Winter 2017/18

Gloucestershire Heritage Hub

18th Century slave song added to the Memory of the World register

A unique African slave song preserved by Gloucestershire’s county archives has been added to the United Nations Memory of the World register.

The work song, or chant, comes from the sugar plantations of Barbados at the height of the transatlantic slave trade. It features voices of enslaved people as they tell of their brutal treatment at the hands of their master or “massa”.

The song was written down in the late 18th century by anti-slave trade campaigner Granville Sharp who has Gloucestershire descendants. The document was nominated by Barbadian music expert Roger Gibbs who saw a digital image of the song on Gloucestershire Archives’ website.

It is preserved and protected for future generations and is recorded alongside some of the world’s most historically significant documents on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Memory of the World register.

Roger Gibbs said: "I'm honoured to be associated in some small way with a remarkable piece of music that speaks volumes about a painful chapter in the history of Barbados. I hope the UNESCO recognition leads to more public interest in the folk music of the island."

County Archivist Heather Forbes, said: “I am delighted that the international importance of this unique document has been recognised by UNESCO. It’s one of only 427 documents and collections on the Memory of the World register.”

Slavery is an issue that is not confined to history and is still happening in the 21st century. Modern slavery can take many forms, from forced labour to human trafficking or sexual and criminal exploitation.

Pete Bungard, Chief Executive of Gloucestershire County Council and chair of the Gloucestershire Anti-Slavery Partnership, said: “Although this slave song is over 200 years old, it is a timely reminder that the fight against modern day slavery continues across the world.

“Modern slavery is an international crime, affecting an estimated 46.8 million people globally. It often goes unseen and all organisations across Gloucestershire are working together to make sure we recognise it and take action.”

For more information on the Gloucestershire Anti-Slavery Partnership, visit

If you are concerned about modern slavery or need any advice you can call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.

Oliver Somervell, Media Team, Gloucestershire County Council, 

The document was featured in Explore Your Archive a national campaign co-ordinated by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association (UK and Ireland).

The Memory of the World Register now includes a total of 427 documents and collections, coming from all continents and safeguarded on various materials from stone to celluloid and from parchment to sound recordings.

You can read more about the song on Gloucestershire Archives website here

You can hear a recording of the slave song, by Barbadian music expert Roger Gibbs on YouTube

Roger Gibbs is a Barbadian-born musician/ ethnomusicologist living in Canada. He prepared the submission to UNESCO's Memory of the World program in collaboration with Elizabeth Watson and Alissandra Cummins, Director of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society.

Granville Sharp’s papers are preserved at Gloucestershire Archives. They came to Gloucestershire through the marriage of his niece to a local man, Thomas J Lloyd Baker of Hardwicke.


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