Edward Colston Wiki – Edward Colston Biography
Edward Colston was an English slave trader, merchant, philanthropist, and Member of Parliament. He supported and endowed schools, almshouses, hospitals and churches in Bristol, London and elsewhere. His name is commemorated in several Bristol landmarks, streets, three schools and the Colston bun. Many of his charitable foundations still survive. His wealth was largely acquired through the trade and exploitation of slaves.
The name Edward Colston looms large over Bristol, with streets and buildings named after the 17th Century merchant and slave trader.
On Sunday, protesters at an anti-racism demonstration in the city toppled a statue of Colston and dumped it in Bristol Harbour. The BBC’s Jack Grey witnessed the statue’s fall.
Thousands of people attended the demonstration in Bristol, one of many in the UK sparked by the death of George Floyd while he was under arrest in Minneapolis in the United States last month.
A group of protesters surrounded the statue on Colston Avenue, erected in honour of a man whose ships sent about 80,000 men, women and children from Africa to the Americas between 1672 and 1689.
Colston’s memory has divided the city for years, with some thinking history can’t be changed and others campaigning successfully for his name to be erased from streets, schools and venues.
Facts You Need to Know
2 November 1636, Bristol, United Kingdom
11 October 1721, Mortlake, London, United Kingdom
Colston was born on 2 November 1636 in Church Street, Bristol, the eldest of at least 11 and possibly as many as 15 children. His parents were William Colston (born 1608; died 1681), a prosperous merchant who was High Sheriff of Bristol in 1643, and his wife Sarah (born 1608; died 1701), daughter of Edward Batten. He was brought up in Bristol until the time of the English Civil War, when he probably lived for a while on his father’s estate in Winterbourne, just north of the city. The family then moved to London where Edward may have been a pupil at Christ’s Hospital school.
Colston was apprenticed to the Mercers Company for eight years and by 1672 was shipping goods from London. He built up a lucrative business, trading cloth, oil, wine, sherry and fruit with Spain, Portugal, Italy and Africa.
In 1680, Colston became a member of the Royal African Company, which had held the monopoly in England on trading along the west coast of Africa in gold, silver, ivory and slaves from 1662. Colston rose rapidly on to the board of the company and became Deputy Governor, the Company’s most senior executive position, from 1689 to 1690; his association with the company ended in 1692. This company had been set up by King Charles II and his brother James, Duke of York, (later King James II, who was the Governor of the company), together with City of London merchants, and it had many notable investors, including John Locke, English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the “Father of Liberalism” (though he later changed his stance on the slave trade), and the diarist Samuel Pepys.
During Colston’s involvement with the Royal African company (1680 to 1692), it is estimated that the company transported around 84,000 African men, women and children, who had been traded as slaves in West Africa, of whom 19,000 died on their journey to the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas. Ship’s crew mortality rates were often similar and sometimes greater than the mortality rates amongst the slaves. The slaves were sold to planters for cheap labour on their tobacco, and, increasingly, sugar plantations who considered Africans would be more suited to the conditions than their own countrymen, as the climate resembled the climate of their homeland in West Africa. Enslaved Africans were also much less expensive to maintain than indentured servants or paid wage labourers from Britain.
Colston’s parents had resettled in Bristol and in 1682 he made a loan to the Bristol Corporation, the following year becoming a member of the Society of Merchant Venturers and a burgess of the City. In 1684 he inherited his brother’s mercantile business in Small Street, and was a partner in a sugar refinery in St Peter’s Churchyard, shipping sugar produced by slaves from St Kitts. However, Colston was never resident in Bristol as an adult, carrying on his London business from Mortlake in Surrey until he retired in 1708.
The proportion of his wealth that came from his involvement in the slave trade and slave-produced sugar is unknown, and can only be the subject of conjecture unless further evidence is unearthed. As well as this income, he made money from his trade in the normal commodities mentioned above, interest from money lending, and, most likely, from other careful financial dealings.
Altruism and politics
He supported and endowed schools, almshouses, hospitals and churches in Bristol, London and elsewhere. Many of his charitable foundations survive to this day.
In Bristol, he founded almshouses in King Street and on St Michael’s Hill, endowed Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital school and helped found Colston’s Hospital, a boarding school which opened in 1710 leaving an endowment to be managed by the Society of Merchant Venturers for its upkeep. He gave money to schools in Temple (one of which went on to become St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School) and other parts of Bristol, and to several churches and the cathedral. He was a strong Tory and high-churchman, and was returned as Member of Parliament (MP) for Bristol in 1710 for just one parliament.
David Hughson writing in 1808 described Colston as “the great benefactor of the city of Bristol, who, in his lifetime, expended more than 10,000L. [£] in charitable institutions”.
Engraving of Colston’s monument in All Saints’ Church, Bristol from Bristol Past and Present (1882)
He died, at the age of 84, on 11 October 1721 at his home, (old) Cromwell House (demolished 1857), in Mortlake. In his will he wished to be buried simply without pomp, but this instruction was ignored. His body was carried back to Bristol and was buried at All Saints’ Church. His monument was designed by James Gibbs with an effigy carved by John Michael Rysbrack.