Who resisted and campaigned for abolition?

Pincushion, Am I not your Sister

Made about 1820
Fabric and steel pins

Object number 1922.895/7
Given by Mary Greg

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Pincushion, Am I not your Sister

The image of a kneeling shackled African man became an icon of the abolitionist movement in Britain in the late 1700s. It was used as the badge of the Slave Emancipation Society, most famously reproduced on small ceramic medallions by Josiah Wedgwood. Whilst it was intended to shame those who were involved in the slave trade, it also had the negative effect of representing the enslaved man as essentially passive. In fact, enslaved people repeatedly resisted oppression with courage, ingenuity and determination.

The female maker of this pincushion gave the image a different perspective. It is usually accompanied by the words 'Am I not a man and a brother', but this object is inscribed 'Am I not your Sister' and appears to show a woman in chains. The role of women in the campaign to abolish slavery has not been fully acknowledged, but their contribution was considerable; through individual campaigners, the resistance of enslaved women and the activities of regional ladies' anti-slavery societies. Over a century before women got the vote, ladies' societies focused their activities on appealing to public opinion and domestic habits. The Manchester society distributed pamphlets in the 1820s, for example, encouraging fellow Mancunians to boycott slave-grown sugar.

The prospect of women independently distributing political pamphlets and petitioning parliament was considered by some as a threat to society. Early feminists such as Mary Wollstonecraft had made connections between slavery and the oppression of women in the 1790s. The reality is more complex; female abolitionists came from all social classes and held a wide range of views on their own position in society. However, it is certain that women exerted significant influence on one of the key movements for political reform in Britain during the late 1700s and early 1800s.

This information was provided by curators at Manchester Art Gallery.