Monthly Archives: July 2014

THE MICO TRUST

There is an interesting end-piece to the story of the Barbary Corsairs which involved Thomas Fowell Buxton. After the emancipation of the slaves in the West Indies, Buxton was seeking funds to establish a school in Jamaica. He became aware of a fund called the Lady Mico Trust which was dormant.

The Mico fund was established by Sir Samuel Mico, born in Weymouth, who had made his fortune in India.

On his death in 1666, he bequeathed most of his estate to his widow and to his nephew, Samuel, but he left the George Tavern and a sum of £500 to the town of Weymouth for the preaching of an annual sermon in the parish church, for the binding out of three poor children apprentices and for the relief of ten poor decayed seamen of the town, aged 60 and upwards.

Lady Mico in her turn with her share of Samuel’s estate, established her own trust.

In her will Lady Mico left a sum of £1000 for the redemption of Christian slaves in Barbary, a problem which her husband, as a member of the Court of Levant Company, would have been very familiar. This money was invested in the purchase of a wharf and and premises at Castle Baynard, but with the exception of one payment in the 1730s, the income was never used, and by 1830 a sum of over £100,000 had accumulated.

In 1835 it was diverted by those concerned with the emancipation of slaves in the British West Indies to the education of freed slaves. A prime mover in this matter was Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, a great grandson of Charles Buxton, Master of the Mercers’ Company in 1768, although not himself a Mercer. The fund was used to set up elementary schools throughout the British West Indies and to found a teachers’ training college at Kingstone, Jamaica.

The Schools were soon afterwards handed over to various religious societies, who also maintained schools in the islands, but MicoCollege, Kingstone, remained the responsibility of the Mico Trustees and is now the second largest teachers’ training college in Jamaica. The Buxton family have been represented on the Board of Trustees of the College since its inception.

RULE BRITANNIA? BRITANNIA RULE THE WAVES…?

slaves

Britons never shall be slaves? In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries this was a pious hope. For over 200 years, the Corsairs of the Barbary Coast (Algiers, Tunis, Libya today) roved around the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic Ocean capturing ships and raiding ashore for one main purpose – to take slaves.

The Corsairs were originally from north Africa and other lands subject to the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinople. However, soon these were augmented by renegade Europeans who “Turning Turk” and joined in the slave hunts to make their fortune. They captured European ships which were more suited to ocean voyaging rather than the coastal craft originally used by the Corsairs.

The extent of these voyages is quite remarkable. The Corsairs even got as far as Iceland and surprised the inhabitants of the Island of Heimaey and took 400 Icelanders to be sold in the slave market of Algiers.

One of the most notorious instances was in 20 June 1631 when the slavers came ashore at Baltimore, a little fishing village near Cork. They chose their time well. They attacked at 2 o’clock in the morning and burst into the houses capturing 22 men 33 women and 54 children to be taken to the slave market. They captured the whole village. One man was away that night and came home to find his wife and seven children taken. None were ever seen again.

By 1636 there was panic along the south coast of England. Shipowners from Exter, Dartmouth, Plymouth, Barnstaple, Southampton, Poole, Weymouth and Lyme Regis got together to complain to the King that in the previous few years they had lost 87 vessels to piracy and in addition 1160 English seamen were kept in miserable captivity.

On arrival in Algiers, the treament of the captives was remarkably similar to that meted out to African slaves in Jamaica. They were exhibited for sales and prodded and examined by prospective buyers. The men could expect a very hard life either as galley slaves or heavy labour ashore.

It has been calculated that in the 200 years during which the Barbary Corsairs raided the coasts of Europe and its marine traffic, some 1,250,000 people were captured and sold as slaves. This is about one tenth of the number of Africans who were transported to the West Indies and the Americas during the notorious slave trade which Wilberforce and Buxton strove to abolish. Nevertheless it was a significant number.

What is remarkable is that while Britain and other European nationed railed against the Barbary Corsairs taking slaves from Europe, at the same time these same countries were estabilshing slavery in the New World. It is very difficult to understand from a viewpoint of today, how people could live with these contrasting practices.

But it can be seen that the concept of slavery was not confined to the trade across the Atlantic. Slavery was endemic and practised by many nations. The Arab nations had practised slavery for many years, taking slaves from Africa into the Ottoman Empire.