23 August 1806
A group of slaves saved from a plantation fire have been offered as a reward to the firefighters who rescued them.
The 17 child slaves and two adult slaves survived the fire in Wiltshire in February, which saw 50 tonnes of cotton catch fire.
In a bold move, slave owner and plantation manager Raquel Streams thanked the fire fighters by offering them the slaves they had saved.
The firefighters initially said the slaves were “fantastic workers” but they have, following complaints lodged primarily by abolitionists, apologised for the insensitive comments.
A spokesperson for the People for the Abolition of Slavery (PAS) condemned the actions of the plantation manager stating that the slaves were “no better off” for having escaped the fire.
As per usual the PAS came under fire almost immediately as a flood of irate slave owners, desperate to pacify their collective conscience by brushing clear societal issues under the rug, accused them of hypocrisy. One man shouted, “tu quoque,” at the PAS spokesperson before elaborating by stating, “it’s absurd for the PAS to talk about ethics, they do bad things too,” as if that somehow prevented them from being right about not owning slaves.
The slaves were mercifully given a six-month break from slave labour when they were rescued from the plantation.
But, having been specifically purchased and kept for slave labour, they were then put promptly back to work under the guidance of the fire station team.
Ms Streams defended the controversial gift, saying that the slave trade is her livelihood and way of life, as if economic arguments morally justify owning slaves.
“I gave those slaves the best quality of life I could while simultaneously exploiting them. They’re worth less than us and this is normal,” she said.
“You do feel sad at the end of it but then you ignore that feeling because it prevents you effectively exploiting others. Giving the slaves to the firefighters was a good way of saying ‘thank you’.”
The plantation’s owner, Cecil Graham Usborne, weighed in by stating the obvious and offering a trite tautology: “An inevitable part of slave labour is the gift of free labour.”
The delighted firefighters said the slaves were “highly recommended” and thanked the plantation owner “for her generosity”.
“We can tell no lies, the slaves were fantastic workers,” a spokesperson said.
The fire service has since removed the pictures of the slaves hard at work from its Facebook page.
“With regards to a recent post on this page,” the service wrote, “we recognise that this has offended some. We apologise and as such have removed the post.”
The public have been keen to have their say on this issue. Below are some of the comments you have sent us.
Eric (username: super_good_guy_21) had this to say: “Those condemning the story are missing the point. Neither owning slaves nor their exploitation is the issue here. The issue is that the firefighters received adulation for saving the slaves then used them for labour after. That is hypocritical and tackling hypocrisy is more important than tackling slavery and exploitation.”
Susan (username: unreasonable_demands) offered the following irrelevant anecdote: “I held a dinner at my house and was advised that one of the guests was an abolitionist. I prepared a meal for her all by myself and slaves prepared food for the rest of us. When we went over to her house for dinner however she refused to use slaves to make our meals knowing we weren’t abolitionists! The cheek of her! She then proceeded to lecture us on the evils of slavery. She made the whole thing into an ethical issue but it’s not, it’s a personal choice. We need to stop condemning peoples’ choices. If you don’t want to own slaves then don’t, just leave me alone.”
Darren (username: mr_nihilism ) was keen to weigh in pointing out that it’s impossible to be perfectly ethical and thus pointless being an abolitionist: “You need a balance between slave labour and paid labour otherwise some jobs just won’t get done. In any case, it’s not like you can pay everyone fairly anyway, it’s impossible to accurately equate labour to pay and so any pay system will always be unethical. That’s what abolitionists just don’t get.”
Claire (username: policy_drone) pointed out that there is regulation in the slave trade to prevent unethical treatment of slaves: “There are policies and regulations in place to ensure there is no unethical treatment of slaves. Nothing bad ever happens. If we write the words ‘bad things shouldn’t happen’ on a piece of paper then clearly bad things literally can’t happen. That’s how policies and regulations work for heaven’s sake! Anyway, people all over the world use slaves. Slaves support the plantation owners’ livelihoods and support the wider local economy. Blah, blah, blah, economics. The fact this plantation owner gave the fireman slaves to say thanks should require no apology at all.”
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