Cotton and transatlantic slavery

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Do you know what these objects are, and what the connection was between them?

Click on the images below to find out more

Two cotton cops, 1735, 1885, Gallery Oldham

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A cotton cop is a cone with cotton thread or yarn spun around it on a spindle. These two cotton cops were framed by William Mannock to celebrate the long history of cotton spinning in the north west of England.

Mannock was the owner of Marsland Mill in Oldham, which had over 40,000 spindles and employed 400 people. Mannock gave the cotton cops for the opening display of Oldham's Free Library, Museum and Art Gallery in 1885 to reflect the wealth the cotton trade brought to the town.

The two cops were made 150 years apart but both yarns are made to the same fineness and from the same raw material, American cotton. In 1735, before large-scale mechanisation, spinning was ‘put out’ and people did the work at home. By 1885, there were hundreds of mills across Lancashire. The cop on the right was made at Marsland Mill. The older cop on the left was only discovered when an old warehouse in Manchester was redeveloped in 1882.

The early cop is spun from cotton that was picked by enslaved African workers in America. The raw cotton came to England as part of the triangular trade associated with slavery. The 1885 cotton was probably picked by free African Americans who were the descendants of enslaved people. Slavery was abolished in America in 1865.