C of E’s Investment Fund Discloses a Slave-Trading Past

Queen Anne’s Bounty (Lambeth Palace Library)

By Douglas LeBlanc

The investment body known as Church Commissioners for England has disclosed evidence of slave trading in its history, and has pledged £100 million to a program of “impact investment, research, and engagement.”

The Church Commissioners fund handles the Church of England’s investments of £10.1 billion, and contributes about 15 percent (£300 million) of the church’s annual operating expenses. The Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute ranks it as 31st among the world’s largest endowments by total assets.

“The Church’s involvement in the trade in enslaved people in this way shocked us. Having the information wasn’t enough — we wanted it to become public, to acknowledge the sins perpetrated through our predecessor fund and to respond to the findings,” wrote Bishop David Walker of Manchester and Jay Greene, both members of the Church Commissioners’ board of governors, and of a subgroup established to study the history.

“Nothing we do, hundreds of years later, will give the enslaved people back their lives,” they wrote. “But we can and will recognize and acknowledge the horror and shame of the Church’s role in historic transatlantic chattel slavery and, through our response, seek to begin to address the injustices caused as a result.”

The full report provides copious details about the forensic accounting that evaluated what was originally known as Queen Anne’s Bounty. Proceeds from the bounty helped support needy clergy in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in time the bounty became the Church Commissioners fund.

The report also discusses the ugly history of how the bounty gathered its funds.

“It can easily be shown that the South Sea Company was responsible for shipping thousands of people across the Atlantic, even if the data is sometimes incomplete,” the report said. “Several thousand people died on board those ships and their bodies were thrown overboard. Anyone investing in the company before 1740, whether they made money on their investment or not, was consciously investing in these voyages. The purpose of this report is to highlight this linkage, as a moral issue rather than as a purely financial one.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed the report’s findings, and expressed his hope that the Church of England will repent of these sins.

“I am deeply sorry for these links,” he wrote. “It is now time to take action to address our shameful past. Only by obeying the command in 1 John 1:6-7 and addressing our past transparently can we take the path that Jesus Christ calls us to walk and face our present and future with integrity. It is hard to do this at a time when resources in many parishes are so stretched, but by acting rightly we open ourselves to the blessing of God.”

The Church Commissioners said it will spend £100 million for the next nine years in these categories:

  • Establishing an impact investment fund to invest in a better and fairer future for all, particularly for communities affected by historic slavery.
  • Develop grant funding for projects focused on improving opportunities for communities affected by historic transatlantic chattel slavery.
  • Engaging in further research, including into the Church Commissioners’ history, supporting dioceses and parishes to research and address their historic links with transatlantic chattel slavery, and sharing best practice with other organizations researching their slavery legacies.
  • Assuring that Church Commissioners will use its voice as a responsible investor to address and combat modern slavery.

Lambeth Palace Library has announced that a related exhibit, “Enslavement: Voices from the Archives,” opens to the public on January 12.

“The display includes early 18th century ledgers from Queen Anne’s Bounty that was founded in 1704, a predecessor fund to the Church Commissioners’ endowment, and an anonymous letter written by an enslaved person in 1723 to the ‘Archbishop of London,’ the earliest known such advocacy for freedom,” the library’s announcement said. “A missionary book from 1808 published specifically for enslaved and former enslaved people will also be on display. This book contained selected sections of the Bible, deliberately edited to remove all references to freedom from slavery.”


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