Who resisted and campaigned for abolition?

Towards change: ‘free-grown' cotton

by Dr Emma Poulter

During the nineteenth century not only was there a greater awareness that the majority of sugar available for consumption in Britain was produced by enslaved Africans, some people also started to raise consumer awareness about the slave-grown cotton being imported from the USA.

The special collection at John Rylands library has various documents relating to ‘free-grown' cotton. For example a leaflet entitled ‘The Ladies' Free-Grown Cotton Movement' (1845), lists the names of ‘manufacturers and wholesale and retail drapers' who sold free-grown cotton goods.

This includes various firms across the north west as well as retailers based in London, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Dublin to name but a few. The firms listed as Manchester ‘manufacturers and wholesale firms of free-grown cotton goods' are: 

Messrs. Rylands and Sons
Thomas Brown Jun.
Messrs. J.F. Browne and Co.
Messrs. Parkyn and Co.
Messrs. Pennington, Swanwick and Co.
Messrs. McConnel and Hadfield J.B. Lee
Messrs. Livesay and Thorpe
Messrs. Gill and Hartley (Coutille Manufacturers)
Messrs. George Spafford and Co.
Messr. A. Watkin and Son.
Messrs. Wm. And Thos. Rymer

Another pamphlet produced by the Newcastle Anti-Slavery Society in 1860 entitled ‘Conscience versus cotton; or, the preference of free-labour produce' declares:

'We are too dependent upon American slavery for the supply of this important article, and the remedy for this dependence is commercial encouragement held out to the free cotton growers of British India, the West Indies, Africa, and also the free cotton growers of the United States themselves, as testified by the formation of Free Labour Associations in this Kingdom... Already under the guarantee of the Philadelphia Free Produce Association some of this free cotton has been shipped directly to Liverpool, to the firm of Thompson and Midgely. Josias F. Browne and Co., Marsden Street, Manchester, is another firm of high mercantile integrity, and ready, upon application, to give information upon this subject. Any draper, by applying to the last named firm, may be supplied with a portion of free labour goods, manufactured by Crewdson & Worthington and other well firms, who work up the free cotton without any spurious admixture...'