One man’s personal discovery of his family’s involvement in transatlantic slavery leads to his call for a wider reckoning among the descendants of slave owners
Selected as a Best Book of 2021 by the Evening Standard
Through the story of his own family’s history as slave and plantation owners, Alex Renton looks at how we owe it to the present to understand the legacy of the past. When British Caribbean slavery was abolished across most of the British Empire in 1833, it was not the newly liberated who received compensation, but the tens of thousands of enslavers who were paid millions of pounds in government money. The descendants of some of those slave owners are among the wealthiest and most powerful people in Britain today.
A group of Caribbean countries is calling on ten European nations to discuss the payment of trillions of dollars for the damage done by transatlantic slavery and its continuing legacy. Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter and other activist groups are causing increasing numbers of white people to reflect on how this history of abuse and exploitation has benefited them.
Blood Legacy explores what inheritance – political, economic, moral and spiritual – has been passed to the descendants of the slave owners and the descendants of the enslaved. He also asks, crucially, how the former – himself among them – can begin to make reparations for the past.
“Renton … dismantles the myths with the efficiency of someone shelling pistachios for a snack … remarkable … an incredible work of scholarship”
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“In this unflinching, fascinating and very human account, drawn from his own family papers, Alex Renton takes a crucial first step towards reparation, by acknowledging the cruel reality of his ancestors’ callous exploitation of enslaved people’s labour from afar; detailing the damage done, and both asking and beginning to answer the question of what can be done to purge these sins and their legacies today”
Miranda Kaufmann, Author Of Black Tudors
”Blood Legacy is a moving, timely, well-written and strikingly thoughtful book that makes an important contribution to the growing debate on the horrors that accompanied Britain’s empire-building. Alex Renton’s forensic and remarkably honest analysis of his own family papers, and the profound darkness they contain, highlights our continuing failure to acknowledge the extreme toxicity of so much of our Imperial history”
“Moving and deeply researched, Alex Renton’s account of his ancestors’ slaveholding brings home the everyday brutality of Caribbean slavery and its contribution to the making of Britain both then and since. Blood Legacy sets the ordinariness of slaveholding in the eighteenth-century monied world alongside accounts of the extraordinary lives of those they owned. This is a book that asks white Britons to look hard at our past and its consequences in the present”
Professor Diana Paton
“A fascinating family history of profit and loss made during slavery in the Caribbean. This book is truth not fiction”
Professor Sir Geoff Palmer
Alex Renton is a journalist who has won awards for his work as an investigator, war correspondent and food policy writer. He has also worked for Oxfam, in East Asia, Haiti and on the Iraq war. Most recently he has been a columnist on the Times and a correspondent for Newsweek magazine. He lives in Edinburgh with his family.
@axrenton | alexrenton.com