Slavery & Abolition sites – Devon & Cornwall, England

Stedcombe House, nr Axminster

This house has been described as a dolls house with few frills,  and has been featured in Country Life Magazine twice. It has been rescued from dereliction and Victorian alterations and is now privately owned.
Richard Hallet II, of a wealthy Lyme merchants family, returned from his Barbados estates with his family and black servants when his father died in 1699.  When the present house was built, the family lived there till 1890.  Richard became involved in local politics, continued to earn money from his Barbados estates and trading in sugar and rum.  It is unclear how many servants they brought, but in 1702 a black manservant called Andowas accused with others of riotous assembly in Lyme, when an attempt was made to rescue a man from the custody of a neighbouring merchant.  The charges of unlawful assembly were upheld, but not that of riot.  This suggests the black servants were involved in the local community and allowed some freedom of movement.  But no black inhabitants were recorded on the Lyme census, and no record of any other incidents survive.   Richard Hallett’s father John’s will of 1699 included an order for his boy to have his freedom, and that his family were to maintain him if he wished.  Richard’s elder brother, another John, left money and land to his servants in Barbados.



Birthplace of Dr Thomas Hayter (baptised 1702-1762) son of local rector, he was educated at Tiverton and later became Bishop of Norwich.
He was a strange supporter of abolition as he promoted ideas such as the fixed divine hierarchy, that God had placed in their situation, and that sickness was a ‘gracious instrument in the hands of Providence for the moral improvement of such creatures as we are’.  He was preacher to several charities  including  the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. Clarkson praised him for his anti slavery sermon of 1755 to the latter.


Perhaps the most ill fated expedition was the first slaving venture from this port was the Dragon, departed February 1699 for the Guinea Coast.  They obtained 57 slaves, then the captain died to be replaced by Henry Taylor ‘a Jonah of the first Water’.  Their departure for the West Indies was delayed by winds, food shortages and a slave rebellion.

They arrived Barbados September, but by 1 October all the crew were dead and Taylor too ill to write.  The ship had been impounded for lack of documentation, but by April 1701 was released and Taylor tried to recoup some of the losses by short haul inter island haulage.  But June 1702 the ship was taken by French pirates and the crew imprisoned by the Spanish near Caracas.  By Christmas, Taylor had found his way back to Barbados, and put in charge of the Phoenix back to England.

On his arrival in October 1703 he was imprisoned by his employers for mismanagement of the affair, whereby they had obtained a mere £100 for their £500 trade goods, plus the loss of the ship. He in turn tried to sue them for £144 in wages for his 4 years at sea.  One of the backers, Robert Corker survived to become one of the leading merchants in Cornwall; all others involved stayed well away from the trade.
The Royal Africa Company ship the Northampton carrying 2 princes home to Africa was forced ashore by storms in April 1706.  But they damaged their hull going over the bar at the mouth of the Ex, which so terrified Prince James the captain wrote to London for advice.  On May 4 he hanged himself and was buried ashore.  The response of the Royal Africa Company was that he was of no value, but that his brother more than made up for him.  One author claims this shows their hypocritical response to Africans, but it may also have been one of pragmatism. Terrified passengers could have an unsettling effect on crew in what was always a dangerous environment.  His behaviour was probably seen as cowardly, which again would not have been good for the crew’s morale.  Until recent times, anyone in Britain committing suicide was buried at night in unconsecrated ground, a form of punishment for such unchristian behaviour.
Raparee Cove, Adjoining Ilfracomb Harbour
Wreck of the barque London and mass grave of 50-60 chained prisoners of war.

When General Sir Ralph Abercromby’s fleet returned to England from the West Indies during the French Revolutionary War, they hit bad weather and some of the fleet sought shelter in the Bristol Channel.  On 9 October 1796 the London transport tried to anchor to a buoy at the mouth of Ilfracombe harbour, despite the wind favouring her finding shelter there.  The ship was smashed to pieces, the bay awash with bodies which were buried at the base of the cliffs at Raparee Cove. Gold and silver coins have been recovered,  presumably from the wreck, and a major archeological dig unearthed skeletons and iron fetters.  Survivors were taken as prisoners of war to Stapleton Prison near Bristol, and in 1798 were repatriated to France, including 12 negroes and 9 mulattos.


17 October 1808 a French speaking African servant of General Rochambeau, Prisoner of War married Susannah Parker in Moretonhampstead church ‘The bells rang merrily all day because it was the first time a negro was married in Moretonhampstead’


Thomas Pellow was  about 15 yo in 1715 when his ship was taken by Moroccan corsairs who were then attacked by a British man of war, and then ran aground, so some of the captives were drowned. Pellow was rescued for a life of slavery. He spent 23 years serving in the emperor’s court, when he converted to Islam, married and fathered a child. When they died he escaped home.



Joseph Pitts was 15yo in 1678 when taken from his fishing boat by Barbary pirates. To improve his treatment, he converted to Islam, though agonising at the risk of damnation in the afterlife, but he smuggled a letter to his father assuring him he remained a Christian in his heart. He was bought and sold several times until taken to Mecca and granted his freedom, though still risked his life by any attempt  to return home. Eventually he fled with the help of an English merchant. After 15 years in slavery, he was arrested by the press gang on his first night back. He was freed by an aristocrat


Thomas Troughton sailed in 1746 recorded by Exeter colleague years later. Their ship ‘The Inspector’ was a privateer, or official raiders, taking French vessels as prizes. At the time, the emperor of Morocco was under a treaty with the British court, so when they ran aground near Tangier, they expected help but instead were enslaved until the British government had paid an old debt. Officers escaped, but the crew abandoned.




Birthplace of Martin Pring (baptised 1580 died 1626) naval officer and explorer. In 1603, supported by Bristol’s Merchant Venturers and Richard Haklyut, with a licence from Raleigh, he sailed to Virginia for intensive study of the area. His detailed studies profided information for later settlers, especialy the Pilgrim Fathers.

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