(1756–1814). Abolitionist poet. Rushton lived most of his life in Liverpool, but gained first-hand experience of the slave trade and of Jamaica when he worked as a ship's mate in the 1770s. A slave friend, Quamina, whom he had taught to read, died rescuing him when his boat capsized. During this time he contracted ophthalmia, which left him blind for most of his life. On his return, he bore witness to the brutality of slavery in his West-Indian Eclogues (1787), a series of four poems written in the voices of fictional slaves and presenting them as dignified and seething with righteous anger. The poems, which attracted wide public notice, including that of Thomas Clarkson and William Roscoe, deal explicitly with the sexual abuse and sadistic punishments inflicted on slaves, and their right to violent resistance. The notes to the Eclogues make a more conservative case for the economic expediency of better treatment of slaves. After the publication of this work Rushton remained a republican and radical campaigner. His 1806 collection of poems included a poem in support of Haitian independence, and a new Jamaican eclogue. In 1797 he publicly reproved George Washington for owning slaves. He also wrote an Essay on the Causes of the Dissimilarity of Colour in the Human Species, first published posthumously in 1824, in which he argued against biologically determinist notions of racial hierarchy.
From The Oxford Companion to Black British History in Oxford Reference.
Subjects: British History.