Who resisted and campaigned for abolition?

James Watkins abolitionist

Escape from slavery

James Watkins escaped from slavery in Maryland, USA, and became well known throughout the north west of England, through his public lectures on the horrors of slavery. Like fellow escapee, Henry Box Brown, Watkins had come to England as a result of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act which was a law that declared all runaways, even in free states, should be returned to their owners.

Anti-slavery activity in Bolton and Manchester

In 1852 'The Narrative of the Life of James Watkins, formerly a ‘chattel' in Maryland US', was published by Kenyon and Abbatt of Market Street, Bolton. At the end of this publication, Watkins provided a list of the anti-slavery meetings he had attended in Greater Manchester, along with the ‘names of gentlemen who presided over them'.

In Westhoughton, a town near Bolton in which Watkins gave a public lecture, a row of four carved wooden heads have been incorporated into the front of a building above what is now a toy shop. These heads depict a white man with ‘mutton-chop' whiskers, a woman wearing a trilby hat, a young person (possibly female) painted a dark colour to represent black skin and a man also with dark skin who is reported to be James Watkins.

Watkins lived for some time with the Abbatts in Bolton, before settling in Manchester. In 1860 he published a second book entitled 'Struggles for Freedom; or The Life of James Watkins, Formerly a Slave in Maryland US', printed by A Heywood of Oldham Street, Manchester. An entry in the 1861 census shows Watkins to be living at 74/73 Piccadilly, Manchester, boarding with a basket manufacturer, James Skinner. The census shows his stated profession as ‘lecturer on slavery' and states that he was born in the United States in 1831.

By the 1880s, Watkins had returned to America and is documented in the 1880 census for Baltimore, Maryland aged 51, his occupation given as ‘keeping house'.