Slavery, British companies links revealed


Financial Times in an article mentions, Rothschild (British investment bank) and Freshfields (a top law firm) had previously undisclosed links to slavery in the British colonies. Nathan Mayer Rothschild, the banking family’s 19th-century patriarch, and James William Freshfield, founder of Freshfields, the top City law firm, benefited financially from slavery, records from the National Archives show, even though both have often been portrayed as opponents of slavery. The article mentions:

 

In the case of Mr Rothschild, the documents reveal for the first time that he made personal gains by using slaves as collateral in banking dealings with a slave owner.

This will surprise those familiar with his role in organising the loan that funded the UK government’s bail-out of British slave owners when colonial slavery was abolished in the 1830s. It was the biggest bail-out of an industry as a percentage of annual government expenditure – dwarfing last year’s rescue of the banking sector.

In Mr Freshfield’s case, the records reveal that he and his sons had several slave-owner clients, mostly based in the Caribbean. The lawyers acted as trustees of the owners’ estates and in one case tried to claim unpaid legal fees for the firm through the government scheme set up to compensate owners after abolition.

The myth that much of British and Western world development was due to the industrial revolution and subsequent innovations needs to be corrected. As one academic, Nick Draper has been quoted in the article, “We need to fill the gaps between those who deny slavery’s role and those who believe Britain was built entirely on the blood of slaves.”

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