Lewis Eliot

Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Matt Childs


In 1807, the British Empire ended its legal involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. The relationship between slavery and imperialism had defined British American imperialism for the preceding three centuries and the end of legal British transatlantic slave trading dramatically altered the Empire’s connection to human bondage. As a result, new debates about slavery dominated the first three decades of the nineteenth century. At the same time, enslaved Africans in Britain’s West Indian colonies perpetually resisted their enslavement and in so doing forcefully inserted themselves into metropolitan abolitionist discourse. Upon the ending of British slavery in 1834, imperial officials used the language of anti-slavery to negotiate their place in the pantheon of Atlantic states. Using instances of enslaved resistance as illuminating moments that reveal the evolution of both British abolitionism and imperialism, this study explores first the influence of African rebels on British anti-slavery ideology, and the ways imperial officials employed abolitionist language in their dealings with Atlantic adversaries.

This dissertation is divided into two parts. The first examines the ways in which those of African descent in the British Caribbean informed the direction British anti-slavery thought and finally freed themselves from their bondage in 1834. The second explores how imperial officials coopted that victory to simultaneously maintain an Empire defined by white supremacy at home and undermine rival states abroad. These efforts then coalesced at the Berlin Conference of 1884 when the nations of Europe formalized the colonization of Africa.


© 2021, Lewis Eliot

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