- Gendering Transatlantic Anti-Slavery History
In Women, Dissent, & Anti-Slavery in Britain & America, 1790–1865 (Oxford, 2011), Elizabeth J. Clapp, Julie Roy Jeffrey, and a plethora of historians explore the activism of British and American women abolitionists and the powerful role of religion in their humanitarian mission to end the slave trade and slavery. Commissioned by the Dr. Williams Centre for Dissenting Studies, the collection focuses on Puritanism and Protestant Dissent. Non-conformists (Methodists, Evangelicals, Quakers, Puritans, Pilgrims, Baptists, Catholics, and Separatists) include sects outside of the Church of England.1 From the Restoration through the early Victorian Period, they were subject to discrimination because of their beliefs, methods of worship, and disavowal of Anglican doctrine. They were unable to attend universities such as Cambridge and Oxford without an oath, cast a vote for parliamentary representation, or work for local or national government (7). They were second-class citizens in England. In search of religious liberty outside of the boundaries of Britain, in 1620, some non-conformists sought exile in Holland and North America.2 The majority of Dissenters in England and America cherished an unmediated relationship with God, enthusiastic worship, and desire for reform in the Church of England. Their descendants would advocate for the physical freedom of slaves in the modern world.
Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women of a variety of socio-economic classes also endured discrimination and social and institutional oppression. In England, women were unable to attend university, own property within the confines of marriage, or vote for parliamentary representation. Thus, in an interdisciplinary manner, Women, Dissent, & Anti-Slavery illuminates a nexus between a transatlantic Dissenting tradition and women’s persistent activism against African slavery. With contributors such as Clapp, Jeffrey, David Turley, Claire Midgley, and Stacey Robertson, this collection also brings many activists (e.g., Martha Gurney, Mary-Anne Rawson, Ann Taylor Gilbert, Mary Davis, Susan Bishop, Sarah Ernst) to the forefront of the history of abolition and provides a multidimensional appraisal of well-known anti-slavery writers such [End Page 401] as Elizabeth Heyrick and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Studies such as Moira Ferguson’s Subject to Others: British Women Writers and Colonial Slavery 1670–1834, Karen Sánchez-Eppler’s Touching Liberty: Abolition, Feminism, and The Politics of the Body, and Midgley’s Women against Slavery: The British Campaigns 1780–1870 also provide extensive histories about protest through domestic economy, theatrical productions, literature, petitions, and boycotts.3 This most recent book intently focuses upon the belief systems that inspired women on both sides of the Atlantic to resoundingly reject slavery in Africa, the West Indies, and the American South.
Women, Dissent, & Anti-Slavery also relies on the juxtaposition of iconic images of slavery and freedom. Complementing chapters about women’s devotion to their religious communities and civic engagement, a visual and verbal representation of the British and American movement is prominently displayed on the dust jacket of the book. In the late eighteenth century, Josiah Wedgewood and British women’s societies (such as the Female Society of Birmingham, and the Manchester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society) created and circulated artistic representations of visual messages of one of the earliest liberation movements.4 The original artwork was a male figure with shackled hands and this emotional appeal appeared on publications, brooches, quilts, pottery, and hairpins. Resembling the history and traditions examined within the text, the dust jacket features Thomas Halliday’s medallion, “Slavery abolished by Great Britain, 1834,” a feminized depiction of multiple abolitionist themes. Beneath the depiction of the enslaved woman (with shackled hands) and Lady Justice, a populist and universal rhetorical question appears: “Am I Not a Woman and a Sister?” Seemingly, this is the enslaved woman’s plea to Lady Justice and potential emancipators beyond the scope of the medallion. In a penultimate plea to the viewer, Halliday’s emblematic medallion proclaims, “Let us break their hands asunder and cast away their cords,” a reference to Psalms 2:3.5 His medallion solicits the agency of the audience to act on behalf of brethren under the yoke. “Slavery abolished by Great Britain, 1834” was also printed on the cover of Lydia Maria Child’s Authentic Anecdotes of American Slavery (1838...