Remembering Slavery

Remembering Slavery Online Exhibition

A Modern Campaign

Figures from Uncle Tom's Cabin

Figures from Uncle Tom's Cabin

The figures represent Uncle Tom and Eva, characters from Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. One shows Tom sitting bare-headed on a corded package. He has an open book on his lap. To his right stands Eva with her hat in her right hand, her left hand is resting on Tom's shoulder. The other shows Eva standing on Tom's right leg. There is a garland around Tom's neck and he is holding his hat in his left hand.

The novel by the American author Stowe was first published in London in May 1852 and shocked Europe with its emotive story of the horrors of slavery and furthered the abolitionist cause in the 1850s. The book was dramatised on several occasions in England.

Tom, the hero, is a loyal and honest servant. His kind master is forced to sell him to a slave trader and he is taken down the Mississippi River. On the boat, Tom befriends a young white girl called Eva and is bought for her after saving her life. He happily reads to Eva from the Bible and between them they share a deep Christian faith. Tragically, Eva dies and Tom is sold to the sadistic plantation owner Legree. Convinced that Tom has helped two runaway women, Legree savagely beats Tom to death.

The book created and spread several common stereotypes, including the character of Uncle Tom, the long-suffering African American who is eager to please white people. In recent years, the negative associations with Uncle Tom's Cabin have to a large degree overshadowed the historical impact of the book.

  • Figures from Uncle Tom's Cabin

    The figures represent Uncle Tom and Eva, characters from Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. One shows Tom sitting bare-headed on a corded package. He has an open book on his lap. To his right stands Eva with her hat in her right hand, her left hand is resting on Tom's shoulder. The other shows Eva standing on Tom's right leg. There is a garland around Tom's neck and he is holding his hat in his left hand.

    The novel by the American author Stowe was first published in London in May 1852 and shocked Europe with its emotive story of the horrors of slavery and furthered the abolitionist cause in the 1850s. The book was dramatised on several occasions in England.

    Tom, the hero, is a loyal and honest servant. His kind master is forced to sell him to a slave trader and he is taken down the Mississippi River. On the boat, Tom befriends a young white girl called Eva and is bought for her after saving her life. He happily reads to Eva from the Bible and between them they share a deep Christian faith. Tragically, Eva dies and Tom is sold to the sadistic plantation owner Legree. Convinced that Tom has helped two runaway women, Legree savagely beats Tom to death.

    The book created and spread several common stereotypes, including the character of Uncle Tom, the long-suffering African American who is eager to please white people. In recent years, the negative associations with Uncle Tom's Cabin have to a large degree overshadowed the historical impact of the book.

  • Collection sheet for the Newcastle Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society

    This collection sheet for the Newcastle Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society was 'a Tribute to Mrs. Stowe, from the Readers of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin... To support her in her advocacy of the rights of the Slave'. Uncle Tom's Cabin was an anti-slavery novel first published in London in May 1852.

    Following the abolition of British involvement in the slave trade in 1807, attention switched to slavery itself with new organisations formed to campaign against it. The Anti-Slavery Society was founded in 1823 and its members included leading abolitionists Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce.

    Although women were allowed to be members, they were virtually excluded from its leadership. In 1825, leading women protesters including Anne Knight, Elizabeth Heyrick and Lucy Townsend established a network of independent women's anti-slavery groups across Britain. By 1830, a female anti-slavery society had been established in Newcastle upon Tyne.

    In an article written on the subject, women were encouraged 'to make the meetings as interesting and encouraging as possible, by reading communications and respecting the progress of the cause'.

    In 1833, a petition to Parliament was signed by 6,288 women in Newcastle and Gateshead, which amounted to between one third and one quarter of the female population at the time.

  • 'Am I not a man and a brother' medallion

    The ceramics' manufacturer, Josiah Wedgwood was a supporter of the abolition movement and issued the jasperware medallion in 1787. It quickly became the 'logo' for the abolition movement and undoubtedly helped end slavery in the British colonies. The image, however, presents the black African as a passive victim ignoring the strength of slave communities and the role they played in the struggle for their freedom.

    The abolitionists used a variety of methods to get the anti-slavery message across to the British public. The image of an African man kneeling and in chains was designed by a craftsman working for the potter Josiah Wedgwood. Designed initially as a seal for closing envelopes, the image was frequently used as a logo for the abolitionists along with the motto 'Am I Not a Man and a Brother?' Coins and medals bearing this abolitionist imagery were soon widely distributed.

    Today it is felt that this passive view of Africans suited the religious and moral tone of the anti-slavery campaign. It generated sympathy for the enslaved rather than a sense of equality.

  • Anti-slavery half-penny, 1700s

    This copper halfpenny bears the abolitionist logo of a kneeling chained African. The reverse of the coin has clasped hands and the inscription 'May slavery and opppression cease throughout the world'.

    The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) had been producing anti-slavery material since the 1760s. When in 1787, the first mass anti-slavery society was established nine of the twelve men were Quakers. The others included Granville Sharp, a prominent lawyer from Durham, who had helped to free enslaved Africans through the courts and Thomas Clarkson, who was well known because of an essay he wrote in 1785 entitled 'Is it lawful to make slaves of others against their will?' William Wilberforce MP was also enlisted by Clarkson to become the movement's parliamentary spokesperson.

    The abolitionists used a variety of methods to get the anti-slavery message across to the British public. The image of an African man kneeling and in chains was designed by a craftsman working for the potter Josiah Wedgwood. Designed initially as a seal for closing envelopes, the image was frequently used as a logo for the abolitionists along with the motto 'Am I Not a Man and a Brother?' Coins and medals bearing this abolitionist imagery were soon widely distributed.

    Today it is felt that this passive view of Africans suited the religious and moral tone of the anti-slavery campaign. It generated sympathy for the enslaved rather than a sense of equality.

  • 'A Tribute for the Negro' book

    A Tribute for the Negro written by Wilson Armistead (1819 - 1868) served as an angry denunciation of the 'terrible institution' of slavery and an impassioned defence of African culture. The book's title raises the issue of changes in the use and acceptability of language. In the 1700s 'negro' was normal English for a native (non-Arab) African. Primarily because of its associations with slavery and its legacy of racism, 'negro' is now regarded as an offensive term.

    Although slavery was abolished in 1833, the idea of the superiority of white people over black people ensured that racial inequality persisted. Conditions on the plantations also altered little after the apprenticeship scheme ended on 1 August 1838, with the Africans still subject to widespread abuse and oppression.

  • Anti-slavery pincushion

    The motif on this knitted pincushion is the emblem of William Wilberforce's campaign for the abolition of the slave trade. On one side is sewn 'Pity the poor slave' while on the reverse there is a picture of a kneeling enslaved African in chains.

    William Wilberforce was a British politician, abolitionist and leader of the parliamentary campaign against the slave trade. He strongly believed that the trade in enslaved Africans was morally reprehensible. In April 1791, he introduced the first Parliamentary Bill to abolish the slave trade, marking the beginning of a lengthly parliamentary campaign.

    In 1807 Wilberforce and the other campaigners succeeded in passing the Slave Trade Act which stopped ships carrying enslaved Africans to British colonies. It was now against the law for any British ship or British subject to trade in enslaved people.

    This legislation only ended the slave trade, not slavery itself. Slavery continued in the British colonies and elsewhere. Wilberforce continued with his work after 1807. By 1833, however, his health had begun to decline and he died on the 29 June. One month later, Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act which gave all enslaved Africans in the British Empire their freedom. It took another five years before the enslaved were granted full freedom as their owners were allowed to keep them on as bonded or indentured slaves until 1838.

  • Thomas Bewick print

    In the 1790s Thomas Bewick, the Newcastle-based wood-engraver, produced this engraving based on the Wedgwood medallion. He was a prominent supporter of the anti-slavery campaign. Hand-printed at Cherryburn, National Trust, Northumberland in 2007.

    The abolitionists used a variety of methods to get the anti-slavery message across to the British public. The image of an African man kneeling and in chains was designed by a craftsman working for the potter Josiah Wedgwood. Designed initially as a seal for closing envelopes, the image was frequently used as a logo for the abolitionists along with the motto 'Am I Not a Man and a Brother?' Coins and medals bearing this abolitionist imagery were soon widely distributed.

    Today it is felt that this passive view of Africans suited the religious and moral tone of the anti-slavery campaign. It generated sympathy for the enslaved rather than a sense of equality.

Making people aware of the horrors of the slave trade and persuading them to support its abolition was a big challenge. A huge range of tools were used - books were written and prints, posters and pamphlets were published. Parliament was showered with hundreds of petitions, including many from North East towns and villages. Meetings and rallies were organised. Souvenirs, like the ones on display here, were sold to raise money for the campaign. Women also arranged boycotts of slave-produced goods, especially sugar and cotton. This meant they couldn't wear cotton dresses or sweeten their tea and food with sugar!

For further reading, please visit the Research Zone

Take a look

  • Ladies' petition notice for the immediate abolition of West India slavery, May 1833

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