November 29, 1781
Atlantic Ocean
133 slaves are murdered by being intentionally thrown overboard from the slave ship Zong transporting them

At the time, it was common for slave traders to take out insurance on slaves as cargo. Sometime during the journey, it was noted the potable water supply was too low to safely reach their destination. It was decided 133 slaves would be thrown overboard, in part to conserve water for the crew and also to to receive the insurance money on those who were murdered as the insurance would not cover those who died by dehydration.

When the ship’s owners attempted to collect the insurance, the insurers refused to pay. The court case that followed ruled that in some cases the intentional murder of slaves was legal, and was grounds for collecting insurance. Granville Sharp, one of the first English campaigners for the abolition of slavery, attempted unsuccessfully to try the ship’s crew for murder. Though the crew was not prosecuted, the trial did bring to light the horrors associated with the slave trade. By 1787, the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade was established; the following year, Parliament passed a law limiting the number of slaves per ship; and by 1807 the African slave trade was abolished in Britain.

Image credit: The Slave Ship by J. M. W. Turner

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