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Josiah Wedgwood and the Slave Trade

Did You Know?

Throughout his life, Josiah Wedgwood expressed concern about the social upheavals which characterised the age in which he lived.

It is not surprising then that he was involved in the movement towards the abolition of the slave trade, and from about 1787 until his death in 1795, he energetically participated in the cause, becoming a member of one of the committees for the Abolition of the Slave Trade and regularly attending meetings held in London.

Wedgwood’s greatest legacy to the anti-slavery movement was the production of the now celebrated slave cameo modelled by William Hackwood, the design of which was adapted from the movement’s own seal depicting a kneeling manacled slave with the words “Am I not a man and a brother?”.

The medallion was probably the first visible campaigning token disapproving of a social evil.

Thomas Clarkson, one of the principal men of the anti-slavery movement, described how the Wedgwood medallions became so popular amongst the supporters of the cause: “Some had them inlaid in gold on the lids of their snuff boxes. Of the ladies, several wore them as bracelets, and others had them fitted up in an ornamental manner as pins for their hair”.

Josiah provided the cameos free of charge to anyone who would help, including sending a quantity to Benjamin Franklin in America for distribution in Pennsylvania.