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White Debt: The Demerara Uprising and the Legacy of Slavery

Thomas Harding

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Colonialism & imperialism

The story of the slave uprising that took place in the British colony of Demerara - now Guyana - in the Caribbean in 1823, and its momentous consequences

This is the story of the uprising by enslaved people that took place in the British colony of Demerara (now Guyana) in the Caribbean in 1823. Starting on a small sugar plantation called 'Success', it narrates how the impact of the rebellion spread, ultimately becoming a key trigger in the abolition of slavery across the empire.

Prize-winning author Thomas Harding interrogates and challenges established perspectives about British slavery and colonialism, and in particular the myth that has often been taught in schools: that Britain's role in slavery was as the abolisher. We see the uprising through the eyes of four people: the enslaved man Jack Gladstone, the missionary John Smith, the colonist John Cheveley, and the politician and slaveholder John Gladstone, father of a future Prime Minister. As with a fast-paced thriller, the book is split into three parts - Arrival, Uprising and Trial - culminating in a courtroom drama and its momentous consequences.

There is also a contemporary strand. Written in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 and the toppling of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol two weeks later, WHITE DEBT attempts to answer the following questions: What is the impact of British slavery today? And what, if anything, should we do about it? In the unique style of his highly acclaimed and bestselling THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE and HANNS AND RUDOLF, Thomas Harding tells a broad history through a small number of characters. He dramatically reveals how the everyday cruelty of slavery still devastates lives; how history is personal.

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