The Slave Print

Who resisted and campaigned for abolition?

The British campaign to bring about the abolition of slavery began with the Quakers in the 1760s when they first banned slave trading among their followers. It started to pick up momentum in the following decades as the issue became more widely debated and understood.

The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade was set up in 1787 by Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson and others and William Wilberforce became the anti-slavery campaign’s political mouthpiece. Manchester had strong anti-slavery sentiments.

However, enslaved people were also engaged in their own campaign against slavery through resistance, rebellion and revolt. Enslaved Africans retained aspects of their languages and cultures, worked slowly, and expressed themselves through music and dance to show their refusal to accept the system of slavery. More dramatically they also frequently ran away or committed suicide.

Former enslaved Africans such as Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho who lived in Britain became important voices in the campaign for abolition when they published details of the horrors and inhumanity of slavery.

In the 1840s and 1850s African Americans telling their own stories were more powerful than anything the British abolitionists could hope to deliver. 

Many African American abolitionists gave lectures in the north west of England including William Wells Brown, Frederick Douglass, James Watkins, Henry Box Brown and Sarah Parker Redmond who spoke in Warrington in 1859.

The injustices of slavery resonated with the new urbanised industrial workers of the north west of England. They became a powerful force in mobilising mass protest against slavery. 11,000 people, about 20% of Manchester’s population, signed the 1787 petition in support of abolition. Figureheads such as John Bright and Richard Cobden became the political voice of reform in the north west region.

Industrial workers applied the same principles of protest to unfair taxes, child labour and social reform and saw an empathy with their conditions and the system of slavery.  Factory workers used the iconic ‘Am I not a man and a brother’ words from abolitionist campaigns against slavery in support of their wider social reforms.

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