Tuesday, 31 October 2017

A Few Days Ago,

a stone plaque that reads,

  'In memory of George Washington' currently displayed in Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia, it was announced this week, that it will be removed, another one honouring confederate leader Robert E. Lee will also be removed, the first president became a slave owner at the young age of 11, after his father died and left him 10 slaves along with the 280 acre family farm near Fredericksburg, according to the Mount Vernon website, He went on to purchase more slaves, and at the time of his death, Mount Vernon's slave population consisted of 317 people, 

 and for this reason church leaders issued this statement, 'The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome, some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques,' so they have to go,

so where does this rational leave us the Brits with the British Museum that was founded on slavery? Englishman Hans Sloane, born in Ulster in 1660 to a working-class family in the part of Catholic Ireland that had just been colonised by Protestant Brits, Sloane works his way up the social ladder, becoming a physician and travelling to Jamaica for his work, over the course of his life, Sloane collected tens of thousands of items which became the basis for what is today known as the British Museum,  

 along the way, he participated in, and profited from, the Atlantic slave trade, a part of the British Museum’s storied legacy that many continue to overlook, the first truly public museum anywhere in the world, the British Museum originated in the 18th century and Hans Sloane was the person who, when he died in 1753, set up his will to ask the British Parliament to buy his collection for £20,000 and set up a public museum that anybody, whether they were British or from outside Britain, would be able to enter free of charge, there’s no doubt that slavery played a foundational role in Sloane’s life and in the career that led to the British Museum, these things are not widely known but are very well documented, He went to Jamaica and spent almost a year-and-a-half there, he worked as a plantation doctor, so he’s part of slavery and keeping the system going, [His book] A Natural History of Jamaica is entirely enabled by slavery,

 when he comes home he marries a Jamaican heiress, so money comes into the family coffers from slave plantations for many years, He has many correspondences throughout the Caribbean and West Africa, slave traders send him specimens, and he collects clothing worn by slaves, nooses and whips used to punish and execute runaways, He had skin specimens, skull specimens, was he already a part of this early scientific generation already interested in trying to work out is there a physical basis for racial difference? there is both a financial and intellectual resonance of slavery that is foundational to Sloane’s success and his intellectual pursuits, one of the things that Sloane collected in Jamaica were stringed instruments played by enslaved Africans on the island, it’s a very remarkable thing he did to collect these instruments, He not only collected these instruments, but collected and had written down the music which slaves played, which he witnessed when he was there,

these things are what we would call cultural artefacts, they told you something about Jamaica, something about its cultural life, but they were also, for him, natural specimens, He paid a lot of attention to the fact that they were made from gourds and calabashes and strung with horse hairs, he was not simply a very wealthy physician, but a publicly prominently one, not just healing the Royal family, but consulted by Westminster, the Crown, on matters of national health, on whether there should be a quarantine against plague on ships, or if we should take up the practice of inoculation for diseases like smallpox, in his new book by James Delbourgo, Collecting the World, published by Harvard, Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum come under the microscope, also as an aside, while in Jamaica, Hans Sloane was introduced to cocoa as a drink favoured by the local people, He found it ‘nauseous’ but by mixing it with milk made it more palatable, He brought this chocolate recipe back to England where it was manufactured and at first sold by apothecaries as a medicine, eventually, in the nineteenth century, it was taken up by Messrs Cadbury who manufactured chocolate using Sloane’s recipe, Cadbury's chocolate, founded on the recipe of a slaver! although glossed over in most if not all of the biographies about Sloane, Delbourgo's book lays bare the unpalatable truth about enlightenment’s most controversial luminaries, so I guess we will have to close the doors of the British Museum forever and ban the sale of all chocolate, well we must not upset anybody must we?

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