Many people believe that nothing of great note has taken place in Bridgwater that did not involve a battle, but as you shall see from future articles, this is far from the truth.

One of the most important things that Bridgwater is known for, and one which may surprise many people, is that we were the first town to petition Parliament for the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade:

Whilst it may have been the Portugese who started things off with the slave trade, in the 15th century, it was John Hawkins who raised the numbers with his book ‘An Alliance to Raid for Slaves’ in 1568, during the Elizabethan period.

By the 18th century, the slave trade had readied its height whilst, at the same time, Britain was leading the world in the industrial revolution.

It is well known that African slaves were transported to the sugar plantations in the West Indies and the cotton fields of the Americas but it is not so well known that the British were also placed into slavery, including 849 men from the West Country, including Bridgwater, as a result of the Monmouth rebellion and the battle of Sedgemoor in 1685. These men were sent to the West Indies.

Following pressure from American Quakers, London Quakers petitioned Parliament to abolish the slave trade in 1783, Bridgwater became involved in 1785 by becoming the British first town to petition Parliament.

The Quakers asked a simple question:

How could one man own another if we are all created equal?

The Congress of Vienna, which concluded the Napoleonic war in 1815, passed a motion declaring that ‘the slave trade desolated Africa, degraded Europe and afflicted humanity,’ stating that it should be ended.

It was not until 1838 that the Slavery Abolition Act was introduced in Britain.

They say that from small acorns mighty oaks grow, and Bridgwater should be proud of being that small acorn.

This article was written with the help of a leaflet written by Brian Smedley, which is available from the Blake Museum.


    • Thanks for pointing that out. It’s very strange, I know it was 1685, I was writing 1685, and somehow wrote 1684 instead.


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