Reference Entry

Wedgwood, Josiah

David Dabydeen

in Oxford Companion to Black British History

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780192804396
Wedgwood, Josiah

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Potter and active participant in the fight for the abolition of slavery . Wedgwood was born in Burslem, Stoke‐on‐Trent, the youngest son of Thomas Wedgwood, a potter. From 1787 until his death in 1795 , Wedgwood sought to highlight the injustices of slavery and the slave trade . He was politically and socially conscious and was interested in the consequences of the American War of Independence and the French Revolution. His awareness concerning slavery was probably evoked through his friendship with Thomas Bentley, a Liverpool merchant who remained hostile to the trade and refused to welcome slavers back to the port. Another close connection of Wedgwood's was Thomas Clarkson , who set up the Sierra Leone Company, which sought to provide a habitable colony for freed slaves. Wedgwood eventually became a shareholder of the company.Wedgwood's most significant contribution to the abolitionist cause was the production of a medallion created with the purpose of publicizing the realities of slavery to the general public. It shows a kneeling and chained African, his hands raised to heaven, and its inscription reads ‘Am I Not a Man and a Brother?’ In 1787 he made a jasper copy of the emblem of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The design was reproduced in a cameo, and hundreds of these were donated to the Society. Women wore them on hatpins, brooches, and other fashion accessories. Clarkson commented on the pertinence of linking profound issues such as the suffering and exploitation of slaves with an area such as fashion, which was commonly associated with trivialities. In 1788 Wedgwood sent some medallions to Benjamin Franklin, who was then the president of the Abolition Society in America. Wedgwood continued to use his popularity and social standing to influence others, on both sides of the Atlantic, to agitate for the end of slavery.

Reference Entry.  327 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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