Slavery Timeline 1601-1700
A Chronology of Slavery, Abolition, and Emancipation in the Seventeenth Century
This page contains a detailed timeline of some of the main historical, literary, and cultural events connected with slavery, abolition, and emancipation between 1601 and 1700. It focuses on the nations and colonies of the British Isles, but also includes references to the most significant events taking place outside of the British zone of influence. In the early seventeenth century that was most of the world, but British influence grew throughout the century so that, by 1700, we might talk of an informal British Empire, led by England, but involving Wales, Scotland, and Ireland in increasingly complex ways.
While there is plenty of detail in this timeline, it is of course impossible to record every event related to slavery in this period. The following selection is thus intended to provide an overview of the topic only. If there is something I have left out that you think should be included, please let me know.
Click on a date in the list below, or scroll down the page, for information. Links are given to pages on this website only. For my sources and for further reading, look at the page Further Reading: Slavery, Abolition, and Emancipation.
- 1601: The Jesuits build their first sugar mill in Brazil.
- 1604: William Shakespeare's play Othello: the Moor of Venice first performed. The play features the figure of Othello, an African general, now working for Venice, who has previously suffered enslavement.
- 14 May 1607: Jamestown, the first permanent British colony in North America, is founded in modern Virginia.
- November 1611: William Shakespeare's play The Tempest first performed. The play includes the figures of Caliban and Ariel, both enslaved.
- 1612: The first permanent, although non-official, British colony is founded in Bermuda.
- 1613: Lorenzo Pignoria publishes De Servis et Eorum apud Veteres Ministeriis, a history of slavery in classical Rome.
- 23 November 1614: Bermuda colony becomes a Crown possession.
- 1617: first records of slaves in Bermuda.
- August 1619: first records of slaves in Virginia. Governor George Yeardley, with his head of trade Abraham Piersey, bought '20. and odd Negroes' at Point Comfort, Virginia, from the White Lion, an English privateer commanded by John Jope.
- 3 June 1621: Dutch West India Company chartered and granted a monopoly to trade in the Caribbean. (Dutch slave traders had been operating with varying degrees of success since about 1600.)
- 28 January 1624: Thomas Warner founds the first British Colony in St Christopher, now normally known as St Kitts.
- 1625: Foundation of the Danish West India Company.
- 14 May 1625: Captain John Powell lands on Barbados and claims the island for King James I.
- 1627: a Spanish-Peruvian Jesuit, Alonso de Sandoval, publishes Naturaleza, Policia, ... Costumbres i Ritos, Disciplina, i Catechismo Evangelico de todos Etíopes (The Nature, Policy, ... Customs and Rituals, Disciplines, and Gospel Catechism of all Ethiopians), which argues that slavery combines all the world's evils.
- 17 February 1627: Henry Powell, John Powell's brother, along with 80 British settlers and 10 African slaves, found a colony on Barbados at Jamestown (modern Holetown).
- 1632: Montserrat, originally claimed by Christopher Columbus for Spain in 1493, falls under English control (although there may have been earlier small English settlements).
- 1635: Foundation of the French Compagnie des Îles de l'Amérique (Company of the Isles of America). The organisation is not a financial success and is restructured in 1642.
- 25 February 1644: A group of 11 enslaved people in New Amsterdam (modern-day New York) successfully petition the government there in what is the first group manumission in a North American colony.
- 1647: Foundation of the Swedish African Company.
- 1651: First written mention of slaves being imported into Montserrat.
- May 1655: British forces under the control of Admiral Sir William Penn take control of Jamaica.
- 1657: Richard Ligon publishes A True and Exact Historie of the Island of Barbadoes in London. The book contained one of the first detailed descriptions of a British slave plantation, and gave rise to the story of Inkle and Yarico.
- 1657: George Fox, the Quaker leader, writes a letter 'To Friends beyond sea, that have Blacks and Indian Slaves'. This is the first letter written by a Quaker expressing some doubts about slavery in the New World.
- 1660: The newly restored King Charles II of England charters the 'Royal Adventurers into Africa', the first English state-sponsored slave trading company.
- 1664: The financially troubled French Company of the Isles of America is replaced by the Compagnie des Indes Occidentales (West India Company). This survives for less than ten years.
- 1671: A group of Quakers, including George Fox and William Edmundson, visit Barbados and appear to have come into conflict with the Barbadian plantocracy for suggesting that slave-owners should treat their slaves with humanity and attempt to convert them to Christianity.
- 1672: The financially troubled Royal Adventurers into Africa, founded in 1660, is restructured and given a new charter as The Royal African Company. The company remains England's major slave-trading organisation into the 1730s.
- 1672: The cartographer Richard Blome publishes A Description of the Island of Jamaica in London, which describes slavery in Jamaica for a popular audience.
- 1673: The Puritan Richard Baxter publishes antislavery material in A Christian directory, or, a summ of practical theologie, and cases of conscience (London, 1673).
- 1673: The financially troubled French West India Company is replaced by the Compagnie du Sénégal (Senegal Company). Under various name changes, this remains the main French slave trading company into the 1720s.
- 1676: the Quaker George Fox publishes Gospel Family-Order, being a short discourse concerning the Ordering of Families, both of Whites, Blacks and Indians, which urged Quakers in America to treat their slaves humanely. The book, although published in London, appears to have been based on a sermon he delivered in Barbados in 1671.
- 1676: the Quaker Alice Curwen visits Barbados and, in a letter to the slave-holding Barbadian Friend Martha Tavernor, becomes the first Quaker to unambiguously denounce slavery.
- 1680: the Anglican Morgan Godwin publishes The Negro's and Indians advocate, suing for their admission into the Church (London, 1680).
- 4 March 1681: Pennsylvania Colony, later to become a centre of antislavery thought, was founded by a grant to William Penn by King Charles II.
- 26 January 1682: Birth of Benjamin Lay in Colchester. Lay would later move to Pennsylvania and become an important antislavery campaigner in the 1730s.
- 1684: In London, Thomas Tryon publishes two tracts critical of slavery: 'The Negro's Complaint of Their Hard Servitude, and the Cruelties Practised upon Them' and 'A Discourse in Way of Dialogue, between an Ethiopean or Negro-Slave and a Christian, That Was His Master in America'. These appeared as parts II and III of Friendly Advice to the Gentlemen-Planters of the East and West Indies (London, 1684).
- 1686: Nanny of the Maroons, also known as Queen Nanny, born at about this time in the Fante nation of modern Ghana. Nanny would go on to lead the Jamaican maroon community in the mid-eighteenth century.
- 12 September 1687: Hans Sloane boards a Royal Navy frigate at Portsmouth to begin a voyage to Barbados and Jamaica in which he observed both the wildlife of the islands and the treatment of enslaved people. His journey was written up years later in his celebrated two-volume A Voyage to Jamaica (London, 1707, 1725).
- 18 February 1688: The Germantown Protest, sometimes also referred to as The German Mennonite Resolution against Slavery, the first formal protest against slavery to be made in the British American colonies, is delivered in Germantown, Pennsylvania.
- 1688: Aphra Behn publishes Oroonoko, or, the Royal Slave, the first novel to discuss the rights and wrongs of slavery.
- 1689: John Locke publishes Two Treatises of Government (London, 1689) which arguably offers a justification for slavery - although few scholars now believe that Locke's arguments were intended to be applied to the Atlantic slave trade.
- 1691: Cotton Mather's biography of John Eliot includes antislavery sentiment: The life and death of the renown'd Mr. John Eliot, who was the first preacher of the Gospel to the Indians in America (Boston?, 1691)
- 1693: The anonymous An exhortation and caution to Friends concerning buying or keeping of Negroes (New York, 1693) becomes the first printed pamphlet explicitly denouncing slavery and the slave trade. Arising from political controversies in early Pennsylvania, it is directed towards Quakers in Philadelphia.
- 1696: Thomas Southerne in London publishes his dramatic version of Behn's Oroonoko, or, the Royal Slave.
- 23 October 1696: Philadelphia Quakers rule that Friends 'be Careful not to Encourage the bringing in of any more Negroes, & that such that have Negroes be Careful of them, bring them to Meetings, or have Meetings with them in their Families, & Restrain them from Loose, & Lewd Living.' This is probably the first institutional attempt to limit slave trading in America.
- July 1698: Five ships of the Company of Scotland for Trading to Africa set sail from Leith to found a colony in Darien (modern Panama). The venture was a disaster, with the death of most of the colonists.