development of British urban centres such as Liverpool.
He argued that the UWI’s rating of being among the top 1.5% of universities globally was evidence of how far ahead postcolonial territories could have been had three-quarters of the population not been unable to read or write 60 years ago.
Beckles struck a conciliatory, not combative, chord in his address, calling for other presumed reparations debtors to view their role as a partnership in righting centuries-old wrongs.
Slaves could only contribute an average of seven to 10 years to the workforce of plantation economies because of brutal practices, said Beckles.
Reparation campaigners are demanding trillions of pounds in compensation, with Jamaica alone reportedly due £7.5tn.