Edward Colston

Edward Colston

name = Edward Colston
residence = Mortlake
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birth_date = 2 November 1636
birth_place = Bristol
death_date = 11 October 1721
death_place = Mortlake
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occupation = Merchant
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party = Tory
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religion = Anglican
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Edward Colston (2 November 1636 – 11 October 1721) was a Bristol-born English merchant and philanthropist. Much of his wealth, although used often for generous purposes, was acquired through the trade and exploitation of slaves.

He was born 2 november 1636 in Temple Street, Bristol, the eldest of at least eleven children. His parents were William Colston, a prosperous merchant and Sarah ("née" Batten). He was brought up in Bristol until the time of the English Civil War, when he probably lived for a while on his father's estate in Winterbourne, south Gloucestershire. The family then moved to London where Edward may have been a pupil at Christ's Hospital.

He was apprenticed to the Mercers Company for eight years and by 1672 was shipping goods from London. He built up a lucrative business, trading with Spain, Portugal, Italy and Africa. In 1680, Colston became a member of the Royal African Company, which had held the monopoly in Britain on gold, ivory and slave trading since 1662.

His parents had resettled in Bristol and in 1682 he made a loan to the Corporation, the following year becoming a member of the Society of Merchant Venturers and a burgess of the City. In 1684 he inherited his brother's mercantile business in Small Street, and was a partner in a sugar refinery in St. Peter's Churchyard; shipping sugar from St. Kitts. But he was never resident in Bristol, carrying on his London business from Mortlake in Surrey until he retired in 1708.

He founded almshouses in King Street and on St. Michaels Hill, endowed Queen Elizabeth's Hospital school and helped found Colston's School, which opened in 1710 leaving an endowment to be managed by the Society of Merchant Venturers for its upkeep. He gave money to schools in Temple and other parts of Bristol, and to several churches and the cathedral. He was a strong Tory and high-churchman, and was returned as Member of Parliament (MP) for Bristol in 1710 for just one parliament.

He died 11 October 1721 at his home in Mortlake. His body was carried back to Bristol and was buried at All Saints Church. His tomb was designed by James Gibbs. [cite web | title=Church of All Saints | work=Images of England | url=http://www.imagesofengland.org.uk/search/details.aspx?id=379381 | accessdate=2007-03-16]

Colston and Bristol today

A statue, designed by John Cassidy, was erected in the centre of Bristol in 1895 commemorating Colston. [cite web | title=Edward Colston | work=PMSA National Recording Project | url=http://pmsa.cch.kcl.ac.uk/BL/BR09.htm | accessdate=2007-05-09] He was widely viewed as an inspirational figure for the city, due to his donations of money to schools and other causes. His name permeates the city in such landmarks as Colston Tower, Colston Hall, Colston Hill, Colston Street, Colston Parade, Colston's Girls' School and Colston's School. He is also remembered, particularly in schools, by Colston's Day, on 13 November.

Colston is a controversial figure these days in Bristol. In the 1990s, public knowledge of his participation in the slave trade grew. Bristol band Massive Attack refused to play at Colston Hall, and his statue has been repeatedly defaced and vandalised most recently with trickles of deep red paint being poured at his feet.


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