(1743 – 1800)
With the death of Henry Beaufoy in 1795, it fell to Bryan Edwards in 1797 to take over the responsibilities of Secretary to the African Association, a position he held until his death in 1800. Edwards was an English born planter with considerable estates and a long political history in Jamaica who returned to England in the mid 1780s and embarked upon a career in Parliament. In contrast to many of his African Association contemporaries, he opposed the abolition of the slave trade, which isn’t terribly surprising in light of his financial investment in the West Indies. He opposed William Wilberforce’s motion in Parliament for the abolition of the slave trade in both 1787 and 1788, and “warned that fanatical abolitionists could incite rebellion in the British West Indian islands, with the resulting extermination of both blacks and whites.”
Alongside his duties as Secretary, Edwards was also involved in the publication of Mungo Park’s narrative account of his journey in Africa. He both drew up the preliminary account of the Scotsman’s trip, and then advised Park on the arrangement of material when Park was laboring on the complete narrative. In an interesting twist to the usual political influence of patrons upon explorers, Edwards was apparently convinced by Park’s record of his travels that the interior states of Africa were always at war with one another, thus “minimizing the impact of the slave trade.” How much of this conclusion can be attributed to previously held opinions is impossible to say.
Bryan Edwards stands out among the members of the African Association both because of his outspoken dislike of the abolitionist movement and his investment in plantations in the West Indies. His political experience and opinions likely led him not only to join the African Association, but also to perhaps influence the final product of Mungo Park’s account.