Slave statue


Wilberforce Institute research shows the Guardian’s historical connections with transatlantic slavery

A major review for a global media company in relation to its historical connections with transatlantic slavery has been published today by the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull.

Research into the Guardian’s historical connections with transatlantic slavery in the Americas has led to the Scott Trust, owners of the Guardian Media Group, issuing an apology and outlining a programme of restorative justice, totalling more than £10 million over the next decade.

The announcement published by the Guardian today shows that much of the wealth of the Guardian’s founder and his backers was connected to transatlantic slavery in the USA, Brazil and the Caribbean.

Researchers from the Wilberforce Institute set out a range of connections between transatlantic slavery and John Edward Taylor, the journalist who founded the Manchester Guardian in 1821, and the other Manchester businessmen who funded the newspaper’s creation. The Scott Trust has apologised for the origins of the wealth used to found the Guardian and the part its founders played in the slavery economy.

Dr Cassandra Gooptar, a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute and the lead author of the reports into the Guardian’s links with historical slavery, said:

“I am honoured to have been part of this pioneering project and to be part of a research team with foremost experts in the field. The research on the Manchester Guardian’s links with slavery spanned the course of three years and culminated in three reports along with one summary report. The sombre findings, the potential impact of this project and its restorative justice element highlight the importance of this type of research. It is my hope that this project can act as a springboard and template for other institutions seeking to confront their own legacies of slavery.”

Trevor Burnard, Director of the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull, said: “The Wilberforce Institute is proud to be associated with the Guardian in this brave and pioneering examination of its past involvement with American slavery. Our world-leading institute at the University of Hull is at the forefront of researching and tackling slavery, giving voice to the exploited, both past and present and we were honoured to be entrusted by the Guardian to do work on this project, a project which has taken several years to complete.

“We believe that when organisations take an honest look at their past involvement with slavery, bearing in mind the differences between then and now, it can provide many educational opportunities and a chance to reflect on what values an organisation stands for.”

The sombre findings, the potential impact of this project and its restorative justice element highlight the importance of this type of research.

Dr Cassandra Gooptar

Wilberforce Institute

The research was commissioned in late 2020 by the Trust and carried out in three stages by the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation.

The research was conducted first by Dr Sheryllynne Haggerty, a fellow at the Wilberforce Institute and Dr Cassandra Gooptar, and later by Dr Gooptar and Professor Trevor Burnard, Director of the Institute.

The first phase of research focused largely on John Edward Taylor’s business investments and partnerships, and those of the eleven other men who loaned him money to found the Manchester Guardian. The second phase of work looked at the wider personal, familial and commercial networks of these individuals, the wider cotton trade in Manchester generally in the 19th century and the global networks which facilitated its growth. The third phase of research focused in part on identifying links with plantations in the south-eastern United States and Jamaica, and attempting to identify, if possible, some of the enslaved.

Dr Cassandra Gooptar will be one of the panellists at a special Guardian event to explain and discuss the findings, on Thursday 30 March at 7 pm. Joseph Harker, the Guardian’s senior editor for diversity and development, will chair a panel of speakers that also includes: Katharine Viner, the Guardian’s editor-in-chief; David Olusoga, one of Britain’s foremost public historians and a Scott Trust member; and Maya Wolfe-Robinson, the Guardian’s special project editor. Find out more information and register here.

Dr Gooptar will also join an advisory panel of experts which is being set up by the Scott Trust to guide and review its programme of work on an ongoing basis.

University of Hull's Wilberforce Institute

The review published today establishes that

  • Taylor had links to slavery through partnerships in cotton manufacturing and merchant firms which imported raw cotton produced by enslaved people in the Americas. Researchers reviewed an invoice book showing that Shuttleworth, Taylor & Co. received cotton from specific plantations from the Sea Islands region of the United States.
  • Nine of the eleven men who loaned Taylor money to found the Manchester Guardian had similar links to the slavery economy through their commercial interests in Manchester’s cotton and textiles industry.
  • In addition to having interests in the cotton industry, one of these men, Sir George Philips, was an enslaver of people as co-owner of a sugar plantation in Hanover, Jamaica. In 1835, Philips unsuccessfully attempted to claim compensation from the British government for 108 people enslaved on the plantation.
  • The other two backers are likely to have been cotton merchants but researchers were unable to find detailed histories of the men.

The Scott Trust has set out its proposals for a programme of restorative justice including: continuing to fund research of these histories, through a three-year partnership with the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull; funding an increase in the scope and ambition of Guardian reporting on the Caribbean, South America and Africa, and on Black communities in the UK and US; a fund to support community projects and programmes in the south-eastern US Sea Islands/Gullah Geechee region and Jamaica over the next ten years; as well as bursary and fellowship schemes. It also aims to help improve public understanding of transatlantic slavery’s ongoing impact on Manchester’s and Britain’s history – and of the debates around reparations and restorative justice, through partnerships and community programmes, with a strong focus on Manchester, the city in which the Scott Trust was founded.

Alongside this research, the Guardian has published a series, Cotton Capital, exploring the connections between slavery and the Guardian’s founders, the city of Manchester, and Britain more widely. A range of articles, features, audio and video content will launch as part of this series in the weeks ahead, including a dedicated print supplement published free with the Guardian this Saturday (1 April).

Read the Wilberforce Institute research into the Guardian’s historical connections with transatlantic slavery in the Americas.

Last updated