Black British fighter against slavery and for workers, Robert Wedderburn, 1762-1835


This video is called Slavery and Abolitionism in Canada Part I.

Part II is here.

From British daily The Independent:

Slave’s son who inspired the Chartists gets credit at last

By Arifa Akbar, Arts Reporter

Published: 09 November 2007

Robert Wedderburn was the illegitimate son of a wealthy landowner and a slave in Jamaica, the founder of a radical British newspaper and an inspiration to the Chartists. But that didn’t stop his role in the abolitionist movement being eclipsed by “more respectable” figures.

Now, however, and for the first time since his death in 1835, Britain is finally giving full credit to his work. A new exhibition at the Docklands Museum in London opens this weekend. It traces the capital’s involvement in the transatlantic trade and shines new light on the extraordinary story of a man who went from a life of slavery to being an international hero.

The exhibition, London, Sugar & Slavery, which opens tomorrow, reveals the city’s history both as the fourth largest slave port in the world and also as the centre of the anti-slavery movement that led to its abolition in 1833. It will form the only permanent anti-slavery exhibition in London and includes a large-scale portrait of Wedderburn, painted this year by Paul Howard.

Wedderburn was born in 1762 to Rosanna, an enslaved black woman who was raped in Jamaica by her white master, the plantation owner James Wedderburn. When she was pregnant, Wedderburn sold her. The young Wedderburn, whose father ensured he was born a free man, was brought up on an estate where he saw both his mother and grandmother being whipped.

When he was old enough, Wedderburn joined the Royal Navy. He is believed to have fought in the American War of Independence.

He arrived in London in 1778, where he quickly became a radical figure. In 1813, he joined Thomas Spence’s revolutionary organisation and began publishing his own newspaper, The Axe Laid to the Root, which advocated uprisings in Britain and the Caribbean. He became licensed as a non-conformist preacher and advocated revolution when speaking at a church in Hopkins Street, central London.

Tom Wareham, the co-curator of the exhibition, said that what may have made Wedderburn such a threatening figure for the British authorities was his apparent reluctance to conform to bourgeois norms. While many black abolitionists were well-known and celebrated for their work, including Olaudah Equiano, Ottobah Cugoano and Ignatius Sancho, Wedderburn was largely ignored.

“A lot of the anti-slavery African writers were very respectable. They moved in polite society because that was the way they got the job done. They dressed fashionably and wrote best-selling books, but Wedderburn was much more of an outcast. He was completely different from the rest. He was not bourgeois and moved within that element of society that was considered ‘ordinary’, the people on the street,” said Dr Wareham.

Black British Rebels: A history of resistance from Equiano to Jayaben Desai: here.

6 thoughts on “Black British fighter against slavery and for workers, Robert Wedderburn, 1762-1835

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