The Gregs and slavery

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The Slave Trade

The British cotton industry was able to expand at a spectacular rate. This was due to affordable American cotton, money to invest in industry and protected trade routes for buying and selling goods abroad. At the heart of these was the transatlantic slave trade.

The slave trade provided people to work on plantations in the West Indies and the USA. Enslaved Africans were a profitable cargo on the sea trading routes between Africa and the Americas. In the USA, they picked cotton that was then shipped to Britain. The trade, known as the ‘Triangular Trade’, shipped goods, people and cotton across the Atlantic Ocean and was the lifeblood of the cotton industry.

The Gregs and slavery

Quarry Bank Mill was supplied with slave-picked cotton from American plantations, but it also had financial backing from the slave trade. In 1765, John Greg (uncle to Samuel Greg) bought 79 acres of land in Dominica for £2,019 (about £350,000 in today’s money). He called his estate Hillsborough. Over the years Greg bought up more and more land and by 1790 Hillsborough was 931 acres, the size of about 1000 football pitches. In 1795, the total value of the 148 slaves on the Gregs’ plantations was £11,000. This was a lot of money considering Quarry Bank Mill was built for less than £5,000.

In 1795, John Greg died and the plantation was passed to three trustees; his wife Catherine, Sir Richard Neave and Langford Millington. In 1814 a slave revolt occurred on the island. A slave called Frank had been flogged in the fields by manager Thomas Henderson, and later died in the ‘sick house’. Twenty slaves marched to the capital, Roseau, to demand that the governor arrest Thomas. After being turned away, they ran away to the forests and maroon camps. A slave named Peter brought them food, and soldiers forced him to show them the runaways' location.

After two weeks the enslaved Africans were returned to Hillsborough. Six, including Peter, were put on trial for their actions. Peter was brutally executed. The others received up to 100 lashes each.

In 1819 Catherine Greg died, and Samuel Greg and his brother Thomas inherited the plantation, at which point the day-to-day running was handed over to a series of managers, overlookers and lawyers.

Emancipation

The Gregs owned slaves until the 1833 Emancipation Act passed by Parliament, which freed the West Indian slaves in 1834 through an Apprenticeship scheme. The Gregs had to free their 128 slaves from the plantation but back in England Quarry Bank Mill continued to use cotton picked by slaves in America. The Gregs managed their plantation until 1928, when it was producing mainly limes and cocoa, when it was sold off by John Tylston Greg to a local planter and merchant, Philip Rolle.