Recommended listening: Radio 4 Descendants

Following on from recent posts about my slave owning ancestors, I just want to recommend Episode 4 of 7 of Radio 4’s Descendants series. Ruth Hecht who I have been in touch with was one the participants. I found it fascinating on so many levels, and not least being the storytelling approach given the different perspectives involved including both a decendant of slaves and one from those who eslaved them:

It touched upon so many things, including those I have been seeing as part of my research, i.e. how the slave owning families were so connected and how that appears to have been a way of consolidating the vast wealth they had amassed, the close links between industry and those compensated for their slave owning, and how slavery in the UK is never far from home.

I was particularly struck by the way Ruth described how she looked at the slave registers of her ancestors who owned enslaved people. She says it really helped her come to terms with the fact that enslaved people were individuals with families, friendship groups, etc. Without doing this, she thinks it’s too easy to become numbed to the horror of slave ownership, as enslaved people are often referred to merely in terms of numbers, e.g. (my ancestor) Josiah Webbe owned 30 slaves. She says if you look at the list of those 30 people and see their names, ages, their role on the plantation, and if they were born in Africa or West Indies, then it makes it much more real. Apparently, contains those registered but they are not so easy to search.

It made me think about whether my exploration of slave owning ancestors is part of some kind of reconcilation. Not sure I’ve figured that out yet, as I’ve only be looking at all this for just over a week. I’m sure it will be something I come back to, perhaps after having checked out Alex Renton’s Blood Legacy: Reckoning With a Family’s Story of Slavery book Ruth recommended

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