In the 18th century, while the Church preached to Africans about a God in whose image they were made, it funded a company that carted them away from Africa in ten of thousands.
The history of the transatlantic slave trade is one of the darkest chapters in human history, marked by the exploitation and suffering of millions of African men, women, and children. While the primary responsibility for this abhorrent trade lies with the European colonial powers and their merchants, some institutions associated with spirituality and moral guidance were entangled in this heinous practice. One such institution is the Church of England, which had direct investments in transatlantic slavery through Queen Anne’s Bounty.
Queen Anne’s Bounty:
Queen Anne’s Bounty was established by the Church of England in 1704 as a means to supplement the incomes of poor clergymen in the Church of England. The funds for the establishment were acquired through various means, including financial contributions from wealthy individuals with links to slavery, first fruits, and tithes.
Queen Anne’s Bounty would go on to invest significant sums in the British South Sea Company, which transported tens of thousands of enslaved Africans to the Spanish Americas in the 18th century.
The South Sea Company, through which the Church reaped its ROI in slavery, recorded an alarming 15% death of the tens of thousands of enslaved Africans it transported over the years. Many more died while working on plantations. In 1777, Queen Anne’s Bounty had investments worth £406,942 (equivalent to around £724m in today’s terms) in the South Sea Company. Thus, one could argue that, alongside Christ, the blood of Africans also flowed for the Church of England.
The Church of England’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade was not limited to passive investments. Several clergymen and bishops were also known to have direct financial interests in slave plantations and estates. These individuals derived significant profits from the forced labor of enslaved Africans, thereby directly benefiting from the dehumanization and suffering inflicted upon their fellow human beings.
The Church continued its investments in the slave trade well into the 19th century and generated enough wealth that supported the church and its clergy members.
In recent years, the Church of England has taken steps towards acknowledging and addressing its historical ties to slavery. In 2023, the Church issued a formal apology for its role in the Atlantic slave trade. Additionally, the Church Commissioners, a body responsible for administering the property assets of the Church of England, pledged a fund of £100 million to be spent over the next nine years. The purpose of this fund is to work towards creating a “better and fairer future for all, particularly for communities affected by historic slavery” and to address the Church’s historical connections with slavery.
The Church of England’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade through Queen Anne’s Bounty represents a painful and morally reprehensible aspect of its history. It serves as a stark reminder that even institutions we consider protectors of morality and ethics can be tainted by the strong pull of financial gain.