Liberty Bound: Slavery and St Helena

Posted in News on April 9th, 2014 by One Greenstone

A new exhibition opened this week at the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool.  ‘Liberty Bound: Slavery and St Helena’ documents the archaeological finds on the remote island of St Helena that uncover the journey of liberated slaves on the road to freedom.

This is the first ever exhibition to look at the burial ground containing the remains of liberated Africans in Rupert’s Valley, St Helena.

Items to go on show at the museum include coins, jewellery, buttons, iron tags and fragments of clothing. These simple finds from archaeological excavations reveal a moving story of the men, women and children that owned these items.

The graveyards were uncovered during archaeological work carried out in advance of an airport development. Between 2007 and 2008 excavations were undertaken by archaeologists from the UK, supported by St Helenian volunteers.

The burial grounds were the final resting grounds for enslaved Africans freed from illegal slave vessels, or ‘slavers’, by the Royal Navy’s West Africa Squadron in the middle decades of the 19th century. Many enslaved Africans did not survive the trauma of their transportation and died in the British receiving depot at Rupert’s Valley. Excavations only uncovered a very small proportion of the estimated 8,000 burials on St Helena.

Although remote geographically, this small valley is of immense cultural and historic significance and the archaeological investigations enhance our understanding of the transatlantic slave trade and its legacies.

This exhibition reveals that liberation could be cruel. For those Africans who survived the ordeal of being enslaved, freedom came with a caveat, as most never saw their homelands again.

The exhibition was developed in collaboration with the Government of St Helena, the Museum of St Helena and Dr Andrew Pearson, and will run until April 2015. The Rupert’s Valley archaeological project was funded by the UK Department for International Development.

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