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Sun, 11.02.1636

Edward Colston, Slave Trader born

Edward Colston

*Edward Colston was born on this date in 1636.  He was a white-English philanthropist, merchant, slave trader, and Member of Parliament.

From Bristol, England, Edward Colston was the youngest of at least 15 children. His parents were William Colston a prosperous merchant who was High Sheriff of Bristol in 1643, and his wife Sarah, daughter of Edward Batten. He was brought up in Bristol until the time of the English Civil War, when he lived for a while on his father's estate in Winterbourne, just north of the city. The family then moved to London where young Colston was a pupil at Christ's Hospital school.He was apprenticed to the Mercers Company for eight years and by 1672 was shipping goods from London. He built up a lucrative business, trading with Spain, Portugal, Italy and Africa.

In 1680, Colston became a member of the Royal African Company, which had held the monopoly in Britain on trading in gold, ivory, and slaves from 1662. Colston rose rapidly onto the board of the company and became its deputy governor, its most senior executive position, in 1689.  His parents had resettled in Bristol and in 1682 he made a loan to the Corporation, the following year becoming a member of the Society of Merchant Ventures 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. But he was never resident in Bristol, carrying on his London business from Mortlake in Surrey until he retired in 1708. 

Edward Colston died on October 11, 1721 at his home, in Mortlake. His body was carried back to Bristol and was buried at All Saints Church. His tomb was designed by James Gibbs. He died at the age of 84.  A statue, designed by John Cassidy, was erected in the center of Bristol in 1895 commemorating Colston.   Colston's name permeates many of the city’s landmarks as Colston Tower, Colston Hall, Colston Avenue, Colston Street, Colston's Girls' School, Colston's School, Colston's Primary School and Temple Colston School (now part of St Mary Redcliffe & Temple School). He is also remembered, particularly by some schools, charities and the Society of Merchant Ventures, on Colston's Day on his birthday, at a church service now at St Stephen's Church. A regional bread bun, the Colston bun, is named after him.   

In 1998, someone scrawled on the statues base the name of one of the professions in which he made his fortune: “SLAVE TRADER."  He is a divisive figure in Bristolian civil society, viewed by some as an inspirational figure for the city, due to his donations of money to schools and other causes, but, in more recent times as Colston's activities as a major slave trader emerged, many in Bristol and beyond, now regard him as having committed crimes against humanity. Some have called for his statue to be taken down.  

In April 2017, the charity that runs the Colston Hall announced that it will drop the name of Colston when it reopens after refurbishment in 2020. There had been protests and petitions calling for a name change, and some concertgoers and artists had boycotted the venue because of the Colston name.  In 2020, during the African American George Floyd murder protest local protesters took the statue down. 



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