Mayflower 400 is ignoring slavery | Letters

Mayflower 400 is commemorating the Mayflower voyage of 1620 without reference to the context and aftermath of that colonising venture, writes Angela Sherlock

Your editorial (4 November) notes that the British “have long found it fairly easy to sweep the history of slavery under the carpet”. Here in Plymouth we have the distinction of having been in the forefront of the slave trade, in the person of Admiral Sir John Hawkins. We even have a square named after him. And there is a lot of sweeping under the carpet.

Mayflower 400 is commemorating the Mayflower voyage of 1620 without reference to the context and aftermath of that colonising venture. You are right to say that “The history of race relations in the US is the great, divisive faultline running through American history” – and it is firmly rooted in the Virginia colony and the arrival of the Mayflower. The myth that Britons want to remember is of a brave search for freedom. But what needs to be remembered is that this was an invasion, seeking profit, and part of that process was the construction of a racial categorisation.

The early English colonists of Virginia and New England adopted slavery as a labour practice. The wealth of New England was built on another triangular trade: supplying the Caribbean slave plantations and distilling rum to exchange for slaves in west Africa. But Plymouth, in the form of the Mayflower 400 commemoration, does not seem to want to face up to the painful truth of the slave trade.
Angela Sherlock

• Join the debate – email

• Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit

• Do you have a photo you’d like to share with Guardian readers? Click here to upload it and we’ll publish the best submissions in the letters spread of our print edition


The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
We can’t ignore how slavery has shaped Britain | Letters
Letters: Readers respond to Olivette Otele’s article about how the culture war is impeding truthful reflection on the country’s difficult history


24, Aug, 2022 @3:58 PM

Article image
Mayflower events do not tell the full story | Letters
Letters: Danny Reilly and David Pace on the often-overlooked importance of North American Indigenous nations and Jamestown


10, Jan, 2020 @5:05 PM

Article image
Britain’s despicable history of slavery needs teaching and commemorating | Letters
Letters: Guardian readers respond to Afua Hirsch’s call for a London memorial to the victims of slavery


24, Oct, 2019 @5:05 PM

Article image
Slavery reaches into the heart of Life in the UK | Letters
Letters: Britain should come clean about the ‘illustrious’ historical figures in its citizenship test, writes Arthur Cunha. And other readers reflect on an uncomfortable legacy

04, Sep, 2023 @5:03 PM

Article image
Like it or not, we all bear some responsibility for slavery | Letters
Letters: When it comes to atoning for the slave trade, we need to acknowledge how much we have benefited, says Prof Sir Roderick Floud. Plus letters from Nic Madge, Morris Gyles, Rex Knight and Kit Jackson

20, Mar, 2023 @5:12 PM

Article image
Cambridge University is right to explore links with slave trade | Letters
Letters: Graham Gosling highlights the achievements of former students in ending the slave trade, Eric Banks says the historic plight of the working classes should also be studied, Michael Cross has a plan for profits, while Angela Sherlock takes issue with the ‘pilgrim fathers’ story


03, May, 2019 @3:56 PM

Article image
Oxford’s Rhodes statue and the bogus argument against its fall | Letters
Letters: Martin Platt says history not censored by the removal of monuments, while Richard Pantlin of the Oxford Zimbabwe Arts Partnership expresses his disappointment over Oriel College’s decision


24, May, 2021 @5:14 PM

Article image
The Guardian’s slavery links: it’s right to finally confront the wrongs of the past | Letters
Letters: Readers respond to the Guardian’s investigation uncovering its founders’ connections with the slave trade

31, Mar, 2023 @5:13 PM

Article image
Glasgow University is not alone in profiting from slavery | Letters
Letters: Most of today’s wealthy families profited from the transatlantic trade, says Prof Gary Craig, while John Oldfield and David Richardson highlight investment in slavery studies


25, Sep, 2018 @5:31 PM

Article image
A rewrite of the history syllabus is long overdue | Letters
Letters: Calls for more inclusive teaching in schools have been ignored for years, writes Marika Sherwood, one of the founders of the Black and Asian Studies Association. Stewart Fergusson reminds us of Gove’s response to an expert review. Plus letters from Maria Goulding, Alan Jenkins and Belinda King


14, Jun, 2020 @5:30 PM