The Zong massacre was the mass killing of 133 African slaves by the crew of the British slave ship Zong in the days following 29 November 1781

Zong massacre – Wikipedia – The Zong massacre was the mass killing of 133 African slaves by the crew of the British slave ship Zong in the days following 29 November 1781.[note 1] The Gregson slave-trading syndicate, based in Liverpool, owned the ship and sailed her in the Atlantic slave trade. As was common business practice, they had taken out insurance on the lives of the slaves as cargo. When the ship ran low on potable water following navigational mistakes, the crew threw slaves overboard into the sea to drown, partly in order to ensure the survival of the rest of the ship’s passengers, and in part to cash in on the insurance on the slaves, thus not losing money on the slaves who would have died from the lack of drinking water.

After the slave ship reached port at Black River, Jamaica, Zong’s owners made a claim to their insurers for the loss of the slaves. When the insurers refused to pay, the resulting court cases (Gregson v Gilbert (1783) 3 Doug. KB 232) held that in some circumstances, the deliberate killing of slaves was legal and that insurers could be required to pay for the slaves’ deaths. The judge, Lord Chief Justice, the Earl of Mansfield, ruled against the syndicate owners in this case, due to new evidence being introduced suggesting the captain and crew were at fault.

Following the first trial, freed slave Olaudah Equiano brought news of the massacre to the attention of the anti-slavery campaigner Granville Sharp, who worked unsuccessfully to have the ship’s crew prosecuted for murder. Because of the legal dispute, reports of the massacre received increased publicity, stimulating the abolitionist movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; the Zong events were increasingly cited as a powerful symbol of the horrors of the Middle Passage of slaves to the New World.[2]

The non-denominational Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade was founded in 1787. The next year Parliament passed the first law regulating the slave trade, to limit the number of slaves per ship. Then in 1791, Parliament prohibited insurance companies from reimbursing ship owners in cases in which slaves were thrown overboard. The massacre has also inspired works of art and literature. It was commemorated in London in 2007, among events to mark the bicentenary of the British Slave Trade Act 1807, which abolished the African slave trade. A monument to the killed slaves on Zong was installed at Black River, Jamaica, their intended port.[2]

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