FT Article on Slavery and the City of London

30 06 2009

The front page of this weekend’s edition of the Financial Times carried a story about historical research that has uncovered new evidence regarding the details City of London’s involvement in slavery. [Note: story includes video of interview with noted historian Catherine Hall] The most interesting fact revealed in the article is that Nathan Mayer Rothschild accepted slaves as collateral for a loan. The House of Rothschild had previously been famous for arranging the loan that allowed the British government to borrow the money needed to compensate slaveholders when slavery was abolished in the British Empire in the 1830s.

I’m glad that the FT ran this story, because it gives readers a sense of the historical importance of corporate archives (although in this case the key documents were uncovered at the National Archives in Kew). However, I’m not certain why information about the Rothschilds’ indirect involvement in slavery is terribly newsworthy.  After all, the House of Rothschild were the bankers of the Empire of Brazil at a time when that country had slavery. Like many other firms in Britain, America, and elsewhere, many City firms were indirect beneficiaries of slavery. We knew this already.