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The Church of England (C of E) has committed £100m to a fund it is setting up to compensate for its historical benefit from the international slave trade.
A report for the Church Commissioners, the body that manages the C of E’s £9bn-plus endowment fund, traced the origins of the fund partly to Queen Anne’s Bounty, a financial scheme established in 1704 based on transatlantic chattel slavery.
In an effort to “address past wrongs”, the Church Commissioners’ board is to set up a £100m fund to deliver a programme of investment, research and engagement over the next nine years.
The church is not using the term “reparations” as the scheme will not compensate individuals but will support projects “focused on improving opportunities for communities adversely impacted by historic slavery”.
The C of E is to form an “oversight group … with significant membership from communities impacted by historic slavery” to ensure the church’s response is carried out “sensitively and with accountability”.
Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury and chair of the Church Commissioners, said the report “lays bare the links of the Church Commissioners’ predecessor fund with transatlantic chattel slavery. I am deeply sorry for these links. It is now time to take action to address our shameful past.”
The full report, published on Tuesday, follows a four-page interim report released last June.
According to the report, the Church Commissioners “became more conscious” in 2019 “of the fact that the transatlantic slave economy played a significant role in shaping the economy, society and church we have today”.
The report says the South Sea Company’s main commercial activity between 1714 and 1739 was transatlantic slavery, involving the purchasing and transportation of enslaved people. The company ceased slave-trading activities in 1739, but continued to exist until 1853.
“The trade in enslaved African people was responsible for inflicting much pain and misery on people of African descent in particular but also on other groups around the world who have experienced deep injustices. It contributed to both the racial and class divisions and tensions we experience today in our society and, regrettably, in our church. Churches and societies with such inequity and divisions do not flourish.”
Queen Anne’s Bounty invested significant sums in the South Sea Company, which traded in enslaved people. It also received numerous benefactions from individuals linked to, or who profited from, transatlantic chattel slavery and the plantation economy.
The South Sea Company bought and transported thousands of people as chattel property in crowded, unsanitary, unsafe and inhumane conditions.
Among the benefactors to the Queen Anne’s Bounty was Edward Colston, a prominent slave trader whose statue in Bristol was toppled in 2020 by Black Lives Matter activists.
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Bounty funds were used either to pay a cash stipend to poor clergy or to buy land from which clergy received an income. The funds were subsumed into the Church Commissioners’ endowment when it was created in 1948.
David Walker, the bishop of Manchester and deputy chair of the Church Commissioners, said: “Discovering that the Church Commissioners’ predecessor fund had links to transatlantic chattel slavery is shaming and we are deeply sorry. We will seek to address past wrongs by investing in a better future, which we plan to do with the response plan announced today, including the £100m funding commitment we are making. We hope this will create a lasting positive legacy, serving and enabling communities impacted by slavery.
“We recognise this investment comes at a time when there are significant financial challenges for many people and churches, and when the church has commitments to address other wrongs from our past.”
He added: “The Church Commissioners recognised that it was important to know its past better in order to understand its present and ensure that the Church Commissioners continues to support the Church of England’s work and mission in the future as best it can.”
Ledgers in the archives at Lambeth Palace showing bounty investments are being made public for the first time. They will form part of an exhibition at the palace library from 12 January until 31 March. (The Guardian)