Who was Edward Colston? 'Colston Four' protesters acquitted over Black Lives Matter statue toppling

Four protesters were acquitted of criminal damage for the fall of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol in June 2020.

Rhian Graham, Jake Skuse, Sage Willoughby and Milo Ponsford – who have become known as the Colston Four – celebrated with supporters outside Bristol Crown Court after the verdict was pronounced on Wednesday January 5th.

The Colston statue has been the source of much controversy in Bristol for years. So who was Edward Colston exactly?

READ MORE: Edward Colston statue in Bristol replaced by Black Lives Matter protesters

Who Was Edward Colston?

Edward Colston was a merchant and Tory MP with an interest in the Atlantic slave trade. From 1710 to 1713 he was a Member of Parliament in Bristol, where he was born.

He had initially traded in wine, fruit and textiles after following his father into the family’s maritime trade. In 1680, however, he was a member of the Royal African Company, which then had a monopoly on England’s trade in African slaves.

It is estimated that Colston’s ships have transported more than 84,000 African men, women, and children to America as slaves.

These slaves were forced to work on tobacco and sugar plantations, which was considerably less expensive than British wage laborers or tied servants.

Colston channeled some of the proceeds from his interest in the slave trade into philanthropic projects – including schools, hospitals and Anglican churches – in Bristol. As a result, various buildings and streets in the city were named after him.

In 1885 he was also commemorated with a statue in Bristol city center designed by Irish sculptor and painter John Cassidy.

However, a 1920 biography of Colston written by HJ Wilkins revealed his involvement in the slave trade, and from the 1990s there were increasing demands on the ward council either to put up a plaque discussing Colston’s slave trade interests – or to put them up altogether remove.

A board was drawn up but was not installed due to disagreement over the wording. In June 2020, Black Lives Matter protesters overturned the statue and rolled it into Bristol Harbor.

The statue was subsequently recovered from the water and exhibited in a damaged condition in the M Shed Museum in Bristol last June.

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