One 18th-Century Merchant Takes a Stand Against Slavery

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Jan. 28 2013 11:00 AM

One 18th-Century Merchant Takes a Stand Against Slavery

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

An English merchant published this broadside in 1791, explaining to his customers why he would no longer sell sugar from the West Indies.* The piece is now held in the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

In the broadside, James Wright recounts his reasons: the “extreme Cruelties” of the slave trade, the changes the trade had wrought in African societies, and the dire conditions of the plantations of the “West-India Islands.” Wright had become convinced of his own complicity: “While I am a Dealer in that Article, which appears to be a principal Support of the Slave-Trade, I am encouraging Slavery.”

Advertisement

The sugar trade and the slave trade were inextricably linked. Between 1701 and 1810, according to anthropologist Sidney Mintz, Barbados, one of the major sugar-producing islands, imported 252,000 slaves; Jamaica imported 662,400. In England, some abolitionists began arguing for sugar boycotts in the 1780s. (You can see a 1792 pamphlet arguing for such a boycott here and read a 1788 poem by William Cowper on the subject here.)

James Wright had counterparts across the Atlantic; historian Wendy Woloson has found that some Philadelphia stores advertised their conscientious sourcing of groceries in abolitionist newspapers. But a full-scale boycott of sugar never caught on in the former Colonies.

No Sugar Broadside

GLC04614 James Wright, of Haverhill...[Merchant will not sell sugar due to slave labor], 1791. (Courtesy of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.)

*Correction, Jan. 30, 2013: This blog post originally implied that the broadside was published in America and that James Wright was a Massachusetts merchant, and the headline called the broadside an effort to stop “American slavery.” While the Gilder Lehrman Institute believed that to be the case, based on information they received upon their acquisition of the item, scholars who saw the initial blog post have since proven that Wright was from England and the broadside was printed there. (Return to top.)

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
  Life
Outward
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Oct. 17 2014 1:33 PM What Happened at Slate This Week?  Senior editor David Haglund shares what intrigued him at the magazine. 
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Space: The Next Generation
Oct. 19 2014 11:45 PM An All-Female Mission to Mars As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.