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Were Your UK Ancestors Slave Owners?

Updated on March 22, 2013

Free Searchable List of UK Slave Owners

Now you can search through an online database to find out if your ancestors were UK slave owners.

If you are researching your family history, it can be quite interesting to discover slave owners and probably the associated wealth in your family history - most of it's probably not trickled down to you though has it :)

A lot of wealth in the 1800s came when the UK Government compensated UK slave owners when slavery was abolished.


You can now search online, for free, to see who was paid out a share of over £20million in compensation after the abolition of slavery in 1833.

At this time there were over 3,000 UK slave owners who benefitted from this cash windfall - and, not surprisingly, it was mostly the rich.

The University College of London have made a list of UK slave owners available to the public, online - so if you are researching your family history it's worth knowing where that easy to use online database is and add it to your list of bookmarks.

The Database of UK Slave Owners is open to the public and allows anyone to find out details of the families involved in slavery in:

  • the Caribbean
  • Mauritius
  • the Cape Colony (part of modern-day South Africa).

Finding out how many slaves existed can be estimated by studying ships' records - since most were transported by ship. Records of slave ships show that an estimated 12.5 million people were transported as slaves between Africa and the Americas and the Caribbean between the 16th century until the trade was banned in 1807.

After slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1833 compensation was paid to the current UK slave owners.

Most slave owners were men, but there were a few women who owned a few slaves. Women were not generally wealthy enough in their own right to become slave owners, which is why the few women that were owners, owned only a few slaves. In some instances the women might have been widows and the slaves had come to them via their late husband's estate.

If you were a slave owner when slavery was abolished, you had to make an official and formal claim for compensation - it is these meticulously kept records that have been the source of the database. At this time, the British Government kept very detailed records and so the information was clear and fairly easy to transcribe and collate.

This is a great database if you want to do some online research, without any costs involved. The database is quick and easy to use and yields good results.

By typing in, for example, just a surname, you will instantly see a complete list of slave owners with that name, who they are being compensated for and how much money was paid out - it's easy and fascinating.


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    • cornwall_UK profile image

      cornwall_UK 4 years ago from Cornwall, UK

      None for me, none of my ancestors were slave owners. Loved the fun of checking out this great free resource.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 4 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      Heck, my ancestors, one of them at least, was an English slave trader! Did the whole sail to Africa and back to America thing! And, on the same side of my family were the abolitionist Quakers. I learned in a history book that my slave trader ancestor was an all-around scoundrel. He was called 'the biggest liar in England' at one point.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 4 years ago from London

      I did indeed - but wasn't surprised not to find any.

      Almost all of these owners lived outside the UK - they all owned slaves outside the UK, anyway. This was the abolition of slavery throughout the empire, rather than in the UK itself (which happened quite a lot earlier).

      My ancestors were in general not the slave-owning classes - they were agricultural labourers in Wales, Kent, Sussex, Somerset and Lancashire. The only ones who had any money at all were based in Liverpool (which was a big slaving port in earlier times) but they were solicitors, not merchants.

    • earner profile image

      Dedicated Content Curator 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you LondonGirl for your informative background information (and, I know, knowledge of law).

      Yes, until the Married Women's Property Act of 1882 women were not allowed to own anything - all their belongings becoming the possessions of the man. What a world!

      Therefore, as you rightly point out, the only women slave owners would have been single or widowed.

      I bet you had a peek at the list - and I wonder if your family owned any slaves. I know mine didn't (you can't help but look can you) :)

      All the best

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 4 years ago from London

      Very interesting hub.

      In relation to women - it wasn't just about whether women were wealthy or not as to whether they owned property. Until the Married Women's Property Act in the second half of the 19th century, married women didn't own anything, slaves or otherwise. All their possessions were automatically passed to their husbands, and they owned nothing. So only women who were single or widowed could own property of any kind at all.